Henry's statue is a beacon of hope for all those wanting to reach the professional heights of the game.
When the curtains came down to unveil a statue of Thierry Henry at the Emirates on the eve of the clubs 125th anniversary tears poured down the Frenchman’s face as he watched on in modesty. The statue depicts the celebration that followed one of Henry’s greatest of 226 goals for the club. After running the length of the pitch with the ball at his feet, passing through white jerseys as if they were ghosts, Henry passed the ball into the Spurs net and began sprinting the other way wearing his heart on his sleeve. It was pounding with a ferocity that struck fear into the section of fans that made the short trip from White Hart Lane. Nobody in the ground was quite sure what was going to happen next. Within a flash Henry had sent the hearts of every Spurs fan racing. It was almost as if he was imploring the away fans to keep up with him. But they couldn’t. To be fair neither could the rest of Highbury. Everyone’s heart had stopped. Henry took their breath away as he brought himself to his knees in front of a stunned Tottenham faithful.
It’s hard to compare the statue of a man whose passion exploded from within with such conviction to the man who stood up on the podium with a vulnerability that he has rarely allowed the public to see. But this is the kind of reaction that merits the accolade. Henry began his speech thanking everyone. Thanking all who have worn the shirt in Arsenal’s 125 history, thanking his friends and family as the tears began to flow. Fans around the statue began to chant “Thierry Henry! Thierry Henry!” to make the occasion easier for Henry. But it made things more emotional.
After a short pause he gathered that composure which has allowed him to score all the goals he has in his career and deliver the rest of his speech with gratitude. Arsene Wenger said shortly before Henry spoke that his most impressive attribute was that unlike most footballers Thierry was very serious about his job and led a very serious lifestyle ensuring everything he did was in preparation for match day. That’s hardly a surprise given his performance levels in most games he played in. If it wasn’t a spectacular solo goal (Tottenham @ Highbury) it was a superb 25-yard set-piece (Roma @ the Olimpico). If it wasn’t with his back-heel with his back to goal (Norwich @ Highbury) it was flicked up for the volley on the turn with his back to goal (Man Utd @ Highbury). So many varieties of finishing against such a variety of teams give Henry the status he richly deserves. I can’t remember watching a player with such a perfect mix of physical prowess combined with flawless technique.
He has scored so many unbelievable goals. I can’t ever forget an Arsenal away game at the Giuseppe Meazza in the Champions League, against Inter Milan. It was back when Ray Parlour was still in the team and mobile phone providers O2 were their shirt sponsors. Their counter-attacking radar showed no signs of losing signal and the teams connectivity allowed Arsenal to break late on in the game from an Inter corner. As the ball was cleared to the half way line Henry and Zanetti put their ball skills to one side and entertained their inclination to athletics as they sprinted away at each other. As they arrived in the penalty area Francesco Toldo watched on in goal as Henry resumed his responsibilities with the ball sending Zanetti this way and that before firing low into the bottom corner. And how ironic that it was in that game where he also raced towards the away fans before throwing himself to his knees after a magnificent individual strike. A truly sensational goal.
That strike truly summed up all of Thierry Henry’s qualities. In a stadium that every footballer would find hard to perform in and against a side pushing you against it Arsenal had the right man leading the charge. He was able to carry danger away with such pace and finesse from the Arsenal goal and transform that danger into relief for the rest of his team mates. He planted seeds of doubt into the minds of many great defenders and managers.
Whenever I hear of or see Thierry Henry that goal against Inter will always come to mind. I forget completely that he ever wore the red and white of AS Monaco. It doesn’t enter my mind that he spent a time in his career on the wings in Turin. The fact that he shared a changing room with the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deshamps at World Cups and European Championships pales into significance compared to the man on his knees wearing the red and white O2 Arsenal strip leaving everyone in his wake, choking on the grass flying from the turf that felt the full force of his speed.
The statue of Henry does not only recognise to contributions of an individual engraved in the clubs history but it is a timely reminder of the personality and mentality of a player at the peak of his powers who was quickly becoming the greatest scorer, if not player, in the clubs history. Every single one of us football lovers cannot deny dreams of becoming a professional footballer. At one stage or another all of us have believed that we had what it takes to reach the pinnacle. Some of us can still dream of such heights. But what does it really take to achieve that ambition? What, besides the ability, is required of us?
Thierry Henry’s statue answers all these questions. For a man who achieved virtually everything in the game and who was admired by all his peers makes the symbol more powerful than it really is. For all his perceived arrogance on the pitch, for all the accusations of over-confidence a Thierry Henry on his knees reminds us what being a footballer, and more importantly a top professional, is all about. No matter how far a player can go and no matter how quickly they can get there they will always be at the mercy of the one they love most. For every one of Henry’s 226 goals for Arsenal he was always at their mercy. Respect for the club, modesty for the club and above all love for the club allowed Henry to race to the top of the game. Once a Gooner, always a Gooner.