There are no shortage of tributes to Thierry Henry’s greatness at Arsenal, and you’d be hard pushed to find a publication that hasn’t contributed to this tale of greatness.
What is forgotten is the finale to that story. When Thierry left North London for Barcelona after eight years, 175 league goals and two league titles. Rarely has a legend of not just a club, but the league, departed so magnanimously, albeit with immense sadness.
There had been murmurings for a couple seasons prior to his eventual departure date of 2007 that Barcelona were keen to bring him to the Camp Nou. Arsenal had started to stutter as their Invincible roster aged and departed, with Bergkamp, Pires, Vieira and Cole all having left by the start of the 2006/07 season.
The Final Straw for Henry
The 2006 Champions League Final had seen Henry face his Catalonian suitors, and ultimately fall short. It was to be Bergkamp, Pires and Cole’s last games for the club. Despite taking the lead through a Sol Campbell header, the Gunners would lose 2-1.
Henry had always been the jewel in Arsene Wenger’s crown, and considered the league’s greatest player. However their success had always been a team effort; an illustrious support crew alongsie Henry. With this game being the last for these players at the club, it was symbolic that Henry’s efforts to drag his club towards their first European title fell short. For the opponents to be Barcelona just shows how narratives can unfold in football.
The Champions League was the only blank on Henry’s career CV. Few boast such an extensive track record. However, his beloved Arsenal showed signs of decline with the departures of those illustrious names and the move to the new Emirates Stadium. Henry’s ambition to win the biggest prize in club football required action.
Curiously he signed a five year deal with the club in 2006, yet throughout the proceeding season he seemed a shadow of his great self. Injuries cut his season to just seventeen domestic matches, and it is said that the defeat to Barcelona in Paris had hurt the Frenchman immensely.
An Offer Good Enough to Refuse?
A year in from that game, and Barcelona bid a lowly £16 million for Henry. Remarkably the club accepted. Their all time record goalscorer departing for a lower fee than Tottenham had paid for Darren Bent. His age and injuries had no doubt paid a part in this undervaluation, but for a player of his pedigree to leave for such a fee is rare.
Wenger is believed to have been happy to let his treasured forward leave as his own future was uncertain. He envisaged the team for next season being built around Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas.
The likes of Fabregas, Van Persie and Alexis Sanchez have all assumed Henry’s talismanic mantle since. All left North London to varying degrees of anguish. Yet Henry’s departure was almost understated, leaving with little fanfare nor animosity.
The fans were heartbroken above all else. They could hardly begrudge one who served so valiantly as Henry through good and bad. Henry would never recapture the essence of greatness that endeared him to English audiences. Arguably he never got the goodbye he deserved.
His was a graceful and swift exit. Not drawn out through an unsightly saga like so many that leave a club. In many ways, it was typical Henry.