FOR a player who won almost every prize football has to offer and who has been celebrated worldwide, Thierry Henry’s status among the game’s greats still divides opinion.
To some, the former Arsenal, Barcelona, New York Red Bulls, Monaco, Juventus and France forward, who retired yesterday, aged, 37 to pursue a broadcasting and coaching career, is the finest player of the Premier League era.
In support of that claim, Henry has the best minutes-to-goal ratio (122) of any man to have scored 100 or more in the Premier League and is the only players to score 20 or more in five successive seasons. He was also the central figure behind Arsenal’s record-breaking Invincibles sequence of 49 matches unbeaten, playing more minutes (4,312), scoring more goals (39) and providing more assists (19) than any of his Gunners team-mates.
Yet others argue that Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo or Eric Cantona are more deserving of the title. Shearer is the leading Premier League scorer of all time on 260; Ronaldo was virtually unstoppable for Manchester United in 2007-08, when he scored 42 goals, and could claim to have exceeded Henry’s best level since joining Real Madrid; few have had the same impact on a team – nor the charisma – as Cantona.
A Ballon d’Or is one of the few trophies missing from the Henry mantelpiece, but it is often suggested that he was the world’s unofficial best player during his peak years. In 2003 he was second on both the Fifa and Ballon d’Or lists – they have since merged – and runner-up for Fifa a year later.
Less contentious, however, is that Henry provided the blueprint not just for the modern forward – able to play wide and through the middle – but for the 21st century footballer. He was at the vanguard of a generation that bridged the gap between the skinny players of yesteryear and today’s ripped pros, who alloyed an athlete’s pace and power to technique. Ronaldo is the epitome of football’s zeitgeist, but perhaps Henry was its prototype.
CAREER IN NUMBERS
228 Goals scored for Arsenal, making him the Gunners’ all-time top scorer
122 Minutes per Premier League goal, the best ratio of any top striker
0.4 Goals per game average of career (411 goals in 917 appearances)
114 Record for most Premier League goals at one ground, Highbury