In recent news that soccer star Thierry Henry has announced his retirement from the game, Eoghan Wallace examines Henry's legacy, from becoming top goal scorer for both Arsenal and France, to 'that' infamous handball incident.
A few days ago footballing legend Thierry Henry announced his retirement from the game. However in this country Henry’s reputation has been forever tarnished by that night in Paris five years ago – Us Irish love holding a grudge after all.
Yes, Henry did control the ball with his hand and possibly denied Ireland a place at the 2010 World Cup, but we must not forget that at the peak of his powers, Henry was unstoppable. In fact Henry was the greatest forward to ever grace the Premier League.
Granted, in terms of goals, Henry (175) is only tied for fourth place alongside Frank Lampard in the all-time Premier League scorers’ list, behind Alan Shearer (260), Andy Cole (187) and Wayne Rooney (179). However as an overall footballer, Henry eclipses them all. Shearer was a goal machine, no one can deny that, but Henry was comfortable anywhere on the field and had the ability to change a game within a single passage of play.
Take the 2003 Champions League for example, Arsenal travelled to the San Siro knowing that a loss to Inter Milan would see them eliminated at the group stages. Henry opened the Gunners’ account but at half-time the scoreboard read 1-1. It was in the second half where Henry grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and inspired Arsenal to inflict Inter’s heaviest defeat at home for 47 years.
After setting up Freddie Ljungberg for Arsenal’s second, an Inter corner cleared out of the box found Henry ten yards behind the halfway line. With blistering pace, Henry left Javier Zanetti for dead before stopping just inside the box and hammering a left-footed shot past Francesco Toldo. Arsenal won 5-1, with Henry playing a role in the first four goals.
Henry’s period at Arsenal coincided with a golden period for the club, a time when they were Manchester United’s only rivals to the title. With the Gunners he won two Premier League titles, one of which was the remarkable 2003-04 ‘Invincibles’ season, was named Player of the Year twice, Footballer of the Year three times and overtook Ian Wright as the club’s record goal scorer.
After leaving for Barcelona he clinched the one title that had eluded him at Arsenal; the Champions League, as part of a historic sextuple-winning side. An integral member of France’s golden generation, Henry won the World Cup and European Championship. He also overtook Michel Platini as France’s all-time goal scorer. Not bad for a player Juventus felt was best suited on the wing.
The dubious manner of France’s qualification for South Africa 2010 certainly infuriated the Irish public, but this was replaced by a comforting sense of schadenfreude as the French camp revolted and crashed out at the group stages. This was Henry’s last foray in a French jersey, an ignominious end to an otherwise wonderful career.
Henry did cheat when he handled the ball in 2009, but we must try to look past that incident and appreciate Henry for the extraordinary talent he was, it doesn’t mean we have to like him. After all, Diego Maradona is still revered in this country despite being banned for doping, and for a particularly notorious piece of cheating; although he had the fortune of doing it against England, which somehow makes it ok.
Photo: Kieran Clarke/ Flickr
Photo: Kieran Clarke/ Flickr