Hull City v Aston Villa: Seb Larsson puts mutual admiration to one side

Hull's Seb Larsson: Speculation over future.
Hull's Seb Larsson: Speculation over future.
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THE Swedish translation of the phrase ‘thank you very much’ is ‘tack så mycket’.

For Hull City followers who will heartily show their gratitude towards revered former manager Steve Bruce on his first return to the club today the thanks will be delivered in English and with an East Yorkshire accent.

The esteem will extend to several home players who know Bruce well, too, including Swedish midfielder Seb Larsson, who perhaps can vouch for the Geordie better than anyone.

It speaks volumes about the magnetism of Bruce that he managed to convince the Swede to reject the overtures of former club Arsenal and Aston Villa to join Sunderland in June 2011.

The current Villa manager, chasing a fifth promotion to the Premier League, had previously worked with Larsson at Birmingham City, where the Sweden international soon came to acknowledge Bruce’s gravitas as a manager and a person. A players’ boss, as the saying goes.

Professionalism this afternoon will mean that Larsson is unlikely to make a beeline for his former manager before the game, but the respect is obvious.

Now 32, Larsson, who first linked up with Bruce when he moved to St Andrew’s on loan from Arsenal in August 2006, said: “I probably had spells when he was my manager where I performed somewhere near my best football.

“He is a manager I respect a lot and I have a lot to thank him for. He gave me my chance at Birmingham when I was a lot younger and I have had a good relationship with him. At that stage of a career he was a big factor that I chose to go to Sunderland.

“He is a good guy and person and someone who I felt comfortable working under. I felt he could get the best out of me as a player at that stage of my career. I really do not have a bad word to say about him.”

On the prospect of Bruce adding yet another second-tier promotion to his glittering CV, the Scandinavian added: “I would be glad for him if that was the case as he has proven time and time again that he is a very good manager and is outstanding at this level and Premier League level. On Saturday I will not wish him good luck, but for the rest of the season I will.”

Those same values of competence, trust and thoroughness that Bruce knew he was getting when he persuaded Larsson to head to Wearside are likely to be utilised by current Hull manager Nigel Adkins this afternoon as he places responsibility on the shoulders of his senior players to help pilot the Tigers to Championship safety.

After a season of turbulence Hull are starting to plot a smoother path although their poor recent performance at Birmingham provided a salutary warning that they are not quite at their preferred destination yet.

But in the round, significant progress has certainly been made from a grim afternoon at Deepdale in early February when a 2-1 loss at Preston kept them in the bottom three and the mood was dark and the visitors looked cast-iron relegation candidates.

Thankfully it proved a turning point with four wins in eight Championship matches having followed, with the confidence which was in such short supply not so long back having started to reappear.

On the notion of the Preston loss proving a positive catalyst, Larsson acknowledged: “I would like to think so, yes, because that was not a nice afternoon or few days or weeks after.

“Obviously pressure was really on us to try and start performing better and pick up more points. In general we have done that over these last eight games apart from a couple of games and the obvious one is Birmingham.

“Confidence is a massive part of football. You get a couple of results which go your way and everyone feels that little bit more comfortable and confident going into games.”

Doing his bit in the centre alongside Larsson to help steer Hull towards safety is Norwegian international Markus Henriksen, with their all-Scandinavian midfield combination possessing qualities of reliability and quiet effectiveness.

The pair are likely again to be entrusted with considerable responsibility during Hull’s teak-tough Easter programme against the promotion-chasing Midlands duo of Villa and Wolves and expect it to sit well upon their seasoned shoulders.

Larsson said: “Markus has come in and done really well lately. I think you can tell he feels that as well and is confident.

“You can tell in training and during games that he is probably feeling more comfortable and confident than he has done previously, which is great for us and good for the team.

“He has shown, especially over these last few games, what he is capable of. He is a very talented footballer and a guy who works really hard. For everyone it is great to see he is moving in the right direction and doing well.”

Ever the consummate professional, Larsson – whose deal is up in the summer along with several other experienced players – is putting thoughts regarding his own future to one side until Hull’s fate is known this season.

Reports in Sweden have linked Larsson with a move back to his homeland following this summer’s World Cup, but he is remaining steadfastly focused on the present.

Larsson, who admits he and his family are likely to return to their native Sweden “at some stage”, commented: “I can honestly say I have not thought about it. You can chose to believe me or not. But that is the honest truth.

“I think I would have if we were in a different situation in the league, say if we were sat in mid-table with nothing to worry about or play for, it might have been different.

“When we have mentioned it between ourselves and the manager I am sure he feels the same way; that we will speak in the summer and see where we are at.

“A few players have moved back to the Swedish League lately and I am sure journalists will be looking at my situation with my contract running out and I am getting a few years older.

“It is not hard to try and speculate regarding my situation.”

But for Larsson there is plainly pressing club business to attend to first before the summer recess.