Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Au Revoir, Thierry

Disclosure first: As an Arsenal fan, I have a huge case of man-love for Thierry Henry. How could I not? It’s not just the goals – the six I managed to see in person, including a hat-trick against Norwich, the streak from halfway against Real Madrid, the insane lob to beat Barthez – I could go on, but it would get boring. Go watch YouTube if you want to watch some highlights.

Beyond the goals, it’s the humility, the desire for self- improvement, the quiet intelligence, the positive outlook – everything that Nicolas Anelka, the man he replaced, so conspicuously lacked. I will miss him.

On the other hand, let’s be clear that his move is a sign of extraordinary selfishness on his part. And while some selfishness is forgivable - he’s a striker, after all – this is absurd. Go ahead and count the number of interviews Henry’s given in the last twelve months saying he wants to finish his career at Arsenal - I count at least six, the last of which being the Piers Morgan interview in last month’s GQ. And his pathetic excuses for leaving were, as I understand them:

* He misses the Director of Football, David Dein, who was ousted from the boardroom in March on suspicion of playing footsie with a prospective American buyer. Hard to believe this would make a difference on the playing field - though, intriguingly, George Graham’s 1996 autobiography includes some telling thoughts about how Dein was too close to certain players at the club and that this could only have a negative effect on the club…the man has prior!

* He fears Arsene Wenger will leave the club at the end of the year and cannot countenance life at Arsenal without him. Fair enough if true, but Dein’s replacement as Director of Football is Wenger protégé Gilles Grimandi, which doesn’t suggest that Le Boss’ departure is imminent.

What really happened is that Henry realizes that had he signed for Barcelona last year, he probably would have ended up on a winning team (the blaugrana certainly could have used him while Eto’o was injured), whereas by staying with Arsenal he was effectively spending his remaining years as The World’s Greatest StrikerTM acting as a mentor to a group of supremely talented but still raw and unproven players. And temperamentally, he’s too selfish to play that role.

(As an aside, let's face it, he was a poor choice as team captain in the first place, a decision Arsene now probably regrets. Seep down, when Arsenal fans remember Henry, they will remember the pouting as well as the wizardry – not the stuff of real leadership, unfortunately)

Two things this unfortunate saga illustrates are the following:

1) Although owners still have significant power over the careers of journeymen, player power – at the level of players whose images are in the “iconic” category (and as a rough definition, I think we can include any player whose endorsement contract income exceeds their paid wages), contracts are meaningless. Sign a four year contract one year, piss off to another city the next.

2) Footballers, like generals, often fight the last war. Yes, a transfer to the Nou Camp would have been a brilliant career move for Henry last year when all was sweetness and light for Barca. This year, he is coming into a poisonous atmosphere – rumours of a coach for the high jump, a ruling junta divided over player selection – and how the hell does anyone think that any lineup can possibly accommodate Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Henry, Messi, Deco and Xavi? Who’s going to actually – you know – win the ball?!? I predict disaster, followed by benchings of one or more galacticos-in-all-but-name and bitchy sniping amongst the players. They’ll finish third if they’re lucky (yes, this is schadenfreude - but only partly).

Anyways…cheers, Thierry. Your jersey and picture will stay on my wall. Seeing the team without you makes me sad– but the manner of your leaving leaves me sadder still.


Blogger Canadian Red said...

While it is true that Henry is a general who is fighting the last war, in a way so is Arsene Wenger. With the transfer's of both Henry and Vierra he sold them both one season too late, and as a result got about twenty million pounds less than he could have for the two of them. That being said, I think that Arsenal getting rid of Henry for sixteen million is still smart business. Henry had little left to offer Arsenal and needed a new challenge, he is starting the downside of his career, and while he could potential still be productive in five years time, he also might only have two good years left in him.

5:25 PM  

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