Sir Alex Ferguson had an incredible ability of pulling off masterful signings and although Swedish legend Henrik Larsson played only thirteen matches for Manchester United, his brief loan spell at Old Trafford was thought of as a stroke of genius.
The Swedish international, who surged to fame during iconic spells at Celtic and FC Barcelona, was one of the most distinguished players of his time. He won eight trophies in Glasgow and added a further four major honours at the Camp Nou; capping off two fruitful seasons in Catalonia by winning the UEFA Champions League at the Stade de France in 2006.
Larsson was edging towards the end of his professional career and left Barcelona to return to his native Sweden with Helsingborg. After a life in the limelight, Larson was preparing for his curtain call, but he had one more legendary instalment left in him at the ripe old age of 35.
Helsingborg had just sealed UEFA Cup qualification at the end of the 2006 Swedish Allsvenskan campaign and the veteran forward had been essential to their success with eight goals in fifteen league appearances.
In order to maintain his match fitness during the Allsvenskan off-season, the 36-year-old joined Manchester United on a three-month loan deal on 01 January 2007. Manchester United had last won the Premier League title in 2003 and Sir Alex Ferguson was hoping that Larsson would hold the key to success.
He would hit the ground running by marking his debut with a goal against Aston Villa at Old Trafford. The Red Devils went onto progress into the fourth round of the FA Cup and the mid-season arrival quickly became an indispensable name of the team sheet.
Larsson soon opened his account in the Premier League in a comprehensive 4-0 win against Watford at the end of January, but it was his unrelenting work ethic and crucial experience which added another dimension to their game. He marked his final appearance in the UEFA Champions League with the only goal of the game against LOSC Lille and ultimately guaranteed their passage into the quarter-final after a cagey affair at Old Trafford.
Ferguson was desperate to prolong his loan deal until the end of the season, but Larsson fulfilled his promise to his parent club Helsingborg and his family by returning when his three-month loan expired ahead of the 2007 Allsvenskan season.
In hindsight, Larsson admitted, “That’s the only regret I have in my career. I should’ve stayed, and I would’ve stayed for one more season.” Larsson was designed for the biggest stage and its fitting that he installed his own miniature chapter into Manchester United history with one of the most iconic cameo roles in Premier League history.
He was the perfect mid-season stimulus for Manchester United, who lost just one of the thirteen games that he featured in for the club. Ferguson was full of praise when Larsson returned to Sweden, proclaiming, “He’s been fantastic for us. His professionalism, his attitude, everything he’s done has been excellent. We would have loved him to stay but, obviously, he’s made a promise to his family and Helsingborg and I think we should respect that.”
Although he scored three goals in 13 appearances, Larsson made more of an impact than some players have managed in years at Manchester United. He quietly slipped out of the limelight with one final hoorah and Manchester United paid further testament to him by awarding him with a Premier League medal at the end of the season, despite Larsson not playing the required quantity of matches.
Larsson played a further three seasons in Sweden and finished his career with 434 goals in 766 appearances and 37 goals in 106 caps for Sweden. And although he’ll be more synonymous with the yellow of Sweden and the successes of Celtic and FC Barcelona; Manchester United supporters will never forget his glorious three months at the Theatre of Dreams!