Thierry Henry: Taking Football to the Next Level?
It is a Saturday morning and four days have passed since that match between Ireland and France. However, I still not quite work out whether I agree with the legions of newspaper columnists and certain members of the football public that Thierry Henry is the devil incarnate. It is hysterical commentary, which has left me breathless. I am still struggling to cope with the idea that Henry is really the most evil person in European and World football since someone decided that it would be fun to kick a pig’s bladder around a patch of grass?
The character assassinations have been comprehensive and brutal, and against a player who has always impressed me. Every Saturday, he would execute another mind-blowing move, which I would try to imitate in the Basingstoke five-a-side football league on the following Thursday. Under the floodlights in an arena where we tried to believe that our football dreams were still ahead of us. One attempted Henry styled back heal or free kick would leave me flat on my back with dodgy hamstrings, scuffed shirt and shorts and the ball whistling away into the vegetable patch of a adjoining back garden.
In the aftermath of the Ireland game in 2009, I have been treated to the highs and lows of Thierry Henry’s career whether in print or film. All those little moments that somehow managed to leave your minds during the last eleven years came back in a simple cut out and keep guide. I was helped to remember Henry’s indifferent start to his career at Highbury, and reaching the peak in English football around the 2003/ 2004 season. I am left reeling by the fact that it is six years since that season when Arsenal played jaw-dropping football that won games before the two teams had even arrived on the pitch.
Henry, Pires and the rest were the perfect antidote to a season when everyone was struggling to understand how the Russian millions would affect the Premier League. Although there was no real evidence to support the idea, it was naturally assumed that the 2003-2004 title would head to west London on the strength of one chequebook from a Russian oligarch that we had never heard of. In the unlikely event that the trophy was diverted to another destination, it was naturally assumed that Old Trafford would be the only other possible venue for this trophy. At the start of this decade, off the back of the 1999 treble, that Manchester United road sweeper was gobbling up any trophy that seemed to be in existence.
When you are watching players who are executing football to the highest quality, you either admire the view in a state of awe, or carp on about arrogance and question whether Arsenal could play in any other way. I preferred to take the first option and reflect on how Henry could bamboozle the opposition defence with the slightest touch of the ball, score goals that were dead certs to be in the running for ‘goal of the season’ as soon as the ball left his foot. He remains a player that has defined my watching of football, and my weak attempts to play the game for much of the first decade of this twenty-first century.
Icons will never leave my mind, regardless whether they handle the ball as their national team builds up to a goal. I am struggling to cope with the idea that a player, who I have admired for over a decade, did a particular action that has made him public enemy number one for many people. Can we get a sense of proportion?
Yes, Henry handled this sacred ball against an Irish side, who was so fancied against France that they were still locked at 1-1 into extra time. This game was treated like a spaghetti movie between the good Irish guys and French bad guys, who were accused of drowning in their own arrogance on a binge that has lasted for nearly eleven years. Were the Irish so good to get to South Africa? Yes, for a man that has been the master of communication whether on or off the pitch, Henry did not cover himself in glory with the suggestion that the referee should have spotted the foul. It is like a naughty schoolchild suggesting that the teacher should have spotted his thump on his classmate, before the injured child burst into screams and tears.
Yes, it is difficult to believe that Henry’s France will be doing much at South Africa next June other than racking up a few air miles. I am still reflecting on the idea that football’s authorities had a hidden agenda to turn the 2010 World Cup into a version of the Eurovision Song Contest and make sure that the big nations were at to the finals. However, we are still here and breathing.
Although he has his own baggage with the Irish team, Roy Keane may have been on to something with the suggestion that the Irish needed to ‘get over it,’ because incidents will continue to happen at many more games to come. An opponent may complain about a match winning incident, but can he, with his hand on his heart rather than the ball, admit that he would run to the referee to plead that a match-winning goal should be chalked off the score sheet, due to his own misbehaviour or cheating.
The furore seems to be dying down. The idea of a replay of the Ireland versus France match seems to have been rejected for reasons that depend on whom you talk or listen to. There is some talk about technology in football. In the dark misty mornings on Finsbury Park, two commuters will be rehearsing the old debates over a lukewarm cup of burnt coffee, with a resignation that the conversation is pointless and that the changes will never happen apart from in the Europa League.
Henry seems to be held up in an apartment somewhere in greater Europe, with the popular belief that he is awake throughout the night wondering how he can restore his image across European Football. I am left with the memories and respect that will never disappear. Henry remains one of the true icons that has worn the Arsenal shirt during the last fifteen years