Long Reads

Thierry Henry: Arsenal’s greatest ever player

When Thierry Henry arrived in the Premier League he was somewhat of a gamble and, given he cost £11m in 1999, he wasn’t a cheap one either. By the time he moved on from the English top flight though he was one of the – if not the – most coveted players in world of football. Here we take a look at his journey all the way from his youth to his pinnacle and beyond.

Thierry Henry – The early years

As a young child, Henry wasn’t actually all that enamoured with the game of football but his father, Antoine, who is from Guadeloupe, was the driving force that managed to peak his interest. A large part of the reason behind that is because the district of Paris where Henry was born and raised, Les Ulis, was rough with football the main upper market escape available. The other big factor was the fact Henry was levels above his peers.

He began playing competitively as a seven-year-old and bounced through a series of lower league clubs before his big break came in 1990; Henry was 13. He starred in front of a Monaco scout. Henry didn’t know it but his destiny to make it pro was set. A spell at the highly regarded Clairefontaine Academy formed part of his agreement to join Monaco and, at the end of that, he penned an academy deal with Monaco. The senior coach was a certain Arsene Wenger.

Stepping up to the professional game

On the 17 August 1994 Henry turned 17; just two weeks later he’d make his breakthrough into senior football by starting on the left wing against Nice. It was far from a dream debut though as Monaco lost 2-0 and Henry was subbed in minute 64, which was just 60 seconds after Nice grabbed their second goal. Things improved from that point onwards but it did take time to click for the youngster.

By the end of 1996 Henry bagged the first award of his career in the shape of France’s Young Player of the Year whilst his first team silverware arrived a few months later as Monaco clinched the Ligue 1 title. Henry’s rise was starting to become rather like his own dribbling ability – rapid and somewhat mesmerising. The national team came calling and then he set a French record for the number of Champions League goals in a season whilst he was just a mere 20-year-old boy. How did he do it? By bagging a mighty impressive six in the group stages including a brace against Bayer Leverkusen and then finding the net again in the semi-final second leg against Italian giants Juventus. It wasn’t enough to see Monaco into the final.

By the time summer rolled around, the ache of semi-final elimination was long gone. Henry was part of the French squad to play in the home World Cup. Of course, we know how it ended. France emerged as conquerors of the world with Henry collecting another major honour for his ever expanding trophy cabinet. Back on the domestic scene and Henry was about to make a move that would change his career forever.

Joining Juventus – and flopping

Juve were clearly impressed by what they had seen of the dynamic Henry both up close and personal in the Champions League and from a distance; they shelled out £10.5m for his signature in January 1999. He’d been playing as a winger in France and that continued in Turin but, in truth, Henry struggled. The Italian style of play was so different to what he was used to and his speed and trickery weren’t helping him score or create whilst the demands placed on him by manager Carlo Ancelotti to work back towards his own goal hardly got the best from him. His time in the famed black and white stripes was so disastrous that just eight months later he was sold to Arsenal. If you don’t know how that went, you’re about to find out.

Becoming a legend

thierry henry arsenal legend

We touched on Arsenal signing Henry as being a risk in the opening of this article. The reason for that is two-fold; one, Wenger had just splashed a club record transfer fee to sign a player that had failed miserably in his first taste of football away from the lesser respected French league and, two, Henry was seen as the replacement for Nicolas Anelka; at the time, Anelka was worshipped by the Gunners fanbase.

Wenger addressed the media after his arrival saying that “Thierry Henry is a valuable addition” and quickly labelled him as a “striker”. It didn’t spark immediately for the Frenchman though with several games passing without the net bulging but when the first went in, the flood gates opened. In fact, we’re not sure they closed – ever. A big reason in that was Wenger; at least that’s who Henry credits for his explosion citing his boss’ ability to improve his brain. Whatever way you look at it, something triggered Henry.

After his slow start to life at Highbury, Henry ended that first season in England on 25 goals across all competitions. The next saw a dip to 21 but from the 2001/02 season he recorded five back to back campaigns where he broke the 30 goal mark; trophies started to arrive too. 2001/02 saw the FA Cup and League double, the following year, 2002/03, saw just another FA Cup for the team but Henry bagged 31 goals and 20 assists in all as he finished runner up in the Ballon d’Or voting. What followed that was the Invincibles side of 2003/04 when Henry bagged his career best 35 goals. Another 73 goals would flow before Henry left North London, which saw Henry eclipse Ian Wright’s record, but team silverware dried up. Henry had become too good.

The long and painful goodbye

By the time 228-goal Henry left Arsenal for Barcelona it had long been clear that the Gunners’ hero was going to part ways with his now beloved club; it was just a matter of when and who.

Henry was carrying the entire Arsenal team as he cut opponents apart single handed with his overall development travelling on a trajectory heading to the moon despite him not getting any younger; his team were threatening to head in the other direction as they were forced to swallow the impact of their stadium move.

The farewell had been coming but even so it saw so many tears. Fans were in despair at losing their talisman whilst Henry admits to sobbing as he turned his back on the red and white of Arsenal.

Brilliant at Barcelona

At 30-years-old Henry still had one big move in him. It just so happens that his takers were none other than Barcelona, who snapped him up at the cut deal price of £21m. That move came in July 2007. It was just over a year after the Catalan side shattered Henry’s heart in the Champions League final, which was played in Paris of all cities. It didn’t stop him making a good first impression at the Nou Camp though. The inaugural Thierry Henry in Spain campaign ended trophyless but 15 goals and nine assists from 40 appearances showed that he was up to the required levels and the next season, the evidence came pouring in.

Barcelona recorded the treble of La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League – where they embarrassed and annihilated Manchester United – and Henry was a pivotal figure with 24 goals and 10 assists. It would prove to be a unique set of trophies for Henry as his last major triumphs.

The final years

After electrifying Ligue 1, almost failing by the wayside in Serie A, proving his worth in Spain and absolutely lighting up football in England Henry eventually made the decision to head Stateside; he spent five years in New York totalling 51 goals. He did, however, actually score 56 goals across that time but five of those strikes came during an emotional loan return to Arsenal. It was a proper chance to say goodbye to the fans who dream dreams about his footballing ability.

Throughout his career Henry collected plenty of silverware, scored an incredible amount of goals – including pretty much every type of goal out there, assisted nearly as many and genuinely oozed class every time he stepped over the white line or in front of a video camera. Thierry Henry had it all.

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