Thierry Henry: France’s Crown Jewel
What is there that can be said of Thierry Henry’s career that has not already been said? The British and world press ran out of superlatives to describe his contributions at Arsenal and the French rightly regard him as one of their all-time greatest players. Because of his numerous achievements and accolades received over the years Henry rightly takes his place in French Football Weekly’s Hall of Fame having amassed over 30 individual awards and enjoying no less than 18 domestic and international trophies in spells at Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona and now New York Red Bulls.
A remarkable achievement for the boy from Essonne (in the Parisian suburbs) who was first picked up by Monaco in 1990 and made his Ligue 1 debut in 1994. A young Henry under the expert tutelage of Arsène Wenger for a short spell started out on the left wing as his manager thought he would fare better against full-backs rather than centre-backs, but despite his high goalscoring prowess as a youth player this form initially failed to translate into Ligue 1 and he finished his first season with three goals in 18 games.
Following a switch of position to striker a year later, Henry went on to win the 1996 French Young Footballer of the Year award and began to strike up a strong understanding with fellow French forward David Trezeguet. Later on that year, Henry helped Monaco to the 1996-1997 Ligue 1 title and by this point he had become an indispensable member of the Monegasque outfit despite his young age. The following season saw the then 21-year old explode onto the scene as he helped l’ASM reach the Champions League semi final and set a French record by scoring seven goals in the competition. By the time the campaign was over he had received his first cap for the French national team and was part of Aimé Jacquet’s plans for the World Cup on home soil in 1998. Henry was his country’s top goalscorer with three goals as they won the tournament and he returned to Monaco a world champion at 21.
His rich vein of form at Stade Louis II continued and it was his performances at France 98 and for the Principality outfit that eventually caught the eye of Italian giants Juventus who splashed out £10.5million for his signature in January 1999. He left Monaco with 20 goals in 105 appearances to his name but the move to Italy although it looked a good match on paper, did not work out for ‘Titi’. He was often played out wide in his second choice role of left winger and did not suit the style of play in Serie A. Often derided as lazy and ill-disciplined because of his lack of desire to defend, Henry only made 16 appearances in Turin where he scored three goals.
With his once promising career stalling in Italy it was the man who handed him his debut at Monaco- Arsène Wenger -who saved him from his Italian nightmare. Stumping up £11million to land his man, Wenger immediately replaced Real Madrid-bound Nicolas Anelka with him and played him in his preferred striker’s role. Henry initially struggled to adapt to the rigours of Premier League football but once he acclimatised London and his teammates the rest of the story, as we know, is history. He went on to become one of the most decorated players in British football history and some of his goals were the stuff of legend. Constantly fawned over by the press and inspiration to generations of young Premier League fans, Henry made a massive impact on the Premier League becoming not only one of Arsenal’s most important figures in club history but one of the league’s too.
In over 300 games in all competitions for the club he registered 226 goals, was club captain for two seasons and helped lead Arsenal to unprecedented glory climaxing in the ‘invincibles’ era where Wenger and his gallic-infused squad were quite literally untouchable. Sadly for Arsenal, all good things come to an end and after eight happy years in London Henry departed for Barcelona under a cloud following uncertainty over Wenger’s future at the club after the beginning of a lean streak which still continues, and the departure of David Dein, an influential figure in Henry’s career.
‘Titi’ arrived in Spain amidst much fanfare and initially enjoyed success with the Catalan giants. He regularly found the net although not to the same level he did at Arsenal, and helped the club to a fantastic treble in 2009 which eventually turned into a six trophy haul which included the elusive Champions League medal that he finally added to his collection having come close in Paris a few years before with Arsenal. However, with the emergence of Barcelona’s brilliant generation of talent that included Lionel Messi and with the sands of time not running kindly for Henry, his time at FCB drew to a close with him making fleeting appearances on the left wing before it was announced that the Frenchman would depart the club in the summer of 2010.
His destination it emerged was Major League Soccer in America and more specifically, New York and the Red Bulls. He arrived once again amidst much furore somewhat akin to David Beckham’s arrival in Los Angeles a few years before, but he failed to make any real impact on the field as his first half season was blighted by injury. Those little niggles have never really gone away and now, at the end of his first full season in MLS, Henry has a Supporter’s Shield trophy from his first year to show for his time there so far but very little else as the Red Bulls have failed to deliver the glorious football promised upon Henry’s arrival. A talented squad packed with potential and experience including his former Barcelona teammate Rafael Márquez have rarely been able to mould to Henry’s style of play and although he has tallied 16 goals in just under 40 appearances in the U.S., his time there has been far from successful to date.
A far cry then from his glory days with the French national side where he scored 51 goals in 123 games and helped Les Bleus dominate world football at the turn of the century. Having made his debut in 1997 in a 2-1 win over South Africa as a 20-year old, Jacquet made him part of his plans for World Cup 98. Although he was relatively unknown outside of France, Henry finished as France’s top scorer with three goals and received the position of Chevalier (knight) of the Légion d’honneur, France’s most prestigious award.
Two years later he was at it again, netting three goals once more as France won the European Championships in 2000, finishing as his country’s top scorer and man of the match in the final against Italy. Although his international career could not maintain those heights and a lot of disappointment followed, Henry still contributed hugely to France’s surprise appearance in 2006’s World Cup final and even made it into the FIFPRO World Cup XI on the back of outstanding performances against Brazil in particular.
His international career was to end in farce however as he was one of the players embroiled in the arguments over disharmony in the French World Cup camp at South Africa 2010 under the tedious management of Raymond Domenech, a tournament that France had qualified for by virtue of his outrageous handball goal in the qualifiers against the Republic of Ireland which won Les Bleus the match amidst huge controversy.
Despite an ignominious international end to a glittering career many French football fans will choose to only remember the good times; Henry as a young burgeoning star at Monaco, the crown jewels of French football whilst at Arsenal and the World and European champion with the national side. Let’s hear it for a player whose like we will be waiting a long time for French football to replicate. Merci Thierry-légende!