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Forward Friday: The King of Kings, Henrik Larsson

by Al 11. November 2011 09:04

This week's Forward Friday is a tribute to Celtic legend Henrik Larsson, the Swedish striker who lit up Scottish football for seven glorious seasons in the peak of his long and successful career.

Henrik Larsson's arrival at Celtic in the summer of 1997 was a seminal moment in the club's history. Celtic paid Dutch side Feyenoord a paltry £650,000 for the dreadlocked Swede; it would prove the greatest signing they ever made.

Arriving shortly after Old Firm rivals Rangers had secured their record-equaling ninth consecutive Scottish league title, the talented young Swedish striker reinvigorated Celtic, firing 16 league goals in his debut season as they overturned their Glasgow adversaries to win their first title in a decade. Larsson would go on to score an incredible 242 goals in 313 matches for the Bhoys, making him the third highest scorer in the club's history.

In his seven years in Scotland, Larsson won four titles, two Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups. He top scored in five of his seven seasons at the club, and his impact was such that he was voted into Celtic's greatest team of all time and named their greatest ever foreign player. He had spells at European giants Barcelona and Manchester United in his later years but it was at Celtic that he was at his majestic best.

After a calamitous debut in which he inadvertently set up a Hibernian player to score with a stray pass in a 2-1 defeat at Easter Road, few Celtic fans would have earmarked the gangly young Swede as a legend in the making. But in his second season at Celtic Park he set the tone for what was to follow, doubling his goal tally from the previous season from 19 to 38 in all competitions.

After 12 goals in 12 games at the beginning of the 1999/00 season, Larsson suffered a terrible career-threatening injury in a UEFA Cup tie against Lyon. It was initially feared that Larsson had suffered a compound leg fracture, but x-rays showed the injury was not as bad as first feared. He spent eight months on the sidelines nonetheless, but the following season he made an emphatic return, scoring a remarkable 53 goals in 50 games as Celtic secured a domestic treble. In the three seasons that followed he continued in the same vein, scoring 35, 44 and 40 goals.

106 appearances for Sweden - many of which he made as captain - yielded 37 goals in an international career that spanned 16 years. The 'King of Kings' was an idol for club and country, and was worshipped inside Celtic Park for his loyalty and goals. He loved the club as much as they loved him, and when he did finally leave in 2004 for Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona, it was with a heavy heart that he said goodbye to the Parkhead faithful.

At Barcelona, Larsson proved he could cut it at the highest level of club football, and his one-year deal was extended for a second as the Catalans secured back-to-back La Liga titles. It was during that second season that Larsson inspired a famous Champions League final comeback against Arsenal. Barcelona were a goal down before Larsson came on as a substitute and provided assists for Samuel Eto'o and Juliano Belletti to win the game 2-1. That game-changing performance was probably the finest moment of his club career.

Before he moved back to Sweden to play for his old club Helsingborg, his teammate Ronaldinho - then the best player in the world - described his admiration for the striker: "With Henrik leaving us at the end of the season this club is losing a great player, no question. But I am also losing a great friend. Henrik is my idol and now that I am playing next to him it is fantastic," he said. Indeed, Larsson had proved himself one of Europe's deadliest strikers.

After three more years at Helsingborg, and a brief but successful loan spell at Manchester United in 2007, Larsson finally called time on his playing career at the age of 38 in 2009. He scored an overall total of 434 goals in 772 club appearances spanning 20 years. For the 242 of those that came in green and white, he will never be forgotten.

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Forward Friday: The King, Denis Law

by Al 14. October 2011 07:17

"The boy's a freak. Never did I see a less likely football prospect - weak, puny and bespectacled."

- Andy Beattie, Huddersfield Town manager 1952-56

Beattie's assessment of a 16-year-old Denis Law may have been slightly harsh, but when he first showed up at Huddersfield in 1955 few could have predicted that he would go on to illuminate British football.

Between 1962 and 1973 Denis Law (pictured right) formed part of Manchester United's 'Holy Trinity' with George Best and Bobby Charlton (left). They were the heartbeat of United's finest ever team. Tenacious, skillful and prolific; with 237 goals in 404 games Law was a true United legend. He remains the second-highest scorer in their history behind Charlton, but the road to Old Trafford was long and winding for the Aberdeen-born striker.

After four years at Huddersfield Town, Law moved to United's bitter rivals Manchester City for a British record transfer fee of £55,000 in 1960. United manager Matt Busby had previously had a £10,000 offer rejected, while Bill Shankly, Law's manager at Huddersfiled from 1957-59, had also failed in a bid to take him to Liverpool.

City had only narrowly escaped relegation from the First Division in the season prior to Law's signing, and after a single season at the club, Law, who made his Scotland debut as an 18-year-old in 1958, resolved to move to a more successful club. He signed for Italian side Torino in the summer of 1961. Law failed to settle in Italy, however, as his playing style clashed with the ultra-defensive Italian approach, and in 1962 he finally moved to United for £115,000, breaking the British transfer record once again.

Law was an instant success at Old Trafford, scoring just seven minutes into his debut against West Bromwich Albion. United were still recovering from the devastating effects of the 1958 Munich air crash, however, and it wasn't until 1963 that he won his first piece of silverware, the FA Cup. Law had scored a hat-trick in the semi-final against his old club Huddersfiled, and he scored again in the final as United upset favourites Leicester City with a 3-1 victory.

Law top scored with 28 league goals the following season and was named European Footballer of the Year as United secured the First Division title for the first time since Munich. More success was to follow, as United won the league again in 1967 and the European Cup the following year, albeit without the injured Law for the semi-final or final.

When Matt Busby resigned in 1969, United's strength began to wane. Law continued to be a prolific presence for the Red Devils, but was unable to add any more silverware to his collection and he moved back to City (pictured below) for one final season before retiring in 1974. 

Law scored 30 times for Scotland in 55 appearances, making him their joint-highest top scorer together with Kenny Dalglish. It is at Old Trafford, however, that he is most treasured. His statue stands on the concourse of Old Trafford's Stretford End, and is a fitting tribute to one of the finest players ever to pull on a Manchester United shirt.

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Take a look at Icons signed Denis Law Manchester United shirt here.

Icons Legend of the Week #8: Bob Wilson

by Al 30. August 2011 09:24

A footballing legend on and off the pitch, Icons Legend of the Week #8 is Arsenal goalkeeping great Bob Wilson.

Between 1963 and 1974, Wilson amassed over 300 appearances between the sticks for Arsenal and won two caps for Scotland. Despite taking an early retirement at the age of 32, a long career in coaching, broadcasting and charity work has seen him become one of Britain's most popular and respected football personalities.

Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1941, Wilson was a late starter in professional football. Until Arsenal came knocking in 1963, he was in teacher training at Loughborough College while turning out as an amateur for Wolverhampton Wanderers Reserves. When he was signed by Billy Wright's Arsenal for £6,500, Wilson became the first amateur to move clubs for a transfer fee.

He arrived at Highbury as understudy to Jim Furnell, and despite making his debut in October 1963, he had to wait over four years to become the Gunners' first-choice. Manager Billy Wright was replaced by Bertie Mee, and Wilson duly won his first trophy with Arsenal during the 1969/70 campaign, when Arsenal overcame Belgians Anderlecht to claim the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. It was the Gunners' first piece of silverware since their 1952/53 Division One title.

Wilson was an unmovable figure in Arsenal's famous League and FA Cup double-winning 1970/71 season, during which he played every single first-team league and cup match and was named their player of the year.

1971 was also the year of Wilson's international call-up to the Scotland side. Eligibility rules had changed in 1970, allowing players to turn out for their parents' countries of origin. Wilson appeared for Scotland under Tommy Doherty against Portugal and Holland, but when Willie Ormerod took over as manager, he reverted to a Scottish-born number one, Bobby Clarke of Aberdeen, and Wilson was frozen out.

Wilson continued as Arsenal's number one until his retirement in May 1974. His involvement at the North London club was far from over, however, and after hanging up his boots he took on a coaching role. Wilson was the Gunners' goalkeeping coach for 28 years, working closely with fellow Arsenal greats Pat Jennings and David Seaman.

Wilson juggled coaching at Arsenal with a football broadcasting career, and after appearing as a pundit during the 1970 World Cup, he worked as a presenter with the BBC from 1974 to 1994 before moving to ITV. He has also devoted much of his time to charity work, and in 1999 he set up the Willow Foundation, to help people aged between 16 and 40 diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. In April 2011, Wilson, approaching 70-years-old, embarked on an incredible 500 mile 'Soccer Cycle' around every Premier League club in England. With the help of the likes of Lee Dixon, David Seaman and Les Ferdinand, the sponsored cycle raised more than £300,000 for the Willow Foundation.

A brave and supremely talented goalkeeper in his pomp, the Arsenal legend received an OBE in 2007, and remains a great authority and hugely respected commenter on the game today.

Likeable, passionate and devoted; modern football could use a few more characters like Bob Wilson.

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Have a look at our Bob Wilson collection here.

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