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FOOTBALL: CIS CUP SEMI -FINAL, CELTIC v RANGERS, HAMPDEN 7.45PM : LARS IN LEAGUE OF HIS OWN; Fergie believes Larsson is greatest foreign star to play in our country.

Byline: Michael BAILLIE

He is without doubt the biggest threat to Rangers trophy ambitions this season but Barry Ferguson cannot see past Henrik Larsson for Player of the Year.

The Rangers skipper also concedes he may even be the greatest foreign player ever to grace Scottish football but the debate about who should wear that crown will rage on.

Ferguson's former team-mate Brian Laudrup is a worthy candidate.

Whilst that prize may not be clear cut, what there can be no arguments over, is who will walk away with the player of the year gongs at the end of the season.

Ferguson admits Larsson has been simply immense since his return last May from a horrific injury.

He can be anonomous for an entire game but will still have a major effect on the outcome.

As he proved once again on Sunday at Tynecastle.

Ferguson said: "Henrik is their top man and is a top player by a mile.

"I don't know how we will deal with him but Scott Wilson was up against him in the last game and did really well.

"But then again on Sunday night he only had three chances and got a hat-trick, so you can't give him a sniff of goal otherwise he'll put it in the back of the net.

"I'll definitely be voting for him as Player of the Year, he has everything and the way that he has come back from serious injury is unbelievable.

"Henrik can be out of a game for 20 minutes then he will pop up and score a goal and that's the difference between a good striker and a class striker."

Rangers boss Dick Advocaat first came up against Larsson in Holland, when he was boss at PSV Eindhoven and the then dreadlocked hitman was starring for Feyenoord.

But the Dutchman insists that Larsson has developed into one of the most feared strikers in Europe, since he left the De Kuip Stadium for Parkhead.

Advocaat said: "Henrik is one of the top strikers in Europe, if not the world at the moment.

"But in Holland he was not a real goalscorer, he was the second striker but he is a quality player as his goals here have proved.

"He has definitely improved, he was a good player in Holland, one that you had to keep an eye on but not the player he is now.

"Maybe he feels comfortable here, even though in Holland you get more space than you do over here."

Supporters may deliberate on whether Larsson or Laudrup are the greatest ever foreigner.

But Ferguson feels that Michael Mols would be included in the debate had he not been so badly injured in Munich.

Ferguson added: "Michael would be up there with Larsson if he had not been out for so long. As would Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

"I only played ten games with Laudrup, so I'm only judging players I've played with or against.

"It will take time for Mikey, he had a totally different injury from Larsson.

"His was a cruciate one and it always takes time to come back from that but he's getting stronger and stronger.

"All the players and fans will be delighted when he is back 100 percent but he's not far away."

Ferguson has been forced to sit out Rangers last two games through suspension and cannot wait to be involved again.

It has been suggested that Fergie may once again be kicking heels on the sidelines as Advocaat may field a weakened side with one eye on Sunday's league meeting.

But the Scotland star is not having any of that.

He said: "I'm looking forward to it, I'm dying to get a game again.

"All players, from both sides, want to play in both games and I don't think we will be putting out an under strength team.

"We want to win the cup, we'll treat it the same way we do the Scottish Cup semi-final.

"A lot of folk say the League Cup is not a main trophy but It would be good to get to the final, that would be my first one as captain."

CAPTION(S):

HE GETS MY VOTE: Ferguson is a huge fan of Bhoys rival Henrik Larsson and will vote for him for player of the year; DANE =-IT -ALL: Brian Laudrup
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 7, 2001
Words:722
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