Henry is better-placed than most footballers to comment on the differences, strengths and idiosyncrasies of different football leagues in Europe and beyond – he has played in no fewer than five of them, and against teams of many others. In this special two-part feature, he discusses their various pluses and minuses, and some of his best and worst memories of them.
I will always put Arsenal above everything else, but Barcelona was pretty special.
In summer 2007, Henry suddenly and surprisingly left Arsenal. But there was only one place that Henry has stated he would have left Arsenal for, and that was the Camp Nou, where football is played very differently from that in England.
“I was in Barcelona for three years. You go to Spain… every team can play football, they play from the back, the goalkeeper touches the ball, you give it back, the goalkeeper puts the ball left, all the time with the ball on the ground,” he explains. “Like I’ve said, Arsenal will always be my first love, but playing for Barcelona is something I will never forget.”
Especially unforgettable was his second season, when the team achieved a unique ‘sextuple’ of the La Liga title, Copa del Rey, Champions League, Spanish Supercup, UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup.
“When you go the stadium, it says ‘Més que un club’ – ‘more than a club’ – and that is actually real. You don’t realise that when you go there. I had my first season, which wasn’t so great, and I wondered, but when you win – and you win everything – with Barcelona, then you realise it is more than a club,” Henry says. “I will always put Arsenal above everything else, but Barcelona was pretty special.”
What I like about the Bundesliga is that you will always see entertaining football and beautiful goals.
Henry has never played in the Bundesliga, but as someone who has faced German teams on many occasions and monitored their fortunes, is it the current ‘best league’? Can it compare with others given that title in shifting patterns of success during his career?
“It’s so weird, you know, for a little while, because all the English teams were doing so well in the Champions League, everyone was saying that the English league was the best in the world, then way back in the day the Italian league teams were doing so well people said the Italian league is the best, then you had the Spanish domination at one point,” Henry says, wearily.
“For me, Borussia Dortmund will always be a good team, Bayern Munich will always be a good team, Leverkusen had a little moment where they disappeared, but now they are coming back. They will always be great teams, they don’t just disappear like that. What I like about the Bundesliga is that you will always see entertaining football and beautiful goals, it’s the same in the Premier League and in Spain. But you will always hear people talking about results.”
We lost that game to Houston at home, which was a bit cruel, but that’s the way the game is sometimes.
In 2010, Henry left Europe for America and the New York Red Bulls, where Major League Soccer rules and formats mean success on the field doesn’t automatically equal title glory. Instead of an outright winner, the top teams in eastern and western leagues contest play-offs for a united semi-final and final to win the MLS Cup.
Having finished top of the Eastern Conference and at one point enjoying a two-month, seven-game unbeaten run, the Red Bulls agonisingly lost 4–3 on aggregate to Houston Dynamo, with the second-leg extra time period seeing an Henry header and bicycle kick effort not quite find their target.
“Even this year, we didn’t win it all,” he says. “Although it was way better, as we actually won the league, then we didn’t win the MLS Cup, which is kind of weird.”
Sporting Kansas City eventually took this honour…
“But at least I finished this season with something to look forward to. This season, we went on a run of not losing for a very long time, and then we lost that game to Houston at home, which was a bit cruel, but that’s the way the game is sometimes.”
Thierry Henry’s quotes are from his interview with ServusTV.