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Rijkaard tried to persuade Larsson to stay at Barcelona

Written by: Staff
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MADRID, March 21 (Reuters) Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard says he has tried to persuade Sweden striker Henrik Larsson to stay for another season rather than end his career with hometown club Helsingborg.

''Everyone from the coaching staff to the directors tried to convince him to stay, but he made the decision to leave and we have to respect that,'' Rijkaard was quoted as saying on the club's website today.

Larsson has been in impressive form recently, scoring in each of Barca's last five league matches to take his season tally to nine - despite rarely featuring in the starting line-up.

Rijkaard admitted the 34-year-old's lack of minutes was behind his decision to leave the club.

''He is an exemplary sportsman,'' said the Dutchman. ''Strikers want to play all the time and he has had some difficult times, but has shown that he is capable of putting them to one side.'' Larsson, who joined Barcelona after seven successful years at Celtic, missed most of his first season with the Catalans after tearing his cruciate ligament in his left knee during a 3-0 win over Real Madrid in November 2004.

He returned from international retirement to help Sweden qualify for the World Cup and will play in the finals in Germany before moving back to his first club Helsingborg.

Rijkaard, who has rested the Swede for Barca's game at home to Getafe on Tuesday, warned against any premature euphoria at the club after stretching their lead to 11 points last weekend.

''I don't like phrases like 'the league is already won' because we all know that this isn't true in sport,'' he said.

''In any case as well as respect for our rivals, the Barcelona philosophy is that we have to get on with our work, look for the win and if possible play good football.

''I hope we can win something important this season. It is true we have a comfortable advantage but we have to keep working hard.'' Barca are also hoping for success in the Champions League, where they Benfica in the quarter-finals.

REUTERS PDS PC2113

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