The greatest player I ever saw – Thierry Henry

The footballing world has been blessed with remarkable talent and to determine the greatest of all-time is no mean feat.

The footballing world has been blessed with remarkable talent and to determine the greatest of all-time is no mean feat. It is difficult to find a universal choice among football fans, with so many new names emerging, it is quite easy to overlook or forget past superstars.

Throughout my years as a football fan I have been privileged to watch some of the greatest names to ever lace a pair of football boots yet one man has stood out as being the greatest player I have ever seen.

For eight years Thierry Henry delighted the football world with his magnificent ability and fantastic attacking prowess to become one of the greats in the sport. It is testament to his class that as he approaches the end of his career, it is widely argued that he could still contribute at the highest of levels.

Henry began his career at Monaco under the tutelage of his future Arsenal mentor Arsene Wenger. It was Wenger’s decision to deploy him as a striker that helped the Frenchman to develop into the legend that he has become. Wenger understood the need to nurture the youngster into the attacking position, so rotated him between the wing and the frontline.

The 1998 World Cup Finals provided Henry with the chance to showcase his talents on the global stage. He started in three and participated in six of his country’s seven matches as France became world champions for the first time. Henry’s performances, at the tender age of 20, announced that a world class prospect had been born and owners of the biggest clubs in world football prepared to open their cheque books.

He joined Juventus at the start of 1999 but his time in Italy was a disappointing one. Henry lasted just one year, scoring only three goals, as it became clear that he was unhappy playing on the wing. Seeing the potential Henry possessed as a striker persuaded Arsene Wenger to bring the unhappy Frenchman to Arsenal and the stage was set for Henry to leave a legacy in North London.

Wenger’s decision to turn Henry into a striker is unquestionably one of his best, even if at first it seemed a risk. Henry failed to score in his opening eight league games for the club, but after his wonderful strike at Southampton, the goals came in droves and he finished with 17 in his first season in English football.

As Euro 2000 approached the then French coach Roger Lemerre was unconvinced with Henry as a striker and began the tournament with him on the wing. He changed his mind as the tournament progressed and with Henry at the forefront, France captured the European Championships with a golden goal from Henry’s long-time friend David Trezeguet, against Italy in the final. If the World Cup had launched Thierry Henry as a hot prospect, Euro 2000 had established the Frenchman as one of the top strikers in world football. This view was shared by Barcelona and Real Madrid as both pressed for his signature.

Arguably his strong relationship with Wenger and the Arsenal fans ensured Henry’s commitment to the club. He played an integral part as he won his first trophies for the Gunners in 2002.

As the World Cup approached France were viewed with great promise. Henry had been in flying form and alongside Zinedine Zidane, was expected to spearhead France’s quest for glory. What ensued was no less than a disaster. Henry was sent off in his country’s second group game and with the third requiring a two goal win to progress against Denmark, his suspension proved fatal. France’s failure to progress was a national embarrassment and for Henry it was personal failure for a man many believed to be the best in the world.

The following season brought more disappointment as Arsenal surrendered an eight point lead to lose the Premier League title to Manchester United. Arsene Wenger’s belief in his team was unscathed as he predicted the following season would be an unbeaten one for his Gunners. While many pundits were quick to dismiss his forecast, Wenger had installed a team spirit that meant even the most jaded of fans could feel optimistic.

Wenger’s prediction came true and the unbeaten season of 2003/2004 goes down with many Arsenal fans as their greatest ever achievement. The run that lasted until October of the following season and resulted in 49 games in total is unlikely to ever be matched and with Henry central to the success, the Frenchman was able to cement his place as one of the world’s best.

Despite domestic success, Henry was yearning for Champions League glory. Henry became club captain following Patrick Vieira’s transfer to Juventus and helped the club reach their first Champions League final in 2006. Henry, one of the most senior members in an increasingly youthful Gunners side, was instrumental in their European campaign, scoring a magnificent solo effort in the quarter final win over Real Madrid in the Bernabeu that has gone down in Arsenal folklore as one of the greatest nights in the clubs history.

Arsenal lost the final, in a game they had led with 14 minutes to play. The rumours of his potential departure appeared more concrete, after the defeat. Henry wanted nothing more than to lead his beloved Arsenal to Champions League glory, yet deep in his heart he knew that to fulfill his ambitions, he would have to seek employment elsewhere.

His move to Barcelona in the summer of 2007 came as no great surprise, but the Arsenal fans were left in a state of mourning. He went on to fulfill his Champions League dream with Barcelona, a decision that was respected by Gunners fans who had nothing but admiration and love for their hero.

Thierry Henry has a trophy cabinet most footballers can only dream of. Since the early 2000s he has developed into one of football most sought after commodities yet his loyalty to Arsenal has made him an idol at the club. He was recently honoured with a statue outside of the Emirates Stadium. This was a real honour for the Frenchman considering most statues are of players that have retired from the sport.

If the legacy of a footballer’s career is measured on winning trophies, individual accolades and respect from fans and players across the globe, then Thierry Henry is right up there with the best of them. Henry will go down in history as one of the all-time greats and is the best player I ever saw.