Cult Heroes: Remembering Henrik Larsson's game-changing cameo vs Arsenal in '06

It’s Friday and you know what that means? It’s the return of Cult Heroes.

After spending last week eulogising over Thiago Alcantara’s gravity-defying bicycle-kick, we’re taking a break from the spectacular.

Instead, we’re going to look back at a performance that possessed no fancy, exuberant tricks or acrobatics.

It was a display of world-class efficiency and few performances in the recent history of football fit the description of ‘game-changing’ better.

Step forward, Henrik Larsson. The greatest player in the history of Scottish football – and it’s not even close – surprised the world when he accepted the challenge to play for Barcelona in 2004 at the age of 32.

Making the climb from Scotland to the upper echelons of European football at an age labelled in the footballing community as ‘old’? It’s fair to say not many expected Larsson to wow the Camp Nou faithful.

But even alongside legendary figures like Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the hard-working, skilful Swede left a lasting impression .

Despite being plagued with injuries during the 2004/05 season and scoring just four goals in 17 games, Barcelona extended his one-year contract for another 12 months.

That decision speaks for itself. Larsson was the impact sub of dreams, a calming influence both from the bench and when called upon to start.

His diligent attitude and obvious quality would seriously bare fruit in 2005/06 and his place in Barca’s eminent history was secured in one game – the 2006 Champions League final.

That night in Paris, Larsson delivered one of the greatest substitute performances of all-time and it’s criminal that it’s not recognised to the degree it warrants in the present day.

You can watch the highlights of the game below and we’ll dive into detail about Larsson after.


Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Xavi and the rest had no answer to 10-man Arsenal’s stubborn defence as they marshalled a 1-0 lead.

Thierry Henry even had a number of chances to kill the game off on the break.

Larsson’s introduction on 61 minutes changed EVERYTHING. Barca finally had a cool head on the pitch, one who wasn’t daunted by the magnitude of the situation.

Fifteen minutes after his introduction, the Swede beautifully caressed the ball into Eto’o’s path with one touch and the Cameroonian duly equalised.

Four minutes after that, Larsson played an elegant one-two to put Juliano Belletti in on goal and the Brazilian sealed the coveted Champions League crown for Barca.

Ronaldinho was the best player on the planet at that time, no doubt. But even he lacked the simplistic brilliance of Larsson that won the game.

After the game, Thierry Henry told the world: “All the time you talk about Ronaldinho and everything – I didn’t see him today. I saw Henrik Larsson. Two times he came alive, that was the key.”

As football fans we adore the spectacular, but even in a Champions League final against a brilliant opponent, it’s sometimes best to revert to the basics.

Larsson departed his Spanish adventure as a bona fide Barca icon and fans still fawn over him to this very day.

The Swede revealed in an interview with FourFourTwo that Ronaldinho himself labelled him as his ‘idolo’.

“He [Ronaldinho] used to joke every morning, ‘Hey, idolo, idolo!'”, Larsson quipped.

The Brazilian may have said it with a smile and a laugh in his tone, but there was certainly truth to his words.

A truly wonderful footballer and the one of the best free transfers ever!

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