Henry finally shakes off runner-up tag in France

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The Independent Football

It was third time lucky for Thierry Henry after he was voted French Player of the Year for 2003 by the magazine France Football.

The Arsenal striker, who finished second behind Zinedine Zidane for the World Football Player of the Year award and second again behind Pavel Nedved at the European Football Player of the Year ceremony a week ago, came first this time with a total of 162 points.

The Real Madrid talisman Zidane was hot on his heels with 129 points, with Monaco's talented captain Ludovic Giuly with 67 points. The judging panel is made up of all the former winners of the award.

It is the second time Henry has received the reward after he also claimed the top prize in 2000. "It is nice to be ahead of Zizou," Henry said. "I have gained a lot of maturity and also brushed up my game tremendously this year.

"You cannot rely on talent alone any more, unless you are a guy like Diego Maradona; in my opinion it is mental strength and hard work that really make you progress."

Henry's team-mate Jens Lehmann could be in trouble with the Football Association after the referee Steve Dunn said he will include an incident between the Gunners goalkeeper and the Southampton striker Kevin Phillips in his report.

Lehmann objected to a challenge from Phillips at the end of Arsenal's 1-0 Premiership victory at St Mary's on Monday and threw the ball at Phillips seconds after the final whistle.

The incident prompted a call from Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, for more protection for goalkeepers. "What you see more and more of now is players who go in with one arm between the hands of the keeper, or pulling down on the shoulder and generally not playing the ball at all," he said.

"That sort of offence should be punished by a yellow card. Jens is frustrated - he tells me that he gets hit but is not allowed to defend himself because he has to go for the ball.

"I feel there is a right balance to find. At the moment it is not in the favour of the keeper. If we do not get the balance we need, then keepers will soon stop challenging for the ball."

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