Let’s take a moment to remember what made the Frenchman so special
Thierry Henry announced his retirement today. I had the honor of watching him play for several seasons, back when I lived in Brooklyn and had season tickets to the Red Bulls. I shared those tickets with a few friends, including my Howler co-founder Mark Kirby, and we used to plot out our plans for the magazines while sitting in what I still think are the best seats in the house: first row of the upper deck, right behind the goal. Well, maybe second best. The Red Bulls usually attacked our end first — we were on the opposite side from the fans who stood and sang all game — and whether it was Juan Pablo Angel or Thierry Henry, they always seemed to have their best chances in the second half, at the far end of the field.
Our view looked down on the 18-yard-box almost exactly like this:
Thierry’s game was cerebral, but that’s a tag you often see applied to players whose bodies are perhaps more limited than their imaginations, and he never seemed to have that problem — at least not for most of his career. I remember watching him with Arsenal. He was fluid. Maradona, the first great player I got to see as a young boy, was powerful. So was Ronaldo. Zidane always had a hard edge. I’m sure Henry was just as intense as those men, but it was the elegance of his play rather than the power or force of will that always seemed to get the best of opponents. He dribbled past his markers with so much ease. He picked his corner and stroked the ball into the goal — there was no thunder in his finishes, just a cool breeze. When you sweet-talk the ball into doing your bidding, your sentences don’t need an exclamation point.
I can’t think about Henry’s elegance without remembering Luke Rodgers, the bald little bulldog the Red Bulls paired him with during his first season in New York. It was the oddest of odd-couple strike partnerships I’d ever seen, but it worked because Henry made him look like a real soccer player, the same way he elevated Bradley Wright-Phillips from a quick striker with a decent touch to co-all-time leading scorer in Major League Soccer.
A couple weeks back on our podcast, Dummy, I spoke with David Hirshey, the biggest Gooner I know, and Danny Karbassiyoon, who was a young man training with the Arsenal first team during the 2003–04 season, when people called them the Invincibles because no one could beat them. Danny told us that, during training, Henry wouldn’t bother to lace his boots — a perfect anecdote that captured the nonchalance of his play almost perfectly. When I think of Thierry now, it’s that aspect of his personality that comes to mind: a flick, an arched eyebrow, a shrug.