Mourinho laments and rejoices at Henry's huge decision

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The Independent Football

The best player to have graced the Premiership? Thierry Henry's statistics will be the testament to his work, the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, said yesterday, and he found an unlikely ally in his Chelsea counterpart, Jose Mourinho, who said that English football should be "proud" that the Frenchman was staying.

Henry's new contract will keep him in the Premiership until 2010 guaranteeing that English football will see his very best years - he joined from Juventus in August 1999. After losing the Champions' League final and the Uefa Cup final to Spanish opposition, Henry's decision to stay will be a welcome boost to the confidence of the English game.

Mourinho said it was "fantastic" that he was staying. "English football should be proud that we have Michael Ballack playing in this country and it is the same with Thierry Henry," he said.

"I need the other teams to be weak and don't want them to be strong, but I am happy that he is staying. Of course Arsenal will be stronger but we want the Premiership to be the best. For me Thierry is a top player. When you talk about top strikers in the world he is in the first level. If Arsenal had to sell him they would sell him to Barcelona, Real Madrid or Milan. It would never be to a direct opponent in the Premiership. Arsenal has a good team and will be much stronger next year. They will not have the Henry story hanging over them."

Whether he will end his time at Arsenal recognised as the greatest of all time will depend on how history compares him to two other greats, Alan Shearer and Eric Cantona. Henry's "numbers" - as Wenger describes them - look formidable.

He has scored 164 goals in 237 Premiership games for Arsenal and has a further 41 in 78 in the Champions' League. While he has almost another 100 goals to score before he surpasses Alan Shearer's Premiership record of 260 in 441 games, he is well ahead of Cantona, who scored 70 in 156 matches. And the manner of Henry's goalscoring will make his legacy all the more enduring.

Not only has he finished top goalscorer again this season, with 27, but Henry is the dominant figure in an Arsenal side being rebuilt around him. While Barcelona could offer him riches beyond his dreams and life in one of Europe's most beautiful cities, they could not give him that status.

Wenger said Henry had "been at that age" where he was considering his options but said he believed he could be the best player in Premiership history. "You can have opinions but must check the numbers," he said. "With great players you check two things. One, they make their team win, and two, the numbers are there to prove what they've achieved. I believe in four years when you look back the numbers he has will prove his worth.

"For him it is not just his goals... what I rate much more is his assists, which shows what a team player he is. It will happen one day that he will score less, but he will still contribute to help his team to win. He is capable of reproducing what Dennis [Bergkamp]'s strength was, scoring and giving assists. The really great players do that."

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