Va va voom: why we still love Thierry Henry despite his handiwork

Comment: Loved almost everywhere, he is remembered in Ireland for that handball

"If I had to sleep with a Premiership footballer, it would be Thierry Henry. "

Fair point, well made by my Manchester United-supporting brother in law.

The face that launched a thousand goals is pulling into a port near Rupert (Murdoch) as he forswears football for a career on the telly.

Gary Neville, who will find the Frenchman joining him on the Sky Sports sofa, is looking forward to all the talk of free-kicks and corners.


With that accent, we all are.

“We were blessed in this country to see Thierry playing at his peak, potentially one of the greatest players in the world and even if you supported another team you couldn’t help but enjoy watching him play,” said Neville.

“It’s always a shame when such a career comes to an end, but I look forward to working with him.”

Fighting back the tears at The Emirates, Arsenal fans were realising that the dream homecoming would never happen.

“You kind of never leave Arsenal,” said Henry, but added: “How many comebacks do you make? At one point it will turn out to be a bad movie. We all love the first Rocky but I’m not too sure about the last one.”

Things were never rocky in north London for Henry. They loved him. The brother-in-law loved him.

Heck, we all loved him.

He is Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer with 228 goals in 377 games across his two different spells – from 1999 to 2007 and again when he returned to Arsenal to make four appearances on loan in early 2012.

“I have had some amazing memories (mostly good) and a wonderful experience. I hope you have enjoyed watching as much as I have enjoyed taking part. See you on the other side . . . ” Henry told us all on Tuesday as we mourned the passing of the best stroker and striker of a football any of us have ever seen.

Last month former Arsenal centre-half Martin Keown (admittedly partial) told Sergio Aguero that he'd just have to take one for the team when he placed him behind Henry in the pecking order for "best Premier League striker EVER".

“The package of pace, power, skill, intelligence and trophies makes him my No 1,” said Keown.

“He was a dramatic, driving force when he was in the zone. He was unstoppable once he realised he could win games single-handedly.

“When he scored his first goal - at Southampton - I said to him that I would be able to tell my grandchildren that I had played with him. And I rarely congratulated people!”

Hard-as-nails Keown was wooed by Henry’s class. We all were. If you liked football, you appreciated Henry - whatever colour he wore.

Almost whatever colour he wore.

When Henry admitted what we had all seen – that he had cheated Ireland out of a World Cup place after his handball led to the decisive goal for France in 2009's play-off we all saw red.

The man in blue had broken Irish hearts, with his handball to beget an extra-time equaliser for WilliamGallas, who headed it in to make it 1-1 and give France a 2-1 aggregate win.

“I will be honest, it was a handball, but I’m not the ref. It would have been better to do it in another way, but as I said, I’m not the ref.”


As they say in France.

Not that Henry has had it all his own way in his own country.

Retired France and Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit gave Les Bleus a lashing recently for their lack of amour for their beautiful game-player.

“In England, they’ve built a statue of Thierry. He is revered there. This bad image [in the French press] of Thierry Henry, it annoys me.

“What can we reproach Henry for? His handball against Ireland? He helped France qualify for the World Cup in South Africa. He has done nothing. France is hypocritical and cowardly.”

We’ll leave it there, as Petit got carded at that point for saying it would have been better if France had been overrun by the Germans.

Suffice to say, Henry was in the French squad that won the World Cup in 1998, was a runner-up in 2006 and a European champion in 2000. Only Lilian Thuram has more caps with Les Bleus.

The epitaphs are being written as we all speak.

Let’s hope they don’t leave it to that 140-character vehicle of inadequacy Twitter.

"Congratulations on an outstanding career @ThierryHenry. Top player. Top guy. #Legend" wrote Aaron Ramsey.

Good and all as he is, Arsenal’s young Welsh midfielder is in no place to type the defining tribute. There must be a God of the Whole Universe with a smartphone up there somewhere.

Neither myself nor the brother-in-law will be saying “no” to a bit of punditry from Thierry. And at least he’ll be freed up to for the next series of Strictly Come Dancing.

But we’ll miss him pitchside.

His 175 goals might push him into joint fourth place with Frank Lampard. He may lie behind Alan Shearer (260), Andy Cole (187) and Wayne Rooney (179) in the all-time Premier League scoring list, but Henry played a bigger role than that.

He was simply the best forward many of us will ever see.