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WhoScored: Zabaleta-Sterling a key battle

Tactics And Analysis 9 hours ago
Read
Oct 31, 2009

Larsson on his way back to Celtic?

Tony Mowbray could be forgiven for casting a few anxious glances towards Sweden this weekend. Even as the Celtic manager struggles to thrive amidst the incessant pressure of life within the Old Firm goldfish bowl, Henrik Larsson is finally bringing the curtain down on his illustrious career and the 38-year-old maestro has already expressed his desire to return to Parkhead at some stage in the future. From Mowbray's perspective, the timing could scarcely be worse, because of the stark contrast between the prolific, talismanic Larsson - who scored an astonishing 242 goals for the Glasgow club between 1997 and 2004 - and the current crop of misfiring strikers at Mowbray's disposal.

There is no such thing as an extended honeymoon period at Celtic or Rangers. During the last few weeks, the huddles have been replaced by hisses and thousands of empty seats, as disaffected Celtic aficionados express their dismay at a depressing sequence of results. Indeed, although the team remain at the summit of the SPL, the measure of the fans' disdain could be heard in the chorus of boos which greeted Celtic's elimination from the CIS Insurance Cup at the hand of Hearts on Wednesday. It wasn't the first time this autumn either, nor is there any reason to believe that Mowbray's men will effect a stunning transformation in their fortunes over the next few weeks. In brutal terms, they are missing quality where it matters - up front - and when you add to the mix a predilection for leaking soft goals and losing players to reckless challenges, this is a side which is only at the top of the pile because Rangers are in even worse shape.

Mowbray is a decent man, a combative individual with a sterling work ethic. That much was obvious even throughout his spell at West Bromwich Albion, who regularly wove pretty patterns without providing the requisite cutting edge to stave off relegation.

Yet, just a few months into his tenure, Tony wears the haunted look of a man who realises his every move is subject to intense scrutiny, his every tactical tinkering the subject of phone-in opprobrium if it doesn't go to plan. In the last week, the Celts have tackled the H Gang of Hamburg, Hamilton and Hearts and have created an abundance of scoring opportunities and found the net just twice, both while narrowly edging past the second of these clubs, who launched a stirring recovery from conceding a brace of early goals.

Some people might argue that Mowbray has been unlucky in the injury which has befallen his expensive signing, Marc-Antoine Fortune, and that he has been let down at various junctures by the likes of Scott Brown, Georgios Samaras and Scott McDonald, with the latter's perceived lack of sharpness and fitness earning him derision in the Scottish tabloids.

Yet, although this opinion carries a degree of merit, an air of gloom and melancholia tends to pervade Mowbray as he surveys the action on the periphery, almost as if he is waiting for accidents to happen. By the by, whatever the validity of his views, criticising players in public invariably breeds resentment and discontent and if Celtic's personnel have already felt the need to hold clear-the-air talks with their manager, one suspects that there will be further angst if Mowbray persists in claiming that his side lacks quality - a contention hotly disputed by his predecessor, Gordon Strachan.

Soon, however, Larsson will be scanning Europe for a fresh mission and it is difficult not to envisage that he will end up back in Glasgow. He made his ambitions obvious earlier this month - when he declared: "Everyone knows what my feelings are the club and I will go to Scotland sooner or later." A pragmatic individual with a streak of genius, Larsson has three things in his favour over Mowbray.

Firstly, he has pizzazz and the priceless ability to lift those around him, including supporters. Secondly, he knows as much about scoring goals as anybody who has played in Scotland throughout the past 20 years and his instinct, concentration on physical excellence, and communication skills are in keeping with his intelligence. Thirdly, as somebody who has proved himself at the likes of Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United, and that is even before we consider his myriad achievements with Sweden, Larsson is a proven world-class performer, whose gifts are beyond dispute. By comparison with that litany of qualities, Mowbray's stolid determination seems rather threadbare.

It may not happen this week or next. It might even be the case that Celtic crank up the gears for the rest of the season, spurred on by the financial woes afflicting their Old Firm rivals. But ultimately, Larsson was a totemic figure as a player, he desires the job, believes he could restore the club's sense of joie de vivre, and persuade those fans, who have found other things to occupy their mind, to resume paying their admission money. It is an alluring proposition and one which may soon become irresistible.

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