Henrik Larsson’s emotional tribute to Wim Jansen, the Dutchman who gave him Celtic

Henrik Larsson has been speaking about Wim Jansen, perhaps the most important person in his own career in professional football having brought him from Helsingborgs onto Feyenoord and then of course onto Celtic, for the best £650,000 the club has ever spent.

The news that broke on Sunday evening that Wim Jansen is now living with dementia has saddened everyone in the Celtic Family and indeed beyond that throughout the world of football, as the popular Dutchman, who famously signed Henrik Larsson, won the league Cup and stopped Rangers reaching Ten-in-a-Row in his one season in Scottish football receives support and warm wishes from everyone including of course the King of Kings, Henrik Larsson.

Wim is currently 74 – he celebrates his 75th birthday on Thursday this week – and of course he had a tremendous playing career himself at club and international level for Holland. He starred in the 1970 European Cup Final win over Celtic in Milan in what was one of the most painful night ever for the travelling Celtic support. But no-one at Celtic held that against him – Wim Jansen was the man who signed Henrik then stopped the Ten and that makes him a Celtic legend.

Henrik’s obviously got his own personal stories to tell about Wim.  “As a player you have some matches where everything you touch is good. I had a game like that in 1993 when I played for Helsingborgs in a derby against Trelleborgs. That was my lucky day, because Wim Jansen was in the stands. I was up front with Mats Magnusson. He was an experienced striker of 29, had played for Benfica for years and scored a lot,” Henrik told Daily Record . “I was just 22 and only recently played at the highest level in Sweden. We clicked. That day I scored two or three goals. Wim was actually there to watch Mats Lilienberg, Trelleborg’s striker. But he saw how I moved, both with and without the ball. And that is why he brought me to Feyenoord instead of Lilienberg.”

“In Holland I ended up in a culture that was foreign to me, I didn’t speak the language. I wasn’t very young, but I wasn’t old enough either. In retrospect I have to admit I wasn’t ready for it. I still had to grow up. So I honestly just wanted to leave Feyenoord.

“During that period I first seriously considered going back to Sweden but I knew, if I did that, I would never end up abroad as a professional footballer. So for me Celtic was a blessing. I didn’t know much about the club but I wanted to give it a chance. The rest is history.”

“The preparation for that season was chaotic. Wim only had 13 or 14 players when he started. The guys had never experienced a trainer like Wim before. He was always so calm and you could speak to him about anything. Everyone wants to work hard for a man like that.

“But we had so many new players that it took time. And you hardly ever get time in football. I could feel the pressure from the start. Every day. Rangers were going for a tenth successive title and we knew that couldn’t happen. Every Celtic fan who spoke to me told me how important that was. So you knew, if you don’t stop Rangers this year, it’s over.

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“In that respect, it was an advantage there were so many new players. They had no affinity with the Old Firm yet. The rivalry with Rangers was less deep. As a result, they were better able to handle the stress. Because if you had known then what you know now, that team wouldn’t have made it. And then we can count ourselves lucky that there was no social media at that time.”

“Without him I don’t know how my career would have progressed. It was no fun that our time together ended early after that season, for the second time. I knew the press would start asking questions, because I was seen as Wim’s boy. We had a good relationship and lived in the same neighbourhood.

“My wife Magdalena got on well with his wife Cobie. Our son Jordan had just been born when we came to Scotland and Cobie would babysit for us sometimes.

“It’s an art to properly convey what you want from players. Wim was a master at that. He peels off the layers. He gets to know you, layer by layer. At a certain point he knows how you are and what you are thinking. Then he comes up with something that makes it so easy for you that you don’t have to think about it anymore.

“You need a lot of people knowledge for that. And that characterises the really great trainers.”

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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