Philippe Auclair has already dissected Eric Cantona's magnetism in 2009's The Rebel Who Would Be King and now that second brilliant French Anglophile who illuminated the Premier League has come under the France Football journalist's microscope. A fascinating read which traces Thierry Henry's rise from Paris's banlieues to Barcelona, via his eight-year love affair with Arsenal, this is less of a biography and more of a dissertation on why one of the greatest players of his era can seem under-appreciated. But the further Auclair delves into what makes Henry tick the more tainted 'Titi' becomes.
Henry's still playing football, albeit in the MLS retirement home, but he has not been subjected to a biography unlike less distinguished players. Auclair, an Arsenal fan since Liam Brady's seminal and swerving strike past Tottenham in 1978, said the perception of Henry in his homeland was the main motivation for his project. If a Frenchman is asked to name the country's three most influential footballers, the reply would be "Kopa, Platini and Zidane", according to Auclair. That despite Henry being the national side's top scorer, playing in four successive World Cups - winning one in 1998 as well as the European Championship in 2000. His sympathy for his subject's treatment by the Stade de France crowd is impassioned.
Unless you were an Arsenal fan it was easy to to be irked by Henry. For all his ingenuity and innovation on a football pitch, several things nagged. Why, for instance, did he always have to act so deplorably after he scored a goal? Cristiano Ronaldo recently admitted his image had probably harmed his chances of winning individual awards and the same applies to Henry. He should have won the Ballon d'Or at least once in his career but finished second to Pavel Nedved in 2003 and third behind Italy's World Cup-winning duo Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon in 2006.
Henry celebrates his comeback goal against Leeds
A cliché it may be, but the father complex is a riveting insight. Tony Henry is portrayed as a parent so determined for his son to succeed the desire translates as an obsession. All those times Henry scored and didn't smile is purportedly owed to him remembering all the mistakes he made earlier in the game; a symptom of his father's footballing upbringing.
Highbury was Henry's "garden" but his shallowness is exposed when Auclair reveals he told Arsène Wenger immediately after the 2006 Champions League final Arsenal had lost to Barcelona he was staying. It seemed like he had cut his nose to spite his face after he bemoaned the treatment he had received from Carles Puyol and Rafael Marquez and one year later he was their team-mate.
Despite the "Henry paradox", his reverence for Arsenal is unquestionable. When he returned in 2010 for a round-of-16 tie as a Barcelona player he had four touches of the ball and gave it away once as Barça threw away a two-goal lead. Even the Madrid sports dailies were incandescent at his gall to remain behind and applaud the home supporters. It is just one of several segments which paint a three-dimensional footballer during the game and after it.
The Hand of Gaul gets its own chapter but Auclair's portrait of Henry is exacerbated when he explains his role - or lack of a role - in the World Cup 2010 in the denouement. Les Bleus' captain, his silence during in Knysna comes across as cowardly and evasive.
A PostScript on his Arsenal comeback against Leeds completes the ambivalent outlook but all the disingenuousness and faux-compliments that are recalled, despite the dazzling displays, reinforce the belief Henry was tainted before 18 November 2009.
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