Thierry Henry's wonderful back-heeled goal against Charlton Athletic has, understandably, been exercising the minds of his next opponents. The Arsenal striker will be wearing blue this weekend when France play the Republic of Ireland in their World Cup Group Four qualifier in Paris and Ireland's Richard Dunne was yesterday so unequivocal in his praise for Henry that he may be glad he is missing the match with a calf injury.
"Henry is the best striker I have ever come up against," the 25-year-old Manchester City defender said. "The frightening thing for any defender is his pace. Even if you go tight he can just knock it over your head and you won't be able to catch him. Once he then gets a chance on goal, nine times out of 10 he will hit the target. He is a difficult one to mark and the best I've faced. He has so much ability, a bit of everything everyone else has. He seems to have it all - the whole package."
The only chance of stopping Henry, Dunne said, is to get "help". "You need to make sure there's cover and everyone is getting involved," the Dubliner said. "But no matter, he is a very hard person to mark. Just look at what did at the weekend. It looked like the defender [Jonathan Fortune] was doing all right, and then he back-heeled it into the net. It's difficult for anyone to mark him."
Nevertheless, Dunne coped better than most when City played Arsenal recently, preventing Henry from scoring, even if the champions still won. That performance, and others like it, are likely to earn Dunne a new contract at City - less than two years after it looked like his career there was over when he was disciplined by manager Kevin Keegan for arriving at training smelling of alcohol.
Dunne, who admits he has turned his life around, explained: "He [Keegan] said last year if I was still in the team and playing they would start talking about a new contract this December or January. It's still a way off, but his recent comments are encouraging. It's a big change to what was being said a couple of years back, so it's good he has confidence in me and I'm part of his team. I just felt previously my past was always being dragged up no matter what, but I'm getting good publicity now and I'd like to keep it that way."
Dunne is not the only City player with a reputation and despite David Trezeguet becoming the latest withdrawal from the France squad, their coach Raymond Domenech has continued the exile of Nicolas Anelka. "I know he has the reputation of being very temperamental, but he is a quality player and he would cause a threat to any defence," Dunne said.
Whether a fit Dunne would have been in that Irish defence is another matter. It is 11 months since he last played for his country and he was - to his public anger - omitted from the last squad. "If you ask any footballer, they will say it's tough to be left out," Dunne said yesterday.
Ireland's manager Brian Kerr, to his credit, did not hold last month's outburst against the player who was, however, unlikely to oust Andy O'Brien.
Dunne is Ireland's only absentee because of injury and he will miss Saturday's game and probably next Wednesday's qualifier at home to the Faroe Islands. "If I do get a chance I can impress from there and hopefully get my career back on track internationally," Dunne said.
The only other Irish concern - amid French disarray - is goalkeeper Shay Given, whose wife is about to give birth. However, he will travel with the squad today.
Ireland have sold 19,000 tickets for the fixture but expect to take 35,000 fans to Paris.
* The Toulouse midfielder Daniel Moreira has replaced Barcelona's Ludovic Giuly, who has a thigh injury, in France's squad for Saturday and the trip to Cyprus on Wednesday.Reuse content