FOOTBALL: Larsson money talk booted me back to reality.
LAST week I started to become a bit suspicious of Henrik Larsson and I'm sure I'm not alone.
Like most people I was anxious to believe Larsson was a welcome break from the shysters and egomaniacs who populate top-flight football. Now I'm less sure.
I wanted to believe a top-class player would pledge his future and grace the Scottish game for another few seasons. But it seems a big, bad double agent has been hawking Henrik around hoping for a big payday now the Super Swede's season has reached its remarkable climax.
If you believe the more easily-led sections of the Celtic support, Larsson is beyond reproach. The sinister agent has appeared as if from nowhere to darken Celtic's doorstep. And guess what?
None of this skulduggery has anything to do with Henrik.
Excuse me while I take another handful of reality pills.
Larsson is by all accounts a shy and reluctant man who puts a premium on his family's happiness. He is in every respect the model professional and no one can dispute his right to privacy away from the madness of football.
And then his new boots came along. Suddenly, Larsson's willingness to promote himself out-stripped his trademark shyness.
Such was his power of persuasion that you couldn't fail to get the message.
Henrik's boots are great boots. They score goals, lots of them, more than anyone who plays for Rangers can score. Henrik's boots are not like ordinary boots, they have more studs and better grip.
And when he changes them at half-time, especially in the Cup Final, his boots bring brilliance.
Umbro must be paying him a fortune to abandon his privacy.
Last week, Henrik seemed to be hawking them everywhere, even crassly shoving them in front of the cameras as the Scottish Cup was being presented. And this week he had an agent.
There cannot be one law for Larsson and another for the rest of Scottish football.
Kilmarnock were roundly criticised by the media and their own fans in 1997 when they won the Cup and abandoned tradition by parading the name of their sponsors on hurriedly- designed tops.
Others criticised Paolo Di Canio for wearing attention- seeking golden boots later marketed in high street stores.
Even the most doting Celtic fans must have had a twinge of suspicion at Henrik's desire to court the media he has so eminently avoided in the past year.
It would be naive and counter-productive to argue that football could exist without sponsorship.
Its economic future depends on the investment of companies that bring revenue to the game, beyond the finite income of paying fans.
Players must also strike the best deals they can get, whether they come in the form of product endorsement, special boots or even new contracts to secure their services. But in signing up to these deals players are making themselves visible and vulnerable.
In the run-up to the Cup Final, virtually all newspapers ran headlines like 'Bootiful', a testament to Henrik's footwear and by deference to Bernard Mathews' turkey drummers. It was the stuff of boyhood dreams, a pair of boots with magical powers designed to be bought by mums across Scotland.
What is apparent is that Henrik Larsson is part of a growing generation of well-managed and deeply informed footballers who understand the media is a means of delivering a message.
He has used the media with consummate skill, never over-eager, never photographed wearing a sombrero and never bad-mouthing his manager.
A critical period lies ahead for Larsson and Celtic. With a successful season behind him, the player hopes to negotiate an extended and vastly-improved contract that will either secure his future at Celtic Park or set him on a collision course with the club.
Most fans want the club to throw money at the problem but in the decisive weeks ahead they should be guided by logic rather than emotion. In the past, the Parkhead faithful have been easily duped by the emotional pantomime of players pledging their undying loyalty then sloping off when the money was in the bank.
I only hope Henrik Larsson is not making the same calculations.
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2001|
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