Football: Henry's mix of power and pace

THE FIRST thing you notice about him, the first thing people have always noticed about him, is his pace. Even by the ever-quickening standards of modern footballers he is lightning fast and always has been - as a youngster, a career as a sprinter beckoned before football lured him away.

But Thierry Henry is not just quick, he has a few tricks as well.

Against Derby last week, in his first start in England, he literally walked past one defender, dropping a shoulder here, shaking a hip there, all the time threatening to explode into a run, until, suddenly, his mesmerised opponent was on the floor and Henry was advancing on another.

There are other qualities. Kevin Ball, the Sunderland captain who played against him last week, yesterday picked out his technique. Matthew Upson, the young Arsenal defender who trains with him every day, noted his strength and two-footedness.

The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, speaking after training yesterday, said: "He has pace, power, and size. He is very quick, but he also has tricks and a lot of body power." His finishing, so far, has been dreadful but Wenger added: "You should see him in training today; his finishing is improving all the time. You cannot say he is a bad technical finisher because he has scored goals in the past. He just needs a goal. I don't want it to become a psychological block."

That goal might come tomorrow, against Manchester United at Highbury.

Henry will play, the question is where: on the right flank, the left wing, or through the centre? It may well be decided by who else is fit, for though Wenger sees him in the long term as a centre-forward, he can play with equal facility anywhere in the forward line. "He gives us a lot of options. He can play left, right, or up front. But such a physique should not be pushed on the flanks. We must at least try to give him a central position. With the ball at his feet he can make anything possible."

Maybe it is his versatility which has slowed the Frenchman's progress, for he has only hinted at fulfilling the potential of his youth. This may seem a strange thing to say of a player who, though only 22 last Tuesday, has cost pounds 15m in transfer fees, played in the French, Italian and English leagues, been part of a World Cup-winning squad and won the French title but, given his initial impact, it may be true.

Discovered playing for Ulls, a small team in the suburbs of Paris, he made his debut for Monaco two weeks after his 17th birthday. Two years later he was voted French Young Footballer of the Year and almost signed for Real Madrid (more of that later). By 1997 he was a regular in Monaco's championship-winning side, a successful captain of France's Under-18s and, in the October, shortly after his 20th birthday, he made his international debut.

He went on to keep Nicolas Anelka out of the World Cup 22 but then things turned sour. Beginning the tournament in the team, and scoring twice against South Africa, his role changed to that of a substitute, only to be kept on the bench for the final, having featured in the previous six matches.

He moved to Juventus in January of this year for a reported pounds 5m, but was seen as a winger and failed to secure a regular place. He was then dropped from the French squad after 11 caps.

A case of burn-out and premature acclamation? Not according to Gerard Houllier, who coached him in the French Under-17 and Under-18 national teams. Houllier, now manager of Liverpool, believes this is a classic case of: "form is temporary, class is permanent".

"I'm not surprised he had a dip," Houllier said yesterday. "He'd not had a holiday for three years. In 1996 he played in the European Under- 18 Championships; in 1997 he played in Malaysia in the Under-18 World Championships; in 1998 he played in the World Cup. After so much repetition of competition there is bound to be a dip. The same applies to Michael Owen.

"Henry still has very high potential and can become a very good player."

Wenger certainly believes so. He had pursued Henry for more than a year, almost securing him before France 98, but only to balk when Monaco doubled his pounds 4m value on the back of his World Cup performances. Henry was quoted then, and in November, saying that he wanted to join Arsenal but eventually went to Italy, only to end up at Highbury for a figure reported to be pounds 10.5m but actually nearer pounds 9m.

It is still a club record but represents less than half the fee received for Anelka. While not bought just to replace his close friend - Davor Suker fulfils part of the equation - he is an appropriate alternative.

He, too, grew up in a rough Parisian banlieu, "a poor and violent" suburb according to one local expert. He was also developed through the French academy created by Houllier - which took him in at the age of 13. Henry, too, has a history of "agent trouble".

That was in the winter of 1996-97 when he somehow acquired three agents and two clubs: Monaco, for whom he was playing, and Real Madrid, who claimed to have signed him on a pre-contract. The upshot was a Fifa investigation and fines for Madrid and Henry, who was ordered to stay with Monaco.

Henry also has two brothers but, unlike Claude and Didier Anelka, they are not expected to join their sibling in the capital nor to destabilise him. Henry is regarded as more grown-up, his early maturity leading Houllier to make him national Under-18 captain despite his being a striker.

Wenger, who gave Henry his debut at Monaco, said: "He has settled well. He is a very happy boy. He works hard in training, and his movement and understanding of his team-mates improves every day."

Henry himself said: "Nicolas is his own man, he has his life to lead and I have mine. I know the manager, he knows me, and I'm very proud to come here. I have wanted to play here for a long time."

As David O'Leary noted last week, this is a standard platitude among foreign players but in Henry's case it appears to be true. His pleasure at being at Highbury appears to be reciprocated by the Arsenal fans who will hope, tomorrow, to see Henry prove his star is once more in the ascendant.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam