Will Henry debut lead to longer return?

Will Henry debut lead to longer return?

Published Jan. 10, 2012 12:00 a.m. ET

It is hard to recall another instance of so many grown men taking the opportunity to admit that something made them weep unashamedly. Yet since the moment Thierry Henry received a tantalizing pass at his spiritual home, the moment that 60,000 hearts skipped a beat as they witnessed Arsenal’s record scorer steadying himself to stroke in his comeback goal, the floodgates opened.

Over here in England, we don’t tend to fall for sentimental schmaltz too easily. But something about Henry’s goal went straight to the heartstrings. All over the place people have been confessing that it moved them to tears. Others were simply too excited to even think about going to sleep that night. Many drunk themselves into a giddy stupor, and even the following day could not shake off a fixed idiot grin. As for Arsene Wenger, the manager that Henry ran to embrace as part of his wild celebration, he looked like the experience took years off him. One old player has made everyone feel rejuvenated.

Even the man himself has been taken aback by how he feels. As his old team-mate Martin Keown put it, “When I saw Thierry Henry after the game on Monday night, he was stunned. It was more than an hour after the final whistle and he was still in his kit, looking around and trying to take in what he had just done.”

At one point, Wenger had suggested to the press it was “important to keep this story as quiet as possible,” but that idea was simply met by gales of laughter. The Arsenal boss eventually relented to join in the merriment. Some chance of this being a softly softly experiment.


By the morning after, Henry’s exploits were not just back page news. He was on the front of every newspaper, and made the headlines in every television bulletin. What had originally been billed as an interesting comeback story, and a subject worthy of sensible debate about how much he could contribute at the age of 34, was transformed into the talk of the town.

It is impossible to establish who was actually happier – the Arsenal supporters to see Henry, or vice versa. Observing this second honeymoon from a distance must be a strange feeling for anyone connected with the New York Red Bulls.

If Henry’s second spell in London remains positive, it’s inevitable there will be a clamor for him to extend his stay in England until the end of the Premier League season, rather as David Beckham did when he embarked upon his “timeshare” arrangement to split his season between LA Galaxy and AC Milan. It would be understandable for the Red Bulls fans to be as skeptical as their Galaxy counterparts were with a situation in which it was obvious who was playing second fiddle.

Having said that, it remains to be seen if Henry can continue to make himself indispensable enough for Arsenal to push for a longer deal. Although he was immaculate in taking his goal, for the remainder of his time on the pitch he looked like it was a big struggle physically. From that point of view, if he does keep to the original plan and return to the US in time to prepare for the MLS season, perhaps the Red Bulls will end up thankful that he has spent his break doing elite training rather than enjoying a long holiday.

He clearly isn’t properly match fit yet. He said so himself, as he paid tribute to the physical trainers who got him to a stage where he could just about manage. His frame is notably bulkier since the last time he turned out in these colors five years ago.

“I am nowhere near a 90 minute game,” Henry said, trying to throw a proverbial bucket of icy water on expectation levels that have shot off the scale. His fitness is a delicate question, and it will be fascinating to observe how much influence he can wield against opponents sterner than Leeds United, who were under strength and play in English football’s second tier.

But in one 22 minute cameo he offered more than any of the attacking alternatives to Robin van Persie that are currently on Arsenal’s books. His goals per minutes record this season is already miles better than Marouane Chamakh, Park Chu-Young, Theo Walcott and Gervinho. Admittedly he needs a few more minutes here and there to make the statistics a little more convincing, but it is not a bad start.