The VERSUS Hall of Game is our celebration of the most influential and impactful ballers of our time. From Ballon d'Or winners to 'Streets Won't Forget' hitters, we're here to give thanks to the players who made us fall in love with the beautiful game. First up, Martyn Ewoma drops a tribute to the incomparable King of Va Va Voom, Thierry Henry.
Between the abysmal performances, the out of touch owners who tried to take us in to the ESL, extraditing Mesut Özil (largely, in my opinion, due to his support of Uyghur Muslims) and – perhaps worst of all – Piers Morgan being our most famous fan, supporting Arsenal in 2021 is largely based on nostalgia for the past rather than passion for what’s happening right now.
Thierry Henry symbolises that glorious past better than any other player, and he’ll always be my personal GOAT.
As an Arsenal fan, you may accuse me of bias, but I want to present my argument for Thierry Henry as the Premier League’s greatest ever player. It’s just common sense.
I acknowledge Cristiano Ronaldo went on to become a superior player at Real Madrid and there are other players who had Premier League stints that arguably made more impact abroad, but within English football, no one individual is clear of Titi.
Henry was the league’s top scorer in four separate seasons. He scored 20+ goals in five successive Premier League campaigns, never scoring less than 24 times. If you want to talk about levels, his lowest goals total over half a decade was equal to Jamie Vardy’s career-best season in which Leicester City won the title.
Haters will say other players have arguably had better individual seasons, and they’d be correct. CR7’s Ballon d’Or busting year in 2007/08, Salah’s 34 goals in 2017/18, or KDB’s 13 goals 20 assists in 2019/20 all spring to mind. But if you’re talking about sustained dominance, no one comes close to the bar Henry set for himself between 2001 and 2006.
Never before has one player created a substantial chasm of class between themselves and the rest of the league in the way my No. 14 did. 2 x Premier League titles (including one ‘Invincible’ season), 5 x consecutive PFA Team of the Year appearances, 3 x FWA Footballer of the Year awards, 4 x Premier League Golden Boots, 2 x PFA Player of the Year Awards. This baller’s trophy cabinet was glistening and he was the first player where Premier League fans could legitimately argue: “the best player in the world plays in our league”.
“The founding father of making people feel uncomfortable in their own ends.”
His stats are one thing, his style was another. The founding father of making people feel uncomfortable in their own ends. The range of goals Henry scored was ridiculous. His highlight reel carries a level of diversity and inclusion that scrambling PR departments in a post-BLM world could only dream of.
There’s the backheel nutmeg against Charlton, teeing himself up for his own acrobatic volley against Man United, running through the entire Tottenham team like a Year 11 playing Year 7s at lunchtime, the iconic cut inside from the left against every goalkeeper in the league and their dog. It was like he placed bets with his teammates on what type of goal he’d be pull of next. Football is an entertainment business and so often, players fall into the camp of productivity over expression. End product instead of art.
Thierry Henry was a man who could do both.
Off the pitch, Thierry was always a leader and believed in standing up for what’s right. While he’s recently made headlines for removing himself from social media in protest at their inaction of racist abuse, he’s been fighting this fight since he was at the peak of his powers. As early as 2005, he was one of the voices that inspired Nike to start the memorable ‘Stand Up, Speak Up’ campaign against racism in football, and he regularly criticised UEFA for their weak punishments in response to racist offences.
It’s sad to know that nothing has really changed in 16 years.
And on a personal note, growing up in a small city with a majority white population, having Black men like Thierry Henry to idolise as heroes meant everything to me as a child. I remember the awkwardness of having no one to dress up as on World Book Day in primary school – but when we played football and my friends would pretend to be Gerrard, Lampard or Beckha, I never felt left out because I had someone too.
I’m an adult now but I know the 7-year-old me chose the right hero to idolise. Mr. Va Va Voom, welcome to the Hall of Game.