A talented striker

DECISIVE in front of goal, impossible to contain and as regular as clockwork, Thierry Henry was at his best, scoring four goals, as he almost single-handedly led France to its triumph in the recent FIFA Confederations Cup. And, not so surprisingly, he was the obvious choice for the Best Player and the Golden Shoe awards, which were given away at the end of the tournament.

The tremendous showing and the consistency which marked Henry's superb performance in the revival of the French fortunes, however, could not have come as a surprise for regular football fans. For simply, Henry was just living up to his already acknowledged prowess and reputation. Always considered a natural heir to the throne of Zinedine Zidane, "Titi" showed his class by moving into the right place at the right time in the Cameroon box during the final before getting his knee past the rival custodian Idris Kameni, who was beaten for the first time in the tournament.

The goal was the icing on the cake for not only this exceptionally classy player but for France as well, as the golden goal helped the country to bury its disappointment of having had a poor World Cup last year. Born on August 17, 1977, in Ulis near Paris, Henry is said to have spent his childhood with a ball on his side. As a teenager, he excelled for the national junior teams after his professional rights were secured by French league giant AS Monaco. He was just 13 then.

Henry played his first pro game in December 1994 against arch-rival Nice, when he was just 17 years old. His offensive impact was immediate and although he had not yet grown fully into his lanky frame, he was nevertheless heralded as a future star almost straightaway. His progress continued unabated and, in 1996, he made the junior team of Europe. The following year, Henry participated in the under-20 World Cup in Malaysia and thereafter graduated into the senior ranks. The choice proved to be wise as Henry turned to be the most prolific scorer for France in its dominant run through the 1998 World Cup.

After a brief stay with Juventus, Henry found new life in England with Arsenal in 1999, where he once again came under the wings of Arsene Wenger, the mentor and manager under whom Henry had blossomed into a future star in Monaco. At the start, he was played in the left wing alongside Dennis Bergkamp for the most part of the first season. But after a roster reshuffle, Henry was moved to the striker spot in early 2000 before he led France to victory in Euro 2000.

Though 2002 was clearly a forgettable year for the French national side, for Henry it was a rewarding one as he once again played a major role in Arsenal's campaign in the Barclaycard Premiership. He scored 32 goals and only narrowly missed the Premiership Golden Boot. His exciting style and scary pace, however, did bring him several other laurels including the Football Writers Player of the Year and the Professional Footballers Asssociation Player of the Year awards.

Besides his ability to score at will, what has been more impressive is Henry's natural physical ability to chase the ball. His offensive execution has always been spectacular and to top it is the uncanny speed, which Henry works up when left with the ball at his feet. It is not at all surprising then that there is no defender in the world today who had proved capable of keeping up with this talented striker.

Henry personally leads a flamboyant life as much as he is while in the middle of the field. He got married to his model-girlfriend Nicole Merry, six days after he had helped France to retain the Confederations Cup, which it had won for the first time in 2001 in Japan.

With Zidane expected to slowly fade out from the international scene, all eyes remain transfixed on Henry as France begins its campaign to retain the European title next year and then again attempt to regain its lost glory in the 2006 World Cup. Henry has the talent to make all this happen.