Performance in Paris persuades Henry to sign for four more years
The youngsters in the team, the fans, the manager and even London itself - Thierry Henry claimed yesterday that they were all factors in his decision to stay at Arsenal, but it was not, he insisted, about the money. The Premiership's most celebrated player finally brought an official end to more than a year of doubt over his future by pledging to stay at Arsenal for the rest of his playing career.
As reported in The Independent yesterday, he will be handsomely rewarded with a four-year deal understood to be worth £112,000 a week after resisting the lure of Barcelona, and less firm enquiries from Real Madrid and Milan. "It was not about the money," Henry said. "People want to give you a label as a footballer where it's all money, money, money. Of course money has contributed to a certain lifestyle for us and one day that will stop, but there's love, there's emotion."
Yesterday, however, was all about Henry and he revelled in it. From the "amazing" fans to the pain he felt at the prospect of leaving Wenger's emergent young team, the 28-year-old cast himself as a man so beloved of the Arsenal support that he could not leave. Of his major doubts over his Arsenal future in February and March, when he backtracked on an earlier public promise to stay, there was much less discussion.
Instead, he preferred to dwell on his love affair with English football and the prospect of winning the European Cup after Arsenal came so close on Wednesday night before succumbing to defeat against Barcelona in the final. It was also clear that the progress the team had made in the latter stages of the Champions' League had a great influence on the decision he made after Wednesday's match.
"I always think of London as my home town, the love that I have here and the Arsenal fans," Henry said. "I always say to the boss that it will be difficult to leave because of the passion. The stadiums are always full, the reception we have when we play away is amazing.
"The team showed me on Wednesday that we would have done anything to beat Barcelona. They can be so proud about what they did and they reassured me in that performance how much they wanted it.
"A lot of stuff helped me to stay, like my family, I love London. If you're not happy on the pitch, it's a bit difficult. I wanted to give myself time to reflect, and the team reassured me about where we can go. It's important, because when I've seen how [Cesc] Fabregas has been playing in the past five months, as well as [Emmanuel] Eboué, [Mathieu] Flamini, [Abou] Diaby. I can name a lot of youngsters who will be in the team for a very long time, and who raised their game recently."
Accompanied by the vice-chairman, David Dein, and his manager, Arsène Wenger, Henry said he had been given no assurances aboutplayers Arsenal would try to buy this summer although Wenger said later that he was seeking at least two "top-calibre" signings. The Arsenal manager added he had tried not to "put pressure on him, because I wanted him to make up his mind freely and voluntarily."
Henry did concede that Barcelona would have been his first choice had he decided to leave, although he added cryptically: "I was never close and never far". He said: "I'm an honest guy, so maybe that would have been the team I'd have gone for had I left. But I'm here and that's all that matters.
"With me in the team I'm even more confident. I'm always confident but never too much. The form they've shown recently is amazing, and I just wait to see what with a little bit more experience they can do. Some people say you have to think about yourself first, but I think you can see on the pitch that I think about the team first. I was thinking if I do leave also, it would be more difficult for them to shine."
The Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, said yesterday that he respected Henry's decision but the coach, Frank Rijkaard, hinted that the responsibility for signing the player lay at the door of the club's sporting director, Txiki Begiristain. Rijkaard said: "When it is something like this, Txiki has to answer. I can only talk of players I have in the dressing-room."
Laporta said: "Henry was free to decide what he wanted to do and his decision says a lot about him as a person; he was excited about the idea of coming here but he feels he owes something to the Arsenal fans. He could be an example for every player."
Asked if he would rather have won the European Cup or kept Henry, Wenger sidestepped the question - "That's torture," he told his questioner, "you could go to jail for that" - and instead called the player's decision an "insurance policy for the future".
Wenger said: "The team started the season at a low level of confidence and belief. We went through thick and thin and showed resilience. After the season we had it showed we created a special bond. Wednesday has reinforced that feeling among the players. I knew we would rely on Thierry's decision. For the progression of the team it was vital to get this response. Of course we would have had to cope with any decision, but basically this is an insurance policy for the future."
Goals and the glory: Thierry Henry's seven years at Arsenal
Prem games: 31 Prem goals: 17 Total games: 48 Total goals: 26
Trophies: Community Shield, FA Cup
Prem games: 35 Prem goals: 17 Total games: 53 Total goals: 22
Prem games: 33 Prem goals: 24 Total games: 49 Total goals: 32
Trophies: Premier League, FA Cup
Honours: Premiership top scorer
Prem games: 37 Prem goals: 24 Total games: 55 Total goals: 32
Trophies: Community Shield, FA Cup
Honours: Football Writers' Player of the Year
Prem games: 37 Prem goals: 30 Total games: 51 Total goals: 39
Trophies: Premier League
Honours: Football Writers' Player of the Year, PFA Player of the Year, Barclaycard Overseas and Overall Player of the Year, Premiership top scorer, European Golden Boot
Prem games: 32 Prem goals: 25 Total games: 42 Total goals: 30
Trophies: FA Cup
Honours: Premiership top scorer
Prem games: 32 Prem goals: 27 Total games: 46 Total goals: 33
Trophies: Community Shield
Honours: Football Writers' Player of the Year, Arsenal All-time leading goalscorer, Premiership top scorer
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