Flashback Legends (Part 2): Thierry Henry : The King who reigned

If there were points for style and grace, Henry would get 11 on 10


Thierry Henry was in every sense a legend, for both club and country. Henry won it all, from the World Cup and European Championships to the Champions League, Spanish League and English League. His list of accomplishments goes further than that, as he also won numerous individual awards, winning the PFA footballer of the year award on multiple occasions as well as finishing second in the FIFA world player of the year shortlist twice.

Henry started his career as a winger with his childhood club AS Monaco, lifting the Ligue 1 title their under his future Arsenal manager and mentor, Arsene Wenger. He was then transferred to Juventus, where he was again deployed as a winger due to his ridiculous speed and dribbling skills. He failed to make an impression in Italy and was subsequently reunited with Wenger, this time at Arsenal in England. It was here that he became a household name, winning the league and cup titles as well as leading the goal scoring charts on various occasions. Immediately after his transfer from Juventus, Henry was played in a more central striker position, his favored position during his childhood.

Henry would go on to score 228 goals for Arsenal, becoming their all-time top scorer. He also provided numerous assists, providing close to 50 over the 2004-2006 seasons. He was repeatedly voted the PFA Footballer of the year as well as winning the European Boot and the goal scoring title for the English premiership. Although he never won the FIFA World footballer of the year award, at his peak he was probably the best player on the planet.

 He was the most feared striker in the world, especially during the 2003-2006 seasons, and not just because of his goal scoring. It was famously said that Henry told Wenger when he was first played as a striker “But boss i cant shoot!”. Henry had the unique blend of both technique and athleticism, paired with a thinking brain and genuine genius. Henry was both quick and precise, easily beating defenders with his trickery and skill. He was never the best header of the ball, but provided enough goals to be an aerial threat. He could pick up the ball from the middle of the pitch, and just breeze past defenders and score, or he could shoot from distance and finish in the corner. Henry was the first choice free kick taker and penalty taker at Arsenal, becoming one of the best in the world and was deadly from set pieces. He would at times score the audacious, like his goal against United or his cheeky back heel against Charlton. Henry was probably the most complete striker the world had seen at the time, a prototype that Ronaldo seems to have taken to a new level.
Henry was an integral part of one of the finest Premier League sides of all-time, the Arsenal Invincibles of 2004. The all conquering Arsenal side swept all before them en route to an unprecedented unbeaten season in the top flight, a feat not achieved even by the great United teams under Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsenal won everything domestically with Henry, FA cups, league titles and Community shields. They also reached the finals of the UEFA Champions League for the only time in their history in 2006, only to be denied by Ronaldinho and FC Barcelona.

His pairing with the genius Dutchman Denis Bergkamp is the stuff of legends, the duo tormenting defenses for almost a decade, helping Arsenal break the ManU stranglehold in England.

 In 2007, Henry was transferred to FC Barcelona, where he would form the most formidable club side in history of world football at the time. This Barcelona team would go on to win 6 titles in one season under Pep Guardiola, a feat that has never been achieved either before or after them. Henry would win his only Champions League title here in 2009, completing his set of Club titles and marking himself out as one of the greatest player of all time from France.

It is testament to his ability that he was part of two of the greatest club teams ever, the Arsenal Invincibles of 2004 and Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2009, These teams are talked about as the best teams there ever were, and have set records that should stand the test of time.

But all this is just his club accomplishments. His achievements with the International side are equally striking. Henry was a member of the French World Cup winning squad in 1998 and the 2000 European Championships, the only team from Europe to hold both titles simultaneously till that time. (Spain would do the same in 2010). Henry was also part of the 2006 team that reached the finals, only to lose out om penalties, where Henry was surprisingly taken off during extra time with penalties looming. He never quite managed to out do the other Wizard at that time in France, Zinedine Zidane.

These French teams were known as Zizou’s teams, with Henry expected to take over in 2006 after is retirement. However, Henry could never really replicate his club form for France, a fact still misunderstood by many. It can be argued that the teams weren’t built around him like they were for Zidane, but it still remains one of the biggest mysteries of his career. He did however end up as France’s all-time top goal scorer of all-time, breaking Michel Platini’s record. He wasn’t given the same freedom as at Arsenal nor did he have as many memorable moments individually as at Arsenal, still his goals like the one against Brazil in 2006 or his penalty in the shootout in 1998 standout.

 His only blemish was the controvesy surrounding his ‘Hand Of God’ goal against the Republic Of Ireland that sent the French team to the finals in 2010, a tragedy that led to him being dropped to the bench despite being captain.
He had a terrific relationship with David Trezeguet up front for France, and also his team mates Robert Pires, Wiltord, Vieira, Denis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, forming a team that gelled both on and off the field.
He ended his career with the NY Red Bulls, winning a couple of Eastern Conference titles, and he also made a Arsenal return on loan for a brief period in 2012. He has hinted at playing in the ISL in future, joining his team mate Pires, Ljungberg and Anelka.

For a player who both almost everything the world of football had to offer and played a hand in forming the defining teams of his generation, Thierry Henry is a Legend and will go down as one of the all-time greatest players.

Photo by Ronnie Macdonald