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Murdo MacLeod says: Make way for the King

THE image of Henrik Larsson, the player, is an iconic one.

Murdo MacLeod likes what he has seen of Henrik Larsson's coaching methods Photograph: SNS
Murdo MacLeod likes what he has seen of Henrik Larsson's coaching methods Photograph: SNS

It usually involves him whirling away, tongue out, in celebration after notching one of the 400-plus goals he scored in the colours of Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona, Manchester United, Helsingborgs and Sweden. The image of Larsson the manager, does not come so readily to mind, at least for those who do not follow closely the fortunes of Falkenbergs FF in the Allsvenskan.

On the face of it, the 42-year-old's coaching exploits to date have been rather underwhelming, particularly when placed alongside the pedigrees of other reported contenders for the Celtic manager's post such as David Moyes, Malky Mackay or Owen Coyle.

In three seasons at Landskrona BoIS, Larsson was unable to win promotion from the second tier [Superettan] and his record at Falkenberg stands at five wins in 11 matches.

Unbelievably focused on the field, quiet and aloof off it, the Swede has been typically enigmatic about the prospect of replacing Neil Lennon, appearing to count himself out of the running, at least until the Swedish season comes to an end in November.

However, Murdo MacLeod, a close friend, reckons Celtic should pursue their former hero on the pitch. Not only would Larsson's arrival bring some badly-needed box office back to Parkhead, but MacLeod also saw first-hand how committed he was to improving his young players when he paid on a visit to Landskrona.

"I don't think it would be a risk," said MacLeod, speaking at a Footgolf Open event - which involves kicking a football round a golf course - at Cowal Golf Club. "People think he's just a name; that because they don't associate him with being a coach. But he's earned the right to be at a big club like Celtic because he's worked hard at it.

"If you've watched him on the training field you can see that. I've seen him up close. When I went over to watch him at Landskrona he was in among the players out on the park. He was working on set-plays, and got a hold of the striker, saying 'why are you not here, you should be HERE'. He doesn't just stand on the side, telling them what to do.

"People like Henrik are so focused on what they want to do and achieve. They don't accept second best. And when you're Henrik Larsson and you're working hard you get everyone around you working hard too."

Lennon had his occasional run-ins with MacLeod - one withering put-down from the Northern Irishman related to his closeness with Larsson - but when it comes to the possibility of the Swede taking over, they are, publicly at least, in agreement.

"A lot of fans are disappointed to see Neil leaving the club," said MacLeod. "But it would lift the place and the fans would be back in droves to see what was going on under Henrik. I was there when he first signed as a player, and it would be incredible, fantastic for the football club if he came back as manager. He has always wanted to come back at some point, but didn't want to just walk back into Celtic when he finished playing. He has done his badges, gone to the smaller club, then the bigger club, and got experience handling players."

Lennon and chief executive Peter Lawwell were in Lisbon last night taking in the Champions League final, but the recruitment process is sure to intensify in the next week or so. Final answers about availability will be sought from the likes of Larsson, Moyes and Mackay, and decisions made on interested parties such as Steve Clarke, Owen Coyle and Oscar Garcia, the former Brighton and Hove Albion boss. Coyle, who rejected Celtic in 2009 prior to the appointment of Tony Mowbray said yesterday: "It is well documented that Celtic are my team and that will never ever change."

MacLeod feels the job should be "special" enough to tempt candidates of the calibre of his old team-mate Moyes, particularly with the return of Rangers to the top flight in all likelihood just 12 months away.

"In the real world and in the football world you always think you will be going back into where you once were, but that doesn't always happen," he said. "So many people knock Scottish football but the Celtic job is still really special. Any manager who wants Champions League football and has a good reputation I would encourage to go to Celtic."

With European qualifiers starting on July 15, Celtic do not have long for their deliberations. Identifying a cost effective source of new playing talent will also be crucial.

"Whoever it is will need to bring in better players to make Celtic a better team," said MacLeod. "If it's someone with the foreign background they will want to bring players from abroad. If it's Malky or Owen Coyle or David Moyes, they will be locals, people they know. It's about getting the right person ... and the right players."

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