Football

Published: Friday January 31, 2014 MYT 1:17:01 AM
Updated: Friday January 31, 2014 MYT 1:17:09 AM

Snowballs pose new defensive problem for Larsson

FALKENBERG, Sweden (Reuters) - As a player at Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United, Henrik Larsson was used to running gauntlets of reporters and adoring fans, but now he is having to dodge children throwing snowballs at him.

Times may have changed for the former Swedish scoring machine but as the manager of small-town Falkenberg, he seems very content with his current position - for now.

"Go on! Go on! Be brave!" he calls to the kids as he makes his way to the clubhouse, rolling back the years with a trademark jinking run to elude them.

"Everything changes in life. It took some time to get used to, but you have to adapt to the situation," Larsson later told Reuters in the warmth of that clubhouse as he explained the twists and turns of his time in management so far.

"If you can't adapt to the situation you shouldn't get into this line of work."

Larsson's coaching career could hardly be more different from his stellar spell as a player, in which he won league titles with Celtic in Scotland and Barcelona in Spain and played 106 times for his country, scoring 37 goals and winning a bronze medal at the 1994 World Cup.

"It's different. As a player I played for top clubs but as a manager I'm here at my second club, a team where nobody apart from ourselves believes we can do something," he said.

"That is a challenge for me as a coach, and for me that's something that I thrive on. You learn a lot about yourself when things aren't going well. It's always good to be the underdog."

Just a few weeks after he announced his retirement as a player at Helsingborg, Larsson got his first coaching job at second-tier side - and Helisingborg's bitter rivals - Landskrona, in 2009.

He spent three eventful years there learning the ropes, but never managed to get them promoted to the top flight before departing in 2012.

"I had three good years there, I learned a lot, not only about the football, but about the way a football club works when you are a manager. It was a great experience."

COACHING BADGES

While studying for his coaching badges, the 42-year-old worked with fourth-tier side Hogaborg, the club that fostered him and that now has his son Jordan on the playing staff.

Larsson even laced up his boots again to play a couple of competitive games, lining up in attack beside his son.

The former Golden Boot winner may have been kept scoreless, but he enjoyed finally having the chance to play with his son.

"We kept them (the defenders) busy," he says with a wry smile.

In December 2013, newly-promoted Falkenberg announced that Larsson would take over as manager. Sweden's Cinderella club won the Superettan (second tier) in 2013, gaining promotion to the top flight for the first time in their history.

It is about as far as you can get from the Champions League, which Larsson won as a player with Barcelona in 2006, and the town's 20,000 inhabitants would fit into the Camp Nou almost five times over.

But though money is tight and the playing staff small, Larsson is optimistic.

"What brought me here was the opportunity to work with a club, newly promoted, the opportunity, the challenge," Larsson said.

"Everybody here in Sweden expects us to go straight back down to the Superettan, but hopefully we can surprise everyone."

PASSING GAME

He says he will stay true to the kind of football he enjoyed as a player, but that Swedish fans expecting to see him replicate Barcelona's style might be disappointed.

"Tiki-taka? No, there's only one team that can really do that, maybe two. I don't have that quality here that I can play that game.

"We have skilful players here, but we have to be a bit more clever. We're going to try to play a passing game, and I'm going to try to make them even better."

To do so, Larsson is keen the players learn themselves, rather than him simply telling them what to do on the pitch.

"I think it's important not to give them the answers, it's important to ask them, to make them aware of what they can change in order to get a better result."

As for his own development, Larsson says he has absorbed ideas from coaches he worked under such as Martin O'Neill, Frank Rijkaard and Alex Ferguson, but that none has had a dominant influence on him.

"I think I learned a lot from everybody - the good ones and the bad ones - and I've tried to mould them into something that fits my persona. I can't be Martin O'Neill, I can't be any of the other coaches - I have to make my own way."

It is unlikely any of the coaches he worked with had to deal with some of the daily challenges that Larsson now faces, such as making sure the training pitch is cleared of snow in time for training.

It appears that Larsson and his team are something of a priority for the local council. A thick layer of snow coats some of the roads leading to the training ground, but the pitch itself has been ploughed clear to allow the team to train.

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