Arsenal Legend, Thierry Henry, The King, has officially retired from playing professional football this morning, after running down his contract with the New York Red Bulls.
Growing up as a young Gooner, Henry and Dennis Bergkamp both had a profound affect on me, regarding football. While Bergkamp is and always will be my idol and picture of the perfect footballer, Henry comes in a close second.
The difference between the two is that while Bergkamp feels very much connected to his former club Ajax, while still harboring strong feelings for Arsenal, Henry embeds what it means to be an Arsenal player but also a fan, a Gooner. This is significant because this means that Henry is like me, something that every Gooner can say about the genius, and that is a very special thing.
Arsenal’s website have put a series of tributes today, the best one being quotes attributed to The King, or were spoken about The King. The first two quotes truly show exactly what I mentioned above, that Henry is Arsenal and is what some might argue Arsenal are currently lacking.
Unfortunately for me, I only realized quite how special he was during his last two seasons and after he left, I was too young to understand what I was seeing and I didn’t have anything or anyone to compare him against. But having endured the trophy drought, and seeing player after player leave the club, it became quite clear just how special Thierry Henry was.
Of course there will be those who make ignorant comments, claiming he was simply a great player but not on of the best. They will make the argument that he was surrounded by greats like Bergkamp, like Patrick Vieira, like Robert Pires, a silly argument because all of these players made each other better, that was what was so great about that team.
They will argue he failed Arsenal in the Champions League Final, a stupid and ignorant argument considering that they wouldn’t have been there without him. They will argue he never lived up to expectations for France in big tournaments, again a stupid and ignorant argument as he scored three times in the ‘98 World Cup that France won, was Man of the Match in the 2000 European Championship Final that France won, and was France’s best player during the 2006 World Cup that they lost on penalties in the finals.
The bottom line is there never has been nor will there ever be another Theirry Henry. No current player has the same mix of confidence, intelligence, pace, technique, selflessness, arrogance and pure will to win. The only other athlete in the world that has the same competitive streak as Henry, is Michael Jordan, no footballer has come to close to Henry.
You can argue that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are better players, and Iwould agree that Messi is a better dribbler and Ronaldo may be a better all round athlete. But neither player has the same passion, intelligence, or drive that Henry has. That is what made him so great, and that is why he is the best ever.
Naturally the tributes have been pouring in today regarding the great man. I would like to pay my tribute, listing my favorite moments of his.
This is not a best of list, although some of these moments will be, but this is a list of moments that made me jump up for joy, or made me feel something. This is essentially a list of my favorite Thierry Henry moments. I apologize in advance if I’m not coherent or I don’t do these moments full justice, some of them were quite unbelievable and I still have trouble putting into words what I was privileged enough to see. I suggest that you watch all the clips to gain the full picture of what I’m trying to explain.
10. Arsenal 2 – 0 Sparta Prague
Henry had just returned from injury, having injured his groin earlier in the season. He came on the field after 15 minutes, replacing an injured Jose Antonio Reyes, and scored a goal after six minutes to tie Ian Wright’s all-time goal scoring record for Arsenal.
I remember sitting with my Dad watching the match, and we both knew that he was going to break the record that night. They way he did though was in true Henry fashion. He brought the ball down; using what looked like the side of his thigh, and let it bounce in front of him. He then, while essentially standing still, side-footed the ball from outside the box, into the bottom left corner. It was a truly a sublime goal, and the craziest thing was that we weren’t even shocked in the manner in which he scored.
I later remember reading an interview with the man, where discussed how he loved letting the ball hit any part of his body, to control it and let it bounce softly to the ground. This is exactly what he did for this goal, and is something that is so much more difficult than he makes it sound.
9. Backheel Against Charlton – Arsenal 1 – 1 Charlton
This game wasn’t that significant from what I can remember but of course Henry scored a goal out of nothing. Bergkamp lofted the ball into the box for Reyes to bring down, who slotted to Henry who had his back to goal. Henry controlled the ball in front of him, and without looking at his position, his awareness was always incredible, he deftly backheeled the ball, through a defender into the bottom left corner.
I have tried to do this on a number of occasions, and I still don’t understand how he executed this in a manner that seemed so simple.
8. Thumper Against United – Arsenal 1 – 1 Manchester United
Henry always had a knack for scoring goals against United, one of his best was against them in 2000, and the only reason that didn’t make the list is that I honestly don’t remember watching the game live, I don’t think we had the right channel at the time and I was very young.
But in 2004 he scored another thumper that swerved, not allowing Roy Carroll to accurately track the flight of the ball. It was a goal out of nothing and exemplified Henry’s brilliance. For whatever reason this goal is embedded in my mind, and it is one of my favorites.
7. Arsenal 5 – 1 Inter Milan November 2003
This match was memorable in itself because Arsenal were on the brink of being knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages. They needed to win but winning at the San Siro was not an easy task at the time. Arsenal were missing a few key players, I remember Ray Parlour started in this game instead of Vieira. Basically Arsenal was not supposed to win, but they did in tremendous fashion.
What I remember, and what everyone remembers most from this game, is Henry’s second goal to put Arsenal up 3-1 and the game out of reach. He took the ball from the half way line and broke away using his incredible burst of speed, after a clearance from a corner, and then duped Javier Zanetti not once, but twice before finishing from a near impossible angle with a low drive into the bottom right corner. As a kid could I couldn’t believe he scored from that angle.
6. Spin Around Cudicini
This is one of my favorite goals, and something that like the backheel, I tried to replicate.
Arsenal and Chelsea were facing off in the FA Cup and Henry did what Henry does. Vieira stole the ball in midfield and picked out Henry, who beat Chelsea’s offside trap. He took one touch, spun around an oncoming Carlo Cudicini, and finished with an open net. It was pure class and my favorite of his goals because it was all down to instinct.
5. Four Goals Against Leeds
I remember watching this game and was in awe of what I was witnessing. Henry scored four goals in this game, against a Leeds side that were pesky for Arsenal in the early 2000’s. The fact that he scored four goals in this game was incredible, all of them class, but the last one stood out for me the most. Leeds could simply not stop him and eventually had to resort trying to foul him in the box to prevent him from scoring, but even this didn’t work as he finished sublimely while falling after being taken down.
4. Hat-trick against Liverpool
With Arsenal losing 2-1 at halftime and their invincible season at risk, Henry took over and completed his hat-trick in the second half. This was a pivotal game for Arsenal as they had just been knocked out of the FA Cup by Man U and the Champions League by Chelsea, all in one week.
Arsenal seemed deflated, but in situations like these is when Henry thrived the most. His most memorable goal was his second when he picked the ball up at the half way line and ran at the Liverpool defense, causing three Liverpool defenders to fall down without touching him, allowing Henry to calmly finish in the bottom right corner. They goal put Arsenal up 3-2 and they never looked back. It was a turning point for the Gunners and reignited their domestic campaign.
3. Statue Celebration – Arsenal 3 – 0 Tottenham 2005
Henry scored the goal in this game in which Arsenal made a statute of him outside of the Emirates, where he celebrates this goal. Taking a Vieira clearance from half way inside his own half, Henry raced down the right flank, outrunning anyone who got near him, before duping two Tottennham defenders at the same time and then calmly slotting the ball in the bottom left corner.
His celebration was what was so memorable as he ran the full length of the field, mean mugging every Spurs fan that dared looked at him, and slid on his knees, continuing to mean mug White Hart Lane. It is the most memorable and the second most emotional moment of his career for every Gooner.
2. Henry Returns – Arsenal 1 – 0 Leeds
In 2012, after his statue was unveiled, Henry made a return to Arsenal on a month long loan. His first appearance was against Leeds in the FA Cup 3rd Round, where he came on as a late substitute. The score was 0-0 when Alex Song slid Henry through in the box, Henry calmly finished a typically place ball across the goalkeeper. His celebration was emotional and at that point it was clear exactly what Arsenal meant to him.
This was the most emotional I ever felt after seeing a goal, even though this match should have been won in much easier fashion, it was worth it all to experience that goal and to watch Henry enjoy it. I don’t think words can describe all the facets and variables of this goal, so I simply suggest you watch the clip.
1. Goal at the Bernabeu – Arsenal 1 – 0 Real Madrid
This may be the most important goal he scored in an Arsenal jersey. I was watching this game with my dad and we both sensed that if we beat Real Madrid at their stadium, we could go on a special run. I don’t think either of us expected to win to be honest and we glowed in the aftermath of this match for days. In fact I remember my Dad had to work in London two days later and he was in a cab whose driver had been at the game. I don’t remember exactly what their conversation was but it involved a lot of yelling in excitement and I’m guessing extra driving around to continue reveling in this match.
Henry took the ball from the half way line and took on four Madrid defenders, none of them got close to the ball, before he calmly finished across Iker Casillas, causing the travelling Gooners to go absolutely mental. I don’t think I’ve jumped higher in celebration of a goal. Like the previously goal, this is one that simply needs to be watched.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is simply a list of the most memorable Henry moments that I remember watching and experiencing. There are many other moments and far superior goals scored by this great man.
After writing this, I realized I left out the hat-trick he scored against Wigan at the last game ever played at Highbury, a truly fitting end for a legendary stadium, and an appropriate tribute by Henry. I leave you with a clip of Henry’s performance in this game.