‘My whole life has been about proving myself’: Jordan Larsson on Spartak, Sweden & stepping out of father Henrik’s shadow (VIDEO)
Henrik became an icon in Glasgow, winning four Scottish Premier League titles; was instrumental in winning the Champions League with Barca, providing the two assists in the 2006 final; bagged silverware in Holland; had a whistle-stop Premier League-winning stay at Manchester United; and will go down in history as one of his country’s greats, helping them to third place at the USA ‘94 World Cup.
For any footballer, Larsson Sr.’s free-scoring boots are no mean feat to fill, let alone for his son.
But since arriving at Russia’s most decorated club without knowing a word of the language in 2019, the 23-year-old has made strides to do exactly that, firing Spartak into contention for the Russian Premier League title, pushing himself up the domestic goalscoring charts and, much like his famous dad, endearing himself to the fierce Spartak faithful in the stands.
His progress has caught the keen eyes of some of his father’s former clubs. Celtic fans have hinted their management should take a punt on the young attacker, and the mighty Barcelona have sniffed around, only for the Catalan club to be warded off with a cool €100 million valuation by Spartak.
RT Sport caught up with the Red-White's number 11 to talk everything from his father’s influence, playing under maverick manager Domenico Tedesco at Otkrytie Arena, the threat of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic comeback, conquering the Russian language, and whether he really is worth €100 million.
Jordan, tell me how your season’s going, how you’re feeling, what are your expectations?
I’m feeling good. We put down a lot of work with Domenico the coach in preseason and yeah basically ever since he came here we’ve been working a lot trying to get all the different pieces together, and I think last season was a little bit of a struggle you know. He came in in the middle of the season but I think now what you’re seeing this season is a lot of things we’ve been training on since the beginning so I think it all ties up nicely and from my point of view I think I’ve just been trying to help the team by scoring goals and giving assists. I’m happy that it’s going well for me but the most important thing is that we’re winning.
So yeah I’m happy and if we continue to do like this and keep our feet on the ground and just work hard then I think we can absolutely end top three.
Your dad once watched you from the stands in the derby against Lokomotiv, when you scored. What did he say to you afterwards? What were the emotions when you scored and you knew he would see it?
He told me he was proud of me. I’ve been in his shadow for a bit, since he played he was a big player, so for him to be able to see me progress and be able to score two goals against a Champions League team - we was just really proud and really happy to see me be able to do it not just in front of him but in front of my mother and my sister and my girlfriend - you know the whole family was there.
So it was a big moment for me and also it felt like a little bit of a breakthrough for me because in the beginning when I came here I wasn’t playing really well. I was playing in a different position, you know it takes some time to settle in. With those two goals I felt a lot more confidence and a lot more comfortable and from that game I think I started to progress and play better.
So has it been especially difficult to settle in in Russia? How long did it take you to kind of adapt?
It took me a while to be honest. The coaching’s a little bit different if you compare to Sweden or Europe in general. I think not always and in a way I think there are a lot of how you say in English ‘premeditated ideas’ if you understand what I mean about Russia in general. I don’t think a lot of them are true. But in the beginning when I came here we had a Russian coach, he didn’t speak English and he wanted me to play on the right wing. Even though I can play there the way he wanted me to play didn't really fit my style so it took some time but I think since Domenico came in and decided to play the way he plays it suited me really well and we get on really well and since he came in I started to lift my game and everything started to fall into place there.
And working under Domenico Tedesco, he’s a little bit of a maverick character, a maverick manager. We saw him squirt you in the face with water in the game against Tambov. What’s it like working with him day to day. How does he influence you and inspire you?
No, you know the passion that he brings to all of us I eman before every game gets everybody fired up you know he has incredible speeches before the game and he really knows how to get the most out of his players through his own passion you know delivering that to us to bring it out on the pitch.
Also in the training sessions, he makes sure that everybody in there is 100 percent and gives everything because that’s the way we need to work if we want to be able to win the league and be able to progress so no it’s a pleasure to work under him and he knows a thing or two about football so, no it’s a pleasure.
When you were a teenager you were tracked by I think Man United, a club where your dad played, also there were headlines about Barcelona, about Celtic. How much would it mean for you to get into the Champions League with Spartak and show what you can do with those sort of clubs?
I think for every player it’s a dream to play in the Champions League and like you said there’s been some rumors you know since my father is who he is, but no for me my whole life has been about proving I’m a good player, that I’m my own person you know.
I think a lot of people who don’t know me think of me as just Henrik Larsson’s son you know. The more I’ve progressed in my career the more and more people have started to know the name Jordan Larsson so I just want to continue on that path and of course to be able to play in the Champions League with Spartak will be a big dream and to compete against the best players in the world is I think what every player wants and what I dream of as well so yeah if we can succeed with that this year I’d be really proud of the team and also will be looking forward to next season.
You talk about becoming your own player and becoming your own person and showing people you are actually Jordan Larsson you’re not just Henrik Larsson’s son. You changed the name on the back of your shirt from ‘Jordan’ to ‘Larsson’, what was the thinking behind that?
No, because [laughs] the thing is when I came here there was a kind of marketing idea and during the time when I was going to be presented since my name is Jordan and I’m named after Michael Jordan they made a kind of campaign about Michael Jordan and I was getting all these questions and people commenting on Twitter about Michael Jordan and of course he’s a role model to me in that sense but it’s not like I live my life after him if you know what I mean.
And it was getting a bit blown up and the club also wanted me to use the number  because they thought it would be a good idea and I thought it would be cool but it got too much for me so I thought it would be better to change and to play with the J in front of the Larsson so that’s the answer.
So who was a bigger role model, Michael Jordan or Henrik Larsson?
[Laughs] They are both unique in their own way one is my father and one is one of the greatest athletes of all time. I still need to say my father not only in regards of sport but in regards of life in general. Because he’s taught me not only about football he’s taught me also how to become a man, what kind of values I should have and all these types of things. Of course he’s my biggest role model.
[Your father] became famous at Celtic. When you were a kid you were celebrating some of those successes on the pitch. Do you have that same affinity for those Celtic fans?
For me Celtic will always have a special place in my heart, not that I’ve played there in that sense, but it was the first place where I saw football as a young kid going with my mother to see games when my father was playing. That’s where I have the biggest memories in my head: ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ you have all the scarves before the games and everything so of course it will always have a special place in my heart but at the same time since my father is who he is at the club I think for me personally if I would ever have the chance to play there then I would like to establish myself even more, make my own name before I would play there if that chance would ever come up but of course it’s tempting. Not that they are interested in that sense but If I think about it to be able to play there would be a dream in that sense.
Of course if there was a move anywhere Spartak quoted €100 million to Barcelona. Do you think that’s a fair estimation?
No, of course I believe in myself but €100 million might be a little bit too much.I think the whole thing was a bit of banter. Some people understood it and I think some media outlets took it a bit too seriously. It was just a bit of banter from Spartak’s side and it was a funny thing.
How important is it for you to get that [Russian Premier League] title, and especially for the fans?
I think it would mean a lot, of course for the fans and it would mean a lot to us also. I came to Spartak because I wanted to develop but I wanted to win something and I think now we have a good chance of doing that even though we have some good teams who are competitors. But yeah it would mean a lot to the fans but also it would mean a lot to us, we’ve been working hard every day just trying to grind out and trying to get as high as we can. If we could win the league it would be phenomenal.
What influence have [Russian fans] had on you, the atmosphere in the stadium with the ultras is usually a really fiery really intense atmosphere. How have you been getting on with them, what effect have they had on you?
I’ve been getting along with them well, to be honest I love the big games - there hasn’t been so many now where the arenas are full - in the beginning when I came and we played against CSKA the first derby that I played in. It was amazing you know 45,000 fans. These are the games that you want to play in as a player where you can almost touch the tension if you know what I mean. They’ve been giving me a lot of love and a lot of support trying to push me forward so I appreciate them a lot and I appreciate their support not just behind me but behind the whole team.
Stadiums are only half full. How hard has it been to cope without that energy from the fans?
In the beginning it was difficult but now that we’ve had it for a while, you adapt yourself to it, you get used to it. Like you say they are our 12th guy in the team so they really push us and I miss the support of the fans even though we have a few fans in the stadium. But yeah I can’t wait for all of them to be back to get that atmosphere back. I think a lot of people are looking forward to it.
Let’s talk a little bit about Jordan Larsson’s career. Your career, your international career. You scored your first international goal this year. What were the emotion’s like to score your first international goal and how did it motivate you to hold down a regular spot in the Sweden team?
Of course it was a big moment for me. It was amazing for me even though it wasn’t really the best players in the national team so to speak, he was trying a few new players but still scoring for your country is a big big pleasure and a big so it was amazing and then also being called up to the real national team so to speak for the first time was an amazing accomplishment for me. Now I’m just trying my best to keep that spot and to be able to take steps also to be able to play and to challenge for a spot there as well.
There’s the European Championships held next year. How much does that motivate you to try and break into the squad full time?
It motivates me extremely. I mean all the players want to play in the Euros and the World Cups and the Champions League it’s the dream of every player so for me if I could be able to get a spot there it would be amazing for me. I’m doing everything I can here at Spartak to show that I deserve a spot but in the end it’s up to the coach. And we have a lot of good strikers right now in the national team.
There’s even some rumors that Zlatan Ibrahimovic wanted to come back so it makes it even harder but I believe in myself and I’ll just do everything I can just to show the coach and then it’s up to him what players he picks.
Do you think it would be good if Zlatan came back for the national team?
Of course it would be good for Swedish football. He’s an amazing player. He’s 39 years old and he’s still doing what he’s doing. It's absolutely amazing. It would only be positive if he came back. Of course it would be more difficult for me to break into the squad but for Swedish football in general it would be amazing.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of Sweden’s most famous footballers. I’m not sure if you had any contact with him but when he spoke out when you had some trouble with Helsingborgs fans. Was there any personal contact between you two guys?
I don’t know him personally in that sense. I’ve met him a few times when I was young because he’s a good friend of my father obviously they played together in the national team. But I’ve only met him a handful of times so I can’t say that I know him personally in that sense. In that case it was more he was contacting my father.
Coming back to life in Russia, has there been anything with Ultras where they’ve dragged you off to go and drink vodka and things like that in a bar or something like that and paid for your whole night or anything that’s happened?
No, no! I haven't heard anything about that in the past but it hasn;t happened to me. Normally all the fans are friendly. When I meet them in the city they normally ask for a picture or they say ‘forward Spartak’ or ‘Spartak champion!’ they only show love and support so there hasn’t been anything of that nature no.
It sounds like your Russian’s coming on quite well - ‘forward Spartak’ and ‘Spartak champion!’ - have you picked up any Russian?
To be honest I haven’t taken any lessons or anything like that. I’m a bit lazy in that sense. I can say a few simple words, a few simple phrases but I couldn’t say that I could have a conversation. If you speak really slowly I can understand a few words and make out, plus one and plus one and make out what it’s about but no I don’t know Russian that way I can’t say.
You’re in with a chance of getting the Golden Boot in the Russian Premier League. Is that something you concentrate on?
I would lie to you if I tell you I don’t think about it. Of course it would be a great thing for me. For a striker to win the Golden Boot but for me it’s not my primary focus. My primary focus is to win with Spartak and to help the team win. And if I score, if anybody else scores it doesn’t really matter in that sense. Obviously you want to do your job and score goals and create chances for your teammates but the most important is that we win.
What are the plans for the end of the season. What goals have you set yourself?
I never like to set a limit in that sense, you know I don’t want to put one figure and limit yourself. I’m not saying that I’m going to score 30/40 goals. I tend to work like that when you get too goal-orientated then it doesn’t help you very much. For me I play my best football when I don’t think and I just go out and play and focus on what I need to do for the team and for myself. Other than that what happens happens.
Just about the Swedish contingent in Russian football: You have quite a few players in Krasnodar; Marcus Berg, Kristoffer Olsson, Viktor Claussen; you’ve got Carl Starfeld at Rubin Kazan; do you communicate with these players? Is there some kind of friendship between you?
Of course we speak a lot during the games, before or after the games. We have a chat. I know Kristoffer Olsson from when we played together in the U-21 national team. I played against Carl Starfeld a lot of times in the Swedish league. You know each other so we speak a little bit after the games like I said and I think it’s all friendly between us. But yeah they actually influenced me a bit to come to Russia.
Not that they said that much in general but I didn’t know that much about Russia in general before I came here but I saw that for example Viktor Claussen, Kristoffer Olsson and Marcus Berg were doing well at Krasnodar and playing a lot in the national team so I saw that also as an opportunity for myself to come here and play good and then earn a spot in the national team which I achieved.
For those that don’t watch Russian football and those that don’t know much about your dad, describe Jordan Larsson the player in 3 words.
Wow you’re putting me on the spot here! I would say: fast, goalscorer and assist-provider.
Russian champion maybe?
I hope so, that’s the goal. That’s what we’re aiming for.