A veritable colossus of French football, Thierry Henry’s achievements read like an extract from the Guinness Book of Records. World champion, European champion and France’s all-time leading goalscorer – and those are just a few of the high-profile Frenchman’s exploits.
Long before being crowned the unofficial King of France, Henry was no different from any other child his age, except perhaps for his seemingly innate eye for goal. While playing for his local youth team near Paris, he was spotted by a Monaco scout, amazed at having witnessed six goals being scored by a player whose team-mates were already referring to him as ‘Titi’. Sent to the renowned Clairefontaine academy, it was there he first encountered Arsene Wenger, who persuaded him to sign for Monaco in 1993.
Aware of the rough diamond that had begun to shine at their club, the Monaco players took the new recruit under their wing, especially the Brazilian Sonny Anderson, who regularly passed on valuable advice. By the age of just 17, Henry was already playing in French football’s top tier. His first season saw him make eight appearances and score three goals, figures that would gradually increase over time, particularly in Europe, where he notched up seven goals in nine matches in the UEFA Champions League in season 1997/98. All things considered, that was an exceptional season for Henry; he also managed to break into the national set-up alongside his team-mate David Trezeguet, with whom he would lift the FIFA World Cup™ later that summer.
The world champions’ top goalscorer at that tournament with 3 goals, Henry signed for Juventus a few months later. Rarely and poorly utilised, mainly on the left wing, he would only go on to make 20 appearances for the Turin side, and escaped to Arsenal seven months after his move to Italy. Criticised for being incapable of establishing himself at a major club, it would not take him long to silence the doubters. He was unaware of it at the time, but his transfer to London would see him change position, and become a legend.
Moved into a central striking role by his former mentor Arsene Wenger, Henry quickly began to rack up the goals that would eventually deliver numerous titles, the team captaincy, the adoration of the Arsenal fans and, finally, hero status at Highbury. He would also break many records, leaving the great Ian Wright in his wake to become the club’s leading goalscorer of all time. In Gunners colours, very few honours escaped him, as he snapped up two league titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League final appearance. And whenever he was unable to finish the season as the Premier League’s top scorer, as he did in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006, he contented himself with having provided the highest number of assists in the league, as he did in 2001 and 2003. During this period, he also became France’s first-choice attacking option, experiencing the highs (UEFA Euro 2000) and lows (2002 FIFA World Cup) of international football.
His only disappointment during his time in London was failing to bring the prestigious Champions League trophy back to Highbury, although he came close in 2006, falling at the final hurdle against Barcelona. This gap in his footballing CV would eventually be filled playing for the very same team that destroyed Arsenal’s dreams in that final. In the summer of 2007, Henry signed for the Catalan giants, a move that proved hard to swallow for the Arsenal fans who had voted the skilful Frenchman as the best player in the history of their club.
But move he did, and joined Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o in an attacking triumvirate that terrified defences in Spain and across Europe, as Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side collected an unheard-of six trophies in 2009. Just when it appeared that Henry’s career was nearing a fitting conclusion, 2010 turned into something of a nightmare for him. Henry's fourth appearance at a FIFA World Cup could see the great man turn out for Les Bleus for the last time at a major tournament. That should give him added motivation, as if he needed it, to write an exciting new page in the history of French football, and pen a final chapter in his own footballing masterpiece.