On this day Thierry Henry was voted PFA Player of the Year. Overall he was runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year twice, was PFA Players’ Player of the Year twice, and the FWA Footballer of the Year three times.
He arrived on 3 August 1999, and I think it is fair to say he didn’t make much of an impact, although I do remember one of the guys who sat near me saying, “Another bloody foreigner”.
So what on earth can we say about Thierry Henry that has not already been said? Maybe the story that when he was 13 the scout of Monaco went to watch him play in a match. He was so utterly brilliant (scoring six that day apparently) that they gave him a contract without even asking him to go for a trial. Monaco’s manager at the time was, of course, Mr Wenger.
Or that the director of Clairefontaine Academy – the elite French training school for footballers of the future didn’t want Henry there because his school record was too poor.
Or that when Mr Wenger got him into the team at Monaco it was he who put Thierry on the wing to beat the full backs and run rings round everyone else.
He was French Young Footballer of the Year in 1996, and the following year the Wenger-Henry duopoly won the league. By 1998 he had won the World Cup.
And then Juventus screwed it up. They had Thierry Henry, one of the greatest players the world has seen, and they screwed it up! (See also the Barcelona bit below – it begins to tell you something interesting – Arsenal got Henry right, Juve and Barca got it wrong – and yet we lose players to Juve and Barca – how odd is that?)
The story is however that while he was there he spoke on the phone regularly to Mr Wenger, and that with his contact paid off, on 3 August 1999 he came to Arsenal. £11m he cost.
So let me do the personal bit. I was there, in the north bank, watching. 1999. New season. Mr Wenger was changing everything and we were all trying to understand exactly who was playing where.
Henry had a price tag, and Anelka had gone, so surely Henry was the main man. But as I sat there next to my pal we couldn’t work it out. What was Henry doing on the wing?
Thierry scored 26 that season. By 2002 he had won us the Double. In 2002/3 he scored 32 goals in all competitions.
You know all this stuff – it goes on and on – but let me add a bit more. In October 2005 he broke Wright’s goal record – I remember Ian Wright coming out and standing in the centre circle to embrace Henry, and then having to wait there for several minutes because Arsenal weren’t ready to come out. I think Wright ended up doing a dance.
It all ended on 25 June 2007 when Thierry went to Barcelona for €24 million – but that was not the end of the story because this transfer became one of the celebrated examples of what we now call the Flamini Fallacy. It was a process in which Mr Wenger sold top players to foreign teams for huge amounts of money, and the foreign team doesn’t get that much out of it while Arsenal re-invests the money in younger talent. You’d think other teams would have learned over time, but apparently not.
Henry played 80 games in the two-team league that is Spanish football. His salary was reported £4.6m per season. He was there for 3 years and the total cost to Barca was £35.8m. His goal account dropped to 0.43 per game from the 0.69 he had at Arsenal over a much higher number of games. The cost to Barca was thus £447,000 per game, and considering that a number of these games were as sub, it doesn’t look like a great deal for them. Amazingly he was nonetheless their top scorer in one of those three seasons!
In July 2010, Thierry went to New York and on 6 January 2012 he signed for Arsenal to cover for forwards who were playing in Africa. He came on against Leeds as a sub, and scored a typical perfect Henry goal. Right in front of me. I was close to tears – only the sheer excitement, the screaming, the jumping up and down, the everything, stopped me crying. It was one of those “I was there!” moments that stays forever. And ever.
And then finally, in his last game he came on and scored the winner against Sunderland on 17 Feb 2012.
Oh Thierry. How much we owe you!
Henry Norris at the Arsenal: There is a full index to the series here.
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