As I took my place in the Camp Nou, ready to watch one of the most eagerly anticipated El Classico derby’s of the past century, I couldn’t help but listen in to the conversation between the two elderly gentlemen beside me. The subject, as has been the case in Barcelona for a few months, was Thierry Henry. “Henry is playing” one man grumbled, to which his friend replied “He’s as useful as a car with no engine”. And that was that. One player’s ability seemingly summed up in a sentence. Almost an hour Henry spent on the pitch, and as it went on I began to realise just why there was a negative attitude towards him. He was like a car with no engine, a vintage Ferrari perhaps, but unlike the days of old, he just seemed to lack that extra Va va voom.
The general vibe around the Camp Nou is that Henry is struggling to keep up. The emergence of Bojan and more recently, Pedro, have seen him over-taken in the pecking order by the younger generation. Ibrahimovic has come and but it has been the form of Pedro in particular that will probably signal the end of Henry’s tenure at Barca. A return to Arsenal is on the cards but it may be one from the bench rather than the pitch.
Where he will go is anyone’s guess? His reputation in Europe is not what it once was. Of course there will still be admirers, maybe hopefuls, who still believe he can reproduce the form that turned him into the best striker in the World. Realistically, it looks beyond him. As a fan, you hope people will remember him for the goals rather than the handball which secured France’s place at this summer’s World Cup.
It is rare to see a national team captain booed by his own fans. This was the case as Henry walked off after yet another poor performance against Spain. The success of 1998 and 2000 are a very distant memory these days. With or without Henry, France have quite literally stumbled over the finish line. The national press are preparing for a 2002-esque embarrassment and even lifting the trophy might not be enough to save Domenech’s future. Having said that, the World Cup is a window of opportunity, and as the no-show of Ronaldinho in 2006 showed, surprises are ever-present. Henry could be preparing to spring one of his own, and there is no better stage to prove yourself than in front of millions of world-wide viewers.
Despite the fans objections, Henry is likely to lead the French team at the World Cup. He will know that if they fail, he will get the blame. In the words of Jose ‘Pressure? What pressure!’.
Whether the former Gunner remains in Cataluña next season is down to time. He will of course want to stay but Barca know they can afford to offload him. With Ibra, Messi, Pedro and Bojan they have players for the future. Henry could well become the past. Player’s speak highly of his influence but at Barcelona, inspiration comes from a sense of pride. The World Cup, just as it did for Beckham in 2002, provides Henry with a perfect chance to change people’s opinion. Whether he has still got the legs to do it is another matter. South Africa waits and all we can do is hope.