Top Tenner: Thierry Henry moments
With Thierry Henry announcing his retirement on Tuesday morning, there's no better time to take a look at the 10 most significant moments in his career.
After something of a lost year at Juventus, Henry arrived at Arsenal as a left winger who didn't really seem certain about where his career was going or what sort of player he was. This showed in his first few games for the Gunners, his relative haplessness leading to various wags dubbing him 'the French Perry Groves.'
Indeed, author and noted Gooner Nick Hornby once commented that his searing pace actually served as a disadvantage, because it simply got him into more positions in which to display his ineptitude. He was dropped after five goal-less starts, but after coming on as a substitute against Southampton, he broke his duck with a powerful, sweeping shot from the edge of the area. And while that didn't immediately open the floodgates (he scored in his next game, but then hit another seven-game dry spell), a weight had been lifted.
His poor form at the start of that season is well documented, but what isn't quite so oft-recalled is his extraordinary second half of the campaign, in which he helped himself to 24 goals after November, including a streak of scoring in nine consecutive goals for club and country. It's fair to say that Henry had arrived.
Arrogance isn't necessarily an attractive trait in a person. However, on a sportsman it's a different matter entirely, for their unpleasantness and aloofness can become enormously entertaining. See: Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Usain Bolt, Daley Thompson, Kevin Pietersen, etc., and so on and so forth.
Henry certainly fits into that category, and this arrogance displayed itself in just such an entertaining manner in a fairly nondescript league trip to Wigan back in 2005. Henry attempted to take a free kick outside the Wigan area quickly, but referee Graham Poll pulled the action back, allowing the footballers to play football only when he and his whistle decided they were ready, something that clearly displeased the Frenchman.
When Poll was good and set, Henry stepped up and buried the ball into the bottom corner, arcing perfectly and kissing the post on the way in. Then he turned to the official and said, "Is that enough?" with a faintly disgusted and dismissive up-curled lip. Henry scored many better and infinitely more important goals for Arsenal, many of them in this handy compilation, but if you're an Arsenal fan of a certain disposition, this goal has many of them licked.
"To me, the most beautiful thing is making the pass when you are in a position to score yourself," Henry said in an interview with Blizzard recently. "You know you're good enough to score, but you give the ball. You share."
Henry's four and a bit years in the United States have sometimes felt like one long highlight reel -- or, more specifically, one long attempt at a highlight reel.
Henry didn't appear to have a position in New York, roaming around the pitch as he pleased, going where he liked -- and why not? He is, after all, Thierry Henry. From positions that frankly seemed absurd for a man who is ostensibly a striker, Henry would try long passes, flicks, tricks, ludicrous shots and backheels because he could.
He scored some majestic goals while with the New York Red Bulls (a few of them are here; the lob/chip against Toronto is a particular insouciant favourite), but perhaps his best, most 'Henry' moment came in the playoffs this year, setting up Bradley Wright-Phillips with an outrageous backheel.
In truth, it probably wasn't intended for Wright-Phillips, the ball reaching the striker only after Peguy Luyindula dummied it, but that hardly matters. Henry knew he was good enough to score, but he gave the ball. And in a manner that said, 'I can and will do whatever I want.'
Of all the bright tactical ideas managers have come up with over the years, playing a high defensive line against the imperious and pacy Arsenal of 2004 was perhaps not the finest. But that's what Leeds manager Eddie Gray did when his team went to Highbury.
There was some logic there (it was an attempt to compress play and stop Arsenal's devastating passing), but to say it was flawed logic is a flamboyant understatement. Henry very much enjoyed the great swathes of space behind the Leeds backline, helping himself to four goals in a 5-0 win.
Having already scored a Panenka penalty earlier in the game, Henry's fourth was an uncommon marvel that displayed just how deeply he was in 'the zone' at that point. He picked the ball up near the centre-circle, burst between Gary Kelly and Dominic Matteo and was through on goal only to trip himself up just as the time was right to shoot. But the thing is he still scored, hooking the ball past a shell-shocked Paul Robinson while Henry was halfway to the turf. He scored a goal while falling over.
"I've seen most things in this league in the last 25 years," said commentator Andy Gray. "I've never seen anything like him." Gray hasn't said many sensible things over the years, but we can probably all agree with him on that one.
One (perhaps harsh) criticism that could be levelled at Henry is a lack of serious, defining moments at a major international tournament. He was still young and relatively peripheral in 1998 (despite scoring three goals, he didn't play in the final) and scored three in 2000. But the real glory moments were left for Sylvain Wiltord and David Trezeguet, while 2002, 2008 and 2010 were unilateral shambles.
In 2006, though, Henry was arguably France's best player throughout their utterly implausible run to the World Cup final under Raymond Domenech, his big moment coming in the quarterfinal against Brazil. This was the game in which Zinedine Zidane produced his last great performance, running the game as if the genius-peak Zizou of a few years before had been transplanted into the game.
Just before the hour mark, Zidane boomed over a free kick from deep on the left, which sailed over the heads of the whole Brazilian defence to find Henry, who seemed to briefly hang in the air before powering a volley into the roof of the net. "We wanted to prove after what happened in 2002 that we were not rubbish," was Henry's pithy assessment after the game. With Zidane and Henry in the same side, it's easy to believe that.
They're not all good things on this list, and every player has his dark side. Henry is not a popular man in Ireland after one of the most flagrant and unpunished pieces of cheating of recent years (surely the second-most famous international handball missed by a referee) helped defeat the Irish in the playoff for qualification to the 2010 World Cup. Henry controlled the ball with his arm before setting up William Gallas to score the winner.
Of course, there isn't too much point in eviscerating Henry excessively because, like Luis Suarez's handball against Ghana a few months later, it was an instinctive act that 90 percent of players would have done themselves, rather than a premeditated slice of skullduggery.
"I will be honest, it was a handball," said Henry after the game. "But I'm not the ref. I played it, the ref allowed it. That's a question you should ask him."
There was more than a little schadenfreude in Ireland when the French team imploded so spectacularly in South Africa.
Arsenal fans would have been forgiven for being incredibly nervous about Henry's return to the club, on loan, in January 2012. What if he was terrible? What if he was a shadow of perhaps the greatest player in their history? What if he was so bad that he tainted, in some small way, their memories of him?
As it turned out, they need not have worried; it took him only 10 minutes to dispel any fears. Absurdly, Henry was providing cover for Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh, both set to disappear on Africa Cup of Nations duty, which should be against some law of nature or other. And with 12 minutes remaining of Arsenal's FA Cup third-round tie against Leeds, Henry was introduced.
The Emirates hummed with adoration, Henry's every touch greeted with the fervour reserved for a bloke with his own statue outside. With a couple of minutes remaining, Henry took up the old familiar position, lurking on the left on the shoulder of the full-back. Alex Song picked the gap and the pass, Henry opened his body as he has done hundreds of times over the years and feathered a shot -- in that manner of his in which he barely seems to hit the ball, but it flies in the desired direction -- into the corner of the net.
It was such an 'Henry' goal, at such a perfect moment, that it didn't matter in the least that he didn't do a great deal for the remainder of his spell back in England. That was enough to make the whole thing worthwhile.
Having established himself as one of the Premier League's most deadly strikers and a key man for Arsenal, Henry spent the summer winning the European Championships with France, and it's fair to say came back with some renewed confidence.
In the days when Arsenal versus Manchester United was a rivalry with relevance to anyone other than just the two teams involved, it was a fierce tussle between two of the finest teams in the land. So when they faced each other in the nascent stages of the 2000-01 season, it was a pretty big deal. Plus, Henry actually hadn't scored for a month before this game -- all of which made what he did next all the more remarkable.
"When you haven't been scoring goals, sometimes you need to try something a little bit crazy," said Arsene Wenger after the game, summing up Henry's thought process entirely.
Upon receiving the ball outside the area with his back to goal, instead of perhaps looking for a pass or holding the thing up, in one fluid movement he flicked it in the air, spun and volleyed past/over a bedazzled Fabian Barthez, who could only a muster a token little hop vaguely in the right direction, knowing as well as everyone that the best a goalkeeper can do in that situation is try to retain something approaching dignity.
"You can't do anything about a goal like that. I couldn't believe it," said Sir Alex Ferguson afterward, in those days not a man particularly keen on dishing out praise to rivals, particularly Arsenal.
At Barcelona, Henry won the league twice, the Champions League once, the Copa del Rey once and was part of perhaps the greatest club side of this generation. The trouble is when you're playing with Leo Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Samuel Eto'o, all at or approaching their respective peaks, it can be a little tricky to find individual moments in which to grab the limelight. Indeed, even in perhaps his standout performance in Cataluyna, Henry had to share the credit and attention with the smattering of geniuses he played alongside.
By the middle of December 2008, Barcelona sat astride the Primera Liga, eight points clear of second place and 12 ahead of Real Madrid in fifth, after just 15 games, prompting Real to suddenly spring into life, putting together an absurd run of 18 unbeaten games, 17 of which they won, before Barca came to visit the Bernabeu.
If Real won, then the title race was truly on, and the final four games would be a tussle of epic proportions, but not only were they beaten, they were utterly obliterated, the final score being 6-2. But it could have been any number you choose, the effect on Real was devastating.
The crucial thing about Henry's brace in this game was that the goals served as a pair of slap-downs, two scoldings to Real for having the impudence to think they could compete this time. Gonzalo Higuain opened the scoring, but within four minutes Henry had equalised. After that, Barca went 3-1 up, then Sergio Ramos pulled one back to once again gave Real hope only for Henry to slam that particular door in their face a couple of minutes later.
The game not only put Barca seven points clear in the table, but completely broke Real's will and spirit. They lost their four remaining games of the season, stumbling punch-drunk toward the summer and shipping 11 more goals in the process.
While Arsenal's unbeaten 2003-04 league season was undoubtedly a phenomenal achievement, it was very nearly an awful lot more than 'just' that. The treble was on, however in one week they were beaten in the FA Cup semifinal by Manchester United and then by a Wayne Bridge (Wayne Bridge!) goal in the Champions League.
Next up was the visit of Liverpool with a season basically on the line, everything that looked so incredibly promising potentially circling the drain, and things didn't look good when Gerard Houllier's side twice took the lead -- first through Sami Hyypia, then Michael Owen.
However, then came Henry, scoring the equaliser and a couple more to secure a 4-2 victory and keep Arsenal's record unblemished and on track for the league title. The second of those goals was the one that makes all of Henry's highlights reels, slaloming through the Liverpool defence in the middle of a fevered atmosphere, splitting their resistance like lightning through the night sky and slipping the ball home.
"I was surprised by the resources they find. They are amazing," said Wenger after the game, in the manner of a parent trying desperately not to reveal that they have a favourite child.
Without Henry's intervention, Arsenal would not have been the "Invincibles", may "only" have won the league that season and, given what a traumatic week that could have been, could even have let that slip, too.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.