Henrik's Replacement

Last updated : 20 January 2004 By Kevin Smith
After all the 'will he or won't he?' arguments which have been going on in the last few months, my mind is firmly fixed on the fact that Henrik Larsson will leave Celtic at the end of the current season.

Just exactly who Henrik goes to, I don't really care. Barcelona and Newcastle United are rumoured to be the front runners, but wherever he goes, we must wish him all the best, as he has been a living legend at Parkhead for the last seven years.

With Henrik's contract running out in the summer, we will receive no money when he departs, he will be released for free. This suggests that we will have no money to find a replacement (some may argue that there is not enough money in the world to replace the man!), but there are a few situations.

John Hartson leaving for Fulham is a regular at the rumour mill, especially now with Fulham's Louis Saha signing for Manchester United. We could expect to get around 4 Million for Hartson, that money would have to be invested into a new striker. Rumours that Chris Sutton will leave for a return to England are also flying around - but once again, only rumours.

Celtic's board could do the unthinkable and splash out the several million quid on a top quality striker, but the chances of that happening are about as weak as Rangers' financial figures!

With Craig Beattie today signing an extension to his contract, Celtic are clearly looking at youth as the answer to at least some of our problems. We have a decent youth setup, with Beattie, Maloney, Wallace and Smith all now pushing for squad places, but to hang the pressure of 'Larsson's replacement' on the shoulders of these young guys could be career shattering.

We do, at the moment, still have Chris Sutton and John Hartson in our team - a partnership worth around 12 Million, and a Godsend for any club. But personally, I don't think Hartson and Sutton work as a strike force together. I also cannot see both of them together at Celtic Park next season.

With Henrik Larsson only costing us 650,000 and Lubomir Moravcik just 330,000, it gives me hope that there are plenty of hidden gems out there. We have a good scouting system in house, and people like Moravcik, and his former boss Dr Jo Venglos on the lookout for cheap talent, so there is no reason why a low priced but certainly able replacement for Larsson can be found.

The frightening alternative to all of this would be for no one to be brought in. This happened a couple of seasons ago with Lubo, and we have arguably paid the price in Europe for not bringing in a similar player in class to the wee man. This must not happen with Larsson, the fans will demand a signing and we shouldn't look down the road of depnding on Shaun Maloney to attempt to replace another Celtic legend.

The big question now is who will be the alternative Larsson? Who will 'make us happy when skies are grey' next season?

Martin O'Neill attended Raith's match at the weekend, presumably to watch Chris Sutton's younger brother, John. I have spoken to members of the RaithRovers-Mad messagebard, and my understanding of Sutton Junior is that he is very raw and will need alot of work done to make the step up to a club like Celtic. However, his goalscoring record shows that he has a distinctive eye for goal, and the thought of Sutton and Sutton lining up against the huns is very mouth watering indeed!

Rumours will be of the highest order from now until the end of the season, with suggestions of who will come in for Larsson. Names have already been mentioned, including Robbie Keane, Kanu and Sylvian Wiltord, all of whom would be great in the SPL, but the wages of these guys could be out of the question.  However tempting it may be, there is no point in name checking every available player we see.  From now till June we will probably hear of 100 suitable contenders for the number 7 shirt, but my advice is to ignore them all, until pen is put to paper.

I would love to see someone similar to Larsson next year. Someone with a fantastic work rate and desire for victory. Someone with a good touch, a good goalscorer and a good all-round player, like Larsson. Whoever does come in, will have to bring the above qualities to the team or need not apply.

I think there is someone out there who is a suitable candidate to fill Henke's boots. It is, of course, easier said than done but Martin O'Neill will not let us down and whoever he brings in should be billed as 'Celtic's New Signing' other than 'Larsson's Replacement.'

If all else fails, we can wait for around 10 years and see if his son is any good!