Story of a Legend: Thierry Henry



“Ronaldinho is a special player, but Thierry Henry is probably technically the most gifted footballer ever to play the beautiful game”. Not many footballers are so exalted by one of the best players that has ever lived, yet Zidane was more than happy to heap such praise on his fellow countryman. It’s not hard to see why Zizou came out with such a statement, looking back on Henry’s career (in which he won every major cup possible). It didn’t start out as rosy as it finished, though…
Born on 17th August 1977 in the rough Les Ulis suburb of Paris, Thierry Henry’s footballing potential was obvious from an early age. Above all, it was his blistering pace that set him apart from the pack, and the relatively good footballing facilities in the local neighbourhood allowed him to showcase his amazing potential to Claude Chezelle, who recruited him to local side CO Les Ulis. After moving to ES Viry-Chatillon, Henry caught the attention of AS Monaco scout Arnold Catalano by scoring all six goals in his side’s 6-0 win at the age of just 13. With the help of Catalano, Henry developed at the acclaimed Clairefontaine academy and joined Arsène Wenger’s Monaco as a youth player at the same time as close friend and promising youngster David Trezeguet.
At such a young age, Wenger chose to deploy Henry on the left wing, reasoning that his electric pace and skill would be more useful against full backs than centre backs. After being named the French Young Footballer of the Year in 1996 at 19 years old, he helped Monaco win Ligue 1 in the 1996-97 season. One year later, Henry was an instrumental figure in the Monaco squad once again, setting a French record seven goals in the Champions League that season to lead his side to the semi-finals. That summer, Henry made the step up to the national side, and was involved in France’s victorious World Cup campaign on home turf.

His impressive performances on both a domestic and international level saw him earn a move to Juventus and, after an unsuccessful few months, he quickly moved on to reunite with ex-coach and mentor Arsène Wenger at Arsenal in 1999. By this stage in his promising career, all that Thierry Henry had achieved had been when playing largely on the left wing, and Wenger suspected that he could get much more out of Henry if he played him up front. It didn’t take long for his suspicions to come true…

It was under Wenger’s tutelage at Arsenal that Henry developed into a truly world class footballer. Henry shed the clumsy mistakes that at times impeded his incredible speed and raw potential, and flourished into a frighteningly physical and technical striker in the wake of Nicolas Anelka’s high-profile £23 million move to Real Madrid. The £11 million move at first looked like a hefty sum for an unproven youngster after Henry’s first eight games brought him no goals. His first goal for Arsenal, a 25 yard curler against Southampton, opened the floodgates for not only that season but the six after that – he finished that season with 26 goals in all competitions, and then registered 30 goals or more in five consecutive seasons from 2001 to 2006.
His goalscoring form saw him play an instrumental part internationally too, as he helped France win the 2000 UEFA European Championships. During these five years, the Premier League was blessed by one of the greatest footballers to ever ply his trade on British soil. His pace was unprecedented, his skill unrivalled, his intelligence inimitable – it was no surprise to hear teammate Dennis Bergkamp, himself a legend of the game, proclaim “If you look at the whole package, with everything Henry has, I don’t think you can find that anywhere else”.
With the record-breaking number of goals that he scored during this time, it is difficult to go through all of them. Possibly the most important goal of his time at Arsenal is his solo wonder goal against Liverpool during their unbeaten Premier League season in 2004. After going out of both the FA Cup and Champions League in the space of just one week, Arsenal had their backs against the walls. Finding themselves 2-1 down at home, Arsenal’s so far unbeaten season was under serious threat. Up step Thierry Henry to single-handedly win the match and save their precious record. There aren’t many words to describe this goal, so just watch…

After winning against Liverpool, Arsenal went on to win the Premier League without a single defeat. Another 3 years down the line, during which time Henry scored another 75 goals to dethrone Ian Wright as Arsenal’s record goalscorer, and Henry moved on to Spanish giants Barcelona. His partnership with Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi in attack won Barca a historic treble in 2009, completing his personal sweep of winning every major tournament possible at Arsenal, Barca and for France.
His time at Barca was cut short through increasing injury, and his move to MLS side New York Red Bulls saw him enjoy a second-wind. A brief loan spell back at Arsenal, who by then erected a statue of him outside the stadium, conjured up one more moment of magic as he scored on his first game back, against Leeds in the FA Cup.

Though Henry can now be seen on TV screens as a football pundit for Sky Sports, nothing can replace the sight of him roaring through on goal with a power and finesse so rarely seen in the sport. Words cannot really describe how good he was at his best… Luckily, pictures can…


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