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.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot