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Henrik Larsson books

Henrik Larsson A Season in Paradise: the official authorised diary of Henrik Larsson's glorious season; by Henrik Larsson with Mark Sylvester; 192 pages hardback (16 pages of colour pictures); £16.99 (although most places seem to be selling it for £12.99)

You Are My Larsson: a tribute to Celtic's goal machine; by Mark Guidi and Ewing Grahame; published by the Daily Record and Sunday Mail; 153 pages paperback (22 pages of pictures); £5.95

In his excellent book "Celtic's Paranoia" (see review in NTV 97) Tom Campbell has included a chapter about Celtic and the media. In it, he quotes one of the great football writers of the modern era, Hugh McIlvanney. Commenting on the state of modern football journalism McIlvanney laments, "As a reporter I have always seen the game through my own eyes. Not so long ago such an assertion would have seemed laughable, since just about every professional in my business could say the same and expect to be believed. In recent years, however, there has emerged a breed of football journalists who appear unable to put pen to paper or fingers to Tandy until some player or manager has interpreted the action for them. They cannot function unless fuelled by quotes. You feel that if they went blind their working efficiency would be unaffected, but if they went deaf they would not have the first idea of what happened on the park. Their method is a plague and it is spreading."

If the evidence of "You Are My Larsson" is anything to go by it has spread to the noble art of biography, in particular the sub-genre of footballer biography.

Modestly billing itself as "the football book no Celtic fan can afford to miss", this is a book by two hacks who fancy themselves as writers, or who have been persuaded by somebody at the Mail's sports desk to cash in on Larsson's popularity by dashing off this literary mess.

The Mail's answer to Woodward and Bernstein largely eschew any attempt at narrative style in favour of quotes. Page after page of quotes. However, in the clear absence of any cooperation from the great man himself, Guidi and Grahame have turned to some of the unlikeliest sources you can possibly imagine in order to cobble together ten chapters of almost unreadable tabloidspeak.

Bad enough that the formative Larsson years are borne witness through the likes of his maths teacher at primary school. Worse when her contribution to the story of Larsson's football career consists of such pearls as, "I will always remember him as a gorgeous young boy with curly brown hair. But strangely, at the front one of his curls was white-blond." The opening chapter is littered with such soporific gossip from compatriots who were school friends or used to lunch with Larsson. By the time I had finished it I had already used up my quotes coupons and still had another hundred pages to go.

Larsson's Feyenoord career and his first season at Celtic are similarly given the quote treatment, Murdo MacLeod being prominent among the contributors, but halfway through things plummet still further with almost an entire chapter given over to the thoughts on Henrik of that great favourite of the Celtic support, Brian Laudrup.

The nadir arrives in Chapter 7 with a page of quotes from ... Barry Ferguson. Yes, it really is as bad as that.

The shameless padding of a book which reads as if it was put together in around a fortnight consists of pictures, mostly culled from the Record's archive, and a chapter entitled "my top six goals", ostensibly compiled by Larsson himself although the source is unacknowledged.

The authors do chip in with the odd passage of purple prose: "The way Henrik conducts himself on and off the park has made him a favourite of the Celtic support - along with fans up and down the country - and he is rated by many as one of the most consistent strikers ever to wear the green and white hoops."

Maybe it's a blessing after all that they didn't do it too often.

By comparison with the Record's publication, "Henrik Larsson A Season In Paradise" is almost Pulitzer Prize material. It's the King of Kings' diary of the 2000-01 season ghosted quite stylishly by Mark Sylvester, but it's more than a straightforward blow by blow account of all the goals. His whole career is covered, as well as his recovery from the leg break, and the book contains enough of the usual digressions for it to be up there on the shelf beside the rest of the Bhoys own stories.

The minutiae of the world of a professional footballer is all there of course, and there's probably much of it which is common to most of them, but the mundane is given a certain aura simply because of the subject.

Larsson buffs will be drooling over what the K of Ks has for his breakfast or how he likes to read Swedish detective novels.

Given that this is the kind of thing which is considered worthy of inclusion in a football biography it's to his credit that Sylvester is able to craft a book of some interest. Larsson clearly comes across as a focused post-Bosman model professional; my only slight complaint was that at times he just comes across as being far too nice and showing far too much respect to his opponents. Of his first goal in the 6:2 game he writes: "I had Tugay on my right shoulder so I started running right and then cut left again. I saw Konterman coming towards me... I can't explain why I nutmegged him, it just seemed the thing to do at that moment." For an explanation try, "I saw that diddy Konterman standing in front of me like a big rusty croquet hoop and knew right away a goal was on the cards..."

If you're looking for a book about Larsson to while away a spare hour then you could do worse than pick up A Season In Paradise. You could pick up You Are My Larsson.


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