Henry deserves iconic status

AP

Initially, as in London and Turin, Henry struggled, but he has once again found his feet in Barcelona as hedid in England and is a key part of Pep Guardiola's irresistible set-up. Over to Robert Meaden.

If it was true that one moment defines a career, then Thierry Henry will be forever linked with that handball.

With one error of judgement towards the end of France's World Cup 2010 play-off against the Republic of Ireland, forgotten would be the World Cup winner's medal. The European Championship winner's medal. The UEFA Champions League. Four league titles in three countries plus numerous domestic cup triumphs, FIFA-endorsed international successes and countless personal accolades.

However, in the case of the man who brought 'va va voom' to English football, one incident alone will never tarnish such an unparalleled catalogue of honours and awards.

Henry was a revelation in his time in the Barclays English Premier League at Arsenal, not only for his skills at previously unforeseen pace, but the way he played the game with a smile on his face.

He was like nothing before, and it is a testament to his achievements for Arsene Wenger's side that his reputation — everywhere except Ireland, of course — has survived such an obvious attempt at blatant cheating.

Henry has long been considered one of the good guys of the game and will never join the likes of Diego Maradona, or to a lesser extent Didier Drogba or current Gunners striker Eduardo, who have had their integrity and honesty questioned time and time again, becoming caricatures of wrongdoing.

The 32-year-old's stock continues to survive as the 2010 World Cup draws ever closer, and once again arguably the most marketable star of France's recent golden generation will be a key part of Les Bleus' plans. Throughout a 16-year professional career, which began as a raw winger at Monaco, Henry has notched up nearly 650 appearances andover 300 goals for a total of four clubs in four countries.

Following a French Ligue 1 success in 1997, the best of his years undoubtedly came at Arsenal as he was rescued from a dour spell in Italy, where Henry failed to settle in at Juventus. Wenger's French revolutionwas in full flow in north London by 1999, but as Nicolas Anelka was publicly airing his delusion of grandeur, the athletic Henry was being primed as his replacement.

Arsenal's number 14 was quickly converted to an out-and-out striker, although a slow start led some Highbury regulars to question the GBP10million transfer fee. However, after eight games without a goal, he then found the net and never looked back. The three-time winner of the Football Writers' Award went on to be the club's top scorer for seven successive seasons, becoming the leader of Arsenal's all-time table scoring 226 goals.

In that time, he secured a domestic double, a further EPL title as part of the “Invincibles” of 2004 — and captained the side from 2005 following the departure of international team-mate Patrick Vieira.

But, after several summers of speculation, the time came for arguably Arsenal's greatest ever striker to leave as a move to Catalan giants Barcelona in 2007 proved too strong to resist.

Initially, as in London and Turin, Henry struggled, but he has once again found his feet in a new land as he did in England and is a key part of Pep Guardiola's irresistible set-up. The Frenchman is complementing the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta with his darting runs from the left wing. The Catalans look certain to secure back-to-back Spanish Primera Division titles in May, and there could yet be a secondsuccessive Champions League crown heading Henry's way.

The international career of a man who has won the two major honours available to European nations need no further description — Henry is a player who has won just about everything he could have.

And it is fair to say there is still more to come from a man that may no longer be viewed as whiter than white, but is still respected for all the good he has brought to the European game.

Henry's career faltered after a big-money move to Italy's Serie A with Juventus at the age of 22, before Arsene Wenger came to his rescue. A switch to a more direct striking role allowed Henry the freedom to frighten EPL defences with his pace and attacking prowess to become one of the world's top players. Henry was married to English model Nicole Merry, but the union broke down shortly after his switch to Barcelona as the divorce was confirmed in December 2008.

The striker has been spotted in a variety of high-value sports cars such as the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and BMW X5, but he also championed the values of the Renault Clio following a long-running sponsorship arrangement.

Factfile Name: Thierry Henry Position: Striker Club: Barcelona D.O.B: 17/08/1977 France Caps: 117 France Goals: 51 France Debut: v South Africa, October 1997 Moment to remember

Being part of any World Cup-winning side is hard to top for any professional footballer, but Henry himself may point more to the European Championship success of 2000 as his greatest achievement due to his more involved role in the France set-up than in the triumphant 1998 campaign.

Moment to forget

Clearly the handball incident will never be forgotten. To Henry's credit he himself admitted to deliberate handball and called for a rematch, saying shortly after the decisive play-off that saw France progress to the 2010 World Cup at the expense of Ireland: “I will be honest, it was a handball. But I'm not the ref. I played it, the ref allowed it. Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control.”

© PA Sport, 2010, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.