Birth certificates don’t serve much of a purpose these days. Everybody has one and after they’re put away in the bedroom drawer they’re not really needed until you start dealing with government bureaucrats years later. But when Thierry Henry’s the subject of conversation everybody’s suddenly interested in his birth date, which was Aug. 17, 1977 by the way. It seems most football supporters in general and Arsenal fans in particular are wondering if we’re going to see the Henry of old or just an old Henry.
What football lacks these days are players that are willing to take defenders on. Because of the often-stifling formations and midfield stacking we aren’t seeing players attempt game-breaking moves as we did in the past with players such as Pele, George Best, Steve McManaman, Paul Gascoigne, Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and Gary Lineker. Today’s game is much more passing oriented and with some teams employing lone strikers we’re losing that exciting attacking aspect of the game.
But Henry’s been around long enough and has played in the days when there was a premium placed on attacking football. He can turn on a dime in the penalty box and leave players lunging at thin air as he leaves them in his wake. He’s that good and always has been. Bringing his age into the equation may make for a decent debate, but he should be judged on his performances not how many candles he’s going to be blowing out on his next birthday.
Professional sports have changed dramatically over the years. Everything’s world-class these days with high-tech, state-of-the-art training and therapy methods being used. Sure, as athletes get older some things such as speed and reflexes may start to fade and it takes longer to recover from injuries, but they never forget how to play the game. What Henry brings to Arsenal and the Premier League is a wealth of experience and knowledge. His thought process should be able to make up for any physical deficiencies or shortcomings he may now have.
But older athletes have often been unfairly dismissed as has-beens. It’s definitely not always the case though. We saw Stanley Matthews playing football into his 50s while Gordie Howe, one of ice hockey’s all-time greats, was still playing in the NHL at the age of 52. George Foreman and Bernard Hopkins were world boxing champions well into their 40s and players such as Ryan Giggs and Brad Friedel are still among the best in their positions in the EPL.
Along with Henry, we’ve also seen 37-year-old Paul Scholes return to football with Manchester United and he didn’t look out of place in his first game back against Man City either. But while some fans view the signing of these players as a step backwards for teams such as Arsenal, others actually feel the league in general is suffering from the lack of overall young talent. They feel it doesn’t say much about the league if its top stars are guys like Henry and Scholes while Spain’s La Liga boasts youngsters such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
You can’t blame Arsenal for signing Henry on loan. He’s the club’s all-time leading scorer with 227 and didn’t cost much in today’s age of overinflated salaries. Besides, what the club pays him in wages and the New York Red Bulls in loan payments they’ll probably make up in sales of Henry jerseys. With far-less skilled players such as Andy Carroll being sold at astronomical prices, Henry can be seen as the steal of the century.
Arsenal knows exactly what they’re getting with him and this is important as the club fights for a Champions League spot. They can’t really afford to blow it at this stage and don’t really want to experiment with youngsters and newcomers. There’s no need to really, not if a proven player like Henry can be added to the squad even if it is for just a couple of months. There’s simply too much at stake. Whether Henry was signed because of the new financial fair play rules or because he came cheap shouldn’t matter. It’s not his fault if the talent pool in the league is running dry or teams are trying to save money. He should be judged on what he brings to the team.
What he does bring, is enough skill and knowhow to take some of the pressure off of Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has been responsible for about 47 per cent of Arsenal’s goals so far this season. There’s a hell of a lot of weight on his shoulders. If Henry is used properly and partnered with Van Persie the pair of them are going to cause a lot of havoc on the pitch and should be able to carve out boatloads of quality scoring chances.
Henry might not have all of the same physical qualities he used to, but his mental approach to the game, along with his professionalism, attitude and enthusiasm should more than make up for it. With racial abuse and scandals occupying the sports pages lately, Henry’s arrival is like a breath of fresh air for the EPL.