The Last Word: Henry should not have left in the first place
Instead of chasing his own ambition, he could have left a legacy at the club he clearly adores
While everyone with a football soul, and without a Leeds United or Republic of Ireland scarf, was celebrating the destruction of the maxim "you should never go back", maybe something else flashed through Thierry Henry's mind: "I should never have left in the first place."
Today, six days following his strike from yore, it seems likely the 34-year-old will again take his place among the Arsenal substitutes. Notwithstanding the quality of Swansea – "Mini Arsenal" now seems an insult – Henry might ponder how he ended up sitting on a bench in South Wales, desperate for another chance to make a contribution to the club he loves, frantic to demonstrate that this King isn't necessarily dead. Will a little reality dare intrude into the fantasy? By the sounds of Arsène Wenger, he expects so. "It was a little bit of a dream, because it was a story about football you would tell young children," said the Arsenal manager in the wake of Henry's winner. "Unfortunately, it's not often like that in our game."
Wenger is right. Usually it is about regret not resurrection, recrimination not rejuvenation, and regardless of his remarkable return, the danger for Henry is he will eventually take his leave from north London, back to something called the New York Red Bulls, counting up the what-could-have-beens. Henry declared that goal was one of "the best moments of my career because I scored it as a fan". In itself the comment told the story.
When Henry drove out of the Emirates it didn't take long to realise what was in the wing-mirror. Of course, the decision to move to Barcelona was understandable. David Dein had quit, meaning uncertainty suddenly plagued his profession, and mix this with losing a Champions' League final to the Spanish giants in 2006 and the frustration was as clear as it was justifiable. Circumstances conspired to make Henry believe it was then or never. But then or never for what?
For a wheelbarrow of titles and cash, that's what, with a Champions' League medal on top of the pile. The statistics show Henry was a success at the Nou Camp. But, as we all know, statistics distort, particularly with a player such as Henry. He was a mere part of the beauty at Barça, while at Arsenal he was its source and its lifeblood. Yes, it was all about the Va-Va-Voom for this sporting romantic, and sometimes the Va-Va-Voom does not lay thick at the bottom of the most coveted trophies. Adulation means most when it is reciprocated: the superstar and his devotees.
Who says those moments in an FA Cup third-rounder in 2012 were any less enjoyable than the Champions' League conversion with Messi and Co in 2009? Fulfilment can be as fickleas the next emotion. Henry may well arrive at this conclusion when he looks back on his career which to many of our minds is the finest so far in the history of the Premier League.
Throw the mind back to 2007 and imagine if he had stayed, if he had, like the year previous, somehow resisted the alluring sniff of the Barça Bisto. Now, the common wisdom has it that the £18m represented a fantastic piece of business on Wenger's behalf. In black and white it probably was. Yet while Henry's powers were on the decline, his aura wasn't. How Wenger could have used his influence, his experience and his reputation as he attempted to bring through his new generation.
Whatever Wenger claims, Arsenal have lacked an on-field leader in the last four seasons and, even if Henry could be petulant and sulky when the going was tough, all the responsibility would have been his and he may well have revelled in it. We will never know, he will never know, but as he hears his congregation praise the almighty once again, at the very least a small part of him must wonder how it could have turned out. Instead of chasing his own ambition, he could have left a legacy at a club he genuinely adores. Weigh them up – short-term buzz or long-term satisfaction?
Our heroes almost want it all, when if they only stopped and looked around they could see they had it all already. It's not just about the silverware accumulated by the end; no, they don't remember only the medals. They remember the magic, the moments and what these meant to the player and what these meant to the fans. To be a little bit naff, they remember the love.
Steven Gerrard would say amen to that. When he extended his contract last week effectively to finish his career at Anfield, the cynics said he was signing away the possibility of ever winning the Premier League. Ignoring the arrogant presumption behind that belief, the response must be "so what?" What Gerrard has at Liverpool is more meaningful than 50lb of moulded silver. Think of the euphoria Gerrard has given his fans and of the sense of worth their reaction has afforded Gerrard. You can't buy that relationship and so Gerrard has decided the rest can't buy him.
Henry essentially gave that away and now he tries to claw back the glorious remnants. In some respects it's a rather sad scenario. Is it possible to regret four years in which you amassed seven trophies, including the Champions' League, as well as somewhere in the region of £30m? Too damn right it is. And that's why, despite all the money, the celebrity, the excess and the corruption, football will always be a blessed game of the heart.
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