My Football Heroes – Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry was born with a natural talent for football. A talent that would shine on the biggest stages in world football. The Frenchman is one of the greatest strikers I have ever had the pleasure of watching. At the age of just 20, Henry was already helping France to win the World Cup. From an early age it was clear Henry was destined for greatness.

Henry was charismatic, elegant just as he was on the pitch. Graduating from the famous Clairefontaine football school, starting his career at Monaco, it is hard to believe now that Henry began his career as a winger. His manager at Monaco was Arsene Wenger, he told Henry to play up front – The rest is history. Wenger saw something special in his fellow Frenchman and showed a tremendous amount of faith towards Henry. Playing in the first team at Monaco at the age of 17, Henry began to make a name for himself. Henry, who was named the French young player of the season in 1996,  would help Monaco win the league and the following season reach the Champions League semi-finals.

People expected great things from Henry, at times the striker found it difficult to live with that but then he exploded in European football, scoring more goals for Monaco than anybody had at that time in European competition. That is some way to handle the expectations. When Henry won the World Cup at the age of 20, it brought a maturity and a realisation that there was much room for improvement and development in his game.

At Euro 2000, Henry led a much feared forward line. Henry was awarded man of the match in three games during the tournament, also scoring three goals, which included the equaliser against Portugal in the semi-final. France would go on to be champions of Europe. Henry would continue to shine on the international stage, leading the line to guide France to another World Cup final in 2006, losing at the hands of Italy in a penalty shootout. Henry would go onto break Michel Platini’s all time goal-scoring record for France, he bowed out of international football with 51 goals.

Six months after the 1998 World Cup final, Henry left Monaco for Juventus. Serie A presented a whole new set of challenges for the Frenchman, Juventus at that time was a difficult side to break into for an attacking player, with the likes of Zidane, Dechamps and Del Piero all permanent fixtures in the side. As a result Henry found himself on the sidelines, Henry became disillusioned with his failure to secure a first team place. Arsene Wenger would offer Henry an escape route, one that the striker grabbed. Henry moved to Arsenal in 1999 for €14 million, there was already a strong French contingent at the club with Vieira, Petit and Anelka. Henry adapted slowly to his new role as a central striker, the early part of the season saw frequent appearances as a late substitute, during one of those appearances he scored his first goal in English football at Southampton. Henry would go on to score 26 goals in his first full season which was a phenomenal achievement, Arsenal would finish second that season behind Manchester United. In his second season Henry topped the league charts with 32 goals as Arsenal won the double winning the league and FA Cup. In Henry’s third season there were 32 more goals and an astonishing 23 assists.

Henry was on fire in the Premier League, however one game in the Champions League caught the eye of the world against Inter Milan. Henry ran the length of the field to slot the ball into the bottom left corner. Up against arguably one the best defenders in Zanetti, Henry ran the defender ragged that night scoring twice and providing an assist.

2004 was the pinnacle, Arsenal would go the season unbeaten and Henry was named PFA player of the year for the second successive year. The Frenchman continued to captivate, he won the European golden boot for the second successive season and was named Arsenal captain when Patrick Vieira departed for Italy. Henry could lead by example, he was assured of his place in the starting line-up because of his incredible ability. Henry was not a great talker, however he understood the game better than any of his teammates, Henry would allow his ability to do the talking. The Frenchman would break Ian Wright’s club record 185 goals, along with Cliff Bastin’s league record of 150 goals. In 2006 Henry ended the season as the leagues top scorer for the third successive season, his fourth in total, he also earned his third Football Writer’s Player of the Year award.

The most prestigious thing about Thierry Henry is the consistency, from the moment he started hitting a rich vein of form with Arsenal in 2000 to 2006 is something that marks him as one of the greats. Arsenal would fall short in the league in 2006, there was also heartbreak in Paris where Henry’s team were beaten by Barcelona in the Champions League final.

Arsenal’s lack of investment unsettled Henry, following an injury plagued season he signed for Barcelona in 2007. In Catalonia he was simply another great player in a world class team. Initially Henry was deployed as a wide striker and struggled to adapt, yet he completed his first season as Barcelona’s top scorer having developed a formidable relationship with fellow strikers. Messi and Eto’o. His second season in Catalonia saw him at his very best, Henry, Eto’o and Messi shared 100 goals between them. The highlight of the domestic season was the 6-2 thrashing of fierce rivals Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Even better was to follow, Barcelona won the treble of the Copa Del Rey, La Liga and Champions League, followed by victories in the Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup how do you follow that?

Henry decided to move to the MLS signing for New York Red Bulls. After a career at the very top, Henry reacquainted himself with the fans that had idolised him for so many years, taking a short term loan back at Arsenal. On his second debut he scored the games only goal, a fairytale. Thierry Henry was one of the great strikers of modern football, multiple trophy winner who for a time was arguably the best in the world. A French football genius who did the game and his family name proud.