The Va Va Voom Effect

For this new series on Balls Out In Public, our writing staff will be writing about their favourite footballers who never played for the club they support. Here, Ashley Brewer, who deserves full credit for the idea for this series, discusses his adoration for one of the Premiership’s recent legends.

Growing up watching the beautiful game as a Liverpool fan, I became accustom to watching a brilliant striker donning the red shirt in the form of Michael Owen, whose name was on the back of my size S Liverpool shirt I wore while playing football with my friends, trying the replicate everything I saw him do. However, there was a bloke who played at a club down south who also captured my eye. That club was Arsenal, and that bloke was named Thierry Henry.

I doubt even Arsene knew what he was unleashing upon the Premier League

Henry started his career at Monaco, who he joined at the tender age of 13 after impressing scout, Arnold Catalano, by scoring all 6 goals in a 6-0 victory for his team. At the time Henry first broke through in to the first team, as a fresh faced 17 year old, he was under the guidance of a certain Arsene Wenger, who would turn out to be the most important figure in his development into one of, if not the, greatest striker the Premier League has ever seen.

However, initially it wasn’t up front where Henry was played, as Wenger thought that his speed and ability with the ball at his feet would be better used out on the wing, so that’s where he played, with a fair amount of success following a slow start at Monaco. He went on to win Young French Player of the Year in 1996, as well helping Le Rouge et Blanc to the Ligue 1 title in 1996/97.

In January 1999, Henry followed in the foot steps of David Trezeguet and signed for Italian giants, Juventus, in a deal worth around £10.5m. However, merely 6 months later, Henry signed for Arsenal for £11m after not being able to settle in Turin, reuniting with former boss, Arsene Wenger.

My first memory of Thierry Henry in an Arsenal jersey isn’t exactly a pleasant one. It was August 2000, and Liverpool had travelled to Highbury hoping to extend their 14 game winning streak against the north Londoners, stretching back to March 1994. However, their party was well and truly crashed when Arsenal’s £7m Summer acquisition, Bason Lauren scored 7 minutes into his Highbury debut in a game rounded up in the 89th minute by Henry after his initial shot had hit the post. This just happened to be the first ever game I had sat through and watched in its entirety, as a 7 year old in my Liverpool kit bought for me for my birthday almost a month earlier.

Thankfully, our season didn’t end as badly, as I watched my beloved club pick up a cup treble, winning the League Cup, the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup – the third of which being picked up following a Michael Owen brace against Arsenal. But throughout the season, Henry continued to amaze me, whether I was watching him live or on highlight shows. He finished that season with 22 goals in all competitions, adding to the 26 in his debut season for Arsenal. Impressive, of course, but this was only the start of Thierry Henry.

Henry’s wait for silverware in an Arsenal shirt finally came to an end in the 2001/02 season, when two trophies came in quick succession. The Frenchman fired the Gunners to the Premier League title, winning by a comfortable margin of 7 points over runners up Liverpool, as well as an FA Cup. In that season Henry hit the back of the net on 32 occasions, which bagged him the Premier League Golden Boot for the first time, but not the last.

It is impossible to write about the Thierry Henry era of Arsenal’s history and not mention the famous “Invincibles” season of 2003/04, in which the Gunner’s went an entire Premier League season without losing a single game – needless to say, an incredible achievement.

From that season, the one game that stands out for me was the one between Arsenal and Liverpool at Highbury. This game was also the stage for my all time favourite Henry moment. Sami Hyypia and Michael Owen had put my team 2-1 up at half time, however, a totally different Arsenal side appeared after half time. Robert Pires equalised for the home side and shortly after Henry picked up the ball outside the Liverpool box, slalomed his way in to the box, leaving the Liverpool defence to only watch on as he placed it past Jerzy Dudek.

During the 2005/06 season, Henry was given the captain armband following the sale of Patrick Viera, and he also became Arsenal’s leading goalscorer of all time that season. Up to that point of his career at Highbury, he had won 2 League titles, 3 FA Cups and 2 FA Community Shields but there was always one reward that he and the red half of North London longed for – The UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal became the 2nd English team to reach the final in two years, following in the footsteps of Liverpool. Contrarily, they wouldn’t have the same luck as the Merseyside team. It started off promising after Sol Campell headed them ahead against Barcelona despite being a man down following Jens Lehmann’s early sending off, but it slipped out of their grasp when Samuel Eto’o equalised a few minutes from the end before a second quickly followed; Juliano Belletti ensuring Barcelona lifted their second European Cup.

Henry spent one more season at Arsenal, but it was unfortunately one plagued by injuries, reducing him to only 17 appearances. In these 17 appearances though, he still managed to score 10 goals. In June 2007, Henry signed for Barcelona for a reported €24m. Between 1999-2007 he appeared 369 times for Arsenal, scoring 226 goals – a goal every 1.62 games.

I was sad to see him leave England to be honest. I had grown up watching him play as much as I had watched Liverpool, which is why I felt like I had travelled back in time 11 and a half years when Sky Sports News announced that the Frenchman was returning to Arsenal in January 2012.Of course, I knew he wouldn’t set the league on fire the way he did, especially since he would only be back there for a few weeks, but I sat watching the Arsenal-Leeds United FA Cup tie earlier this year almost as excited as an Arsenal fan, awaiting to see one of my childhood heroes step onto the pitch. And then it arrived.

The score was 0-0, and the stage was set. Suddenly Alex Song sends through an exquisite through ball which cuts through the Leeds defence like a hot knife through butter, finding Henry who only has to guide it in to the far bottom corner. The Emirates roared, and so did I. By the end of his loan spell, Henry had extended his all time goal record by three goals.

For me, Thierry Henry will always be the greatest Premier League striker of all time and also, my favourite ever player who never played for Liverpool.

Thierry Henry’s Best Goals:

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