A cursory perusal of any of the ‘greatest Premier League players of all time’ lists floating around cyberspace will reveal that Thierry Henry is widely regarded as one of the finest players to have ever graced these shores. Having failed to settle at Juventus in the late 1990s, eyebrows were raised when Arsène Wenger decided to replace the outgoing Nicolas Anelka by splashing out £10m on the (then) inconsistent winger. Under the guidance of Wenger, Henry was transformed into a world class centre-forward, spending eight successful seasons at the club before moving on to Barcelona in the summer of 2007.
Although impressing during his first two seasons in Catalonia, it appears that the Gallic genius has fallen out of favour under Pep Guardiola. Already behind Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Pedro in the Camp Nou pecking order, Guardiola’s decision to bring on Jeffrén Suárez and Bojan Krkić during Barcelona’s semi-final second-leg clash with Inter Milan was indicative of how far the Frenchman’s stock has fallen. Having scored just four goals this season, it seems apparent that Henry will move on this summer, with Barcelona president Joan Laporta stating of the Frenchman, “He still has a one-year contract with us, but after a disappointing year I do not know what he will do. In Barcelona we respect contracts, but he probably has not done as well as he wanted. Therefore, I say that he may go away in the summer transfer window if that’s what he wants.”
Unsurprisingly, the nation’s ‘red tops’ have linked the 32-year-old with a move back to the Premier League, with Henry likely to have no shortage of suitors should he decide to head back to England. Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed many players return to the scene of their former glories, only to re-appear as a shadow of their former shelves, subsequently tarnishing their legacy (cough, Patrick Vieira, cough). Would it be wise for the man many consider to be the greatest Premiership player of all time to return league? And if so, where should he go?
It would be the biggest understatement of the century to say that Thierry Henry would be welcomed back by the fans at the Emirates. After 226 glorious goals in his first spell at the club, Henry was chosen by Gunners fans as the greatest player to have ever put on the club’s shirt. Robin van Persie’s unfortunate inability to remain fit has deprived Arsenal of their most potent goal threat for large chunks of the last three seasons, and those deputising in his absence (Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo) have lacked the ability and consistency to adequately fill his shoes. With such well-documented striker woes, the re-signing of Henry would help to alleviate Wenger’s worries. The only question marks regarding his re-signing would be whether Arsène Wenger would be willing to sanction such a deal, and whether the Emirates side could afford his wages (however if there is any side that Henry would be willing to take a pay-cut for, it would be Arsenal).
Despite remaining a strong admirer of Henry, Wenger is famously stubborn in his refusal to sign players on the wrong side of 30. However, the ill-advised signing of Mikaël Silvestre and the recent re-emergence of Sol Campbell at the Emirates has demonstrated that Wenger might be willing to relax his stance on the issue. If Wenger were to show Barcelona even the merest sniff of genuine interest in re-signing Henry, I have no doubt that Henry would jump at the chance to work under his compatriot again.
Having been linked with approximately 4,000 players in the last 21 months, it comes as no surprise to hear that Manchester City are in the hunt to sign Thierry Henry. In January 2009 City were linked heavily with the Frenchman as part of their desperate attempts to sign a ‘marquee’ player to raise the profile of the club, with rumours suggesting that the club had secured a deal to sign him the following summer. Due to Henry’s desire to remain at Barcelona that deal failed to materialise, but Manchester City would stand a greater chance of tempting the player to Eastlands this time round.
Given their failure to secure Champions League football for next season, the Eastlands side will realistically have to lower the profile of player that they can hope to acquire for next season. With this failure diminishing their capacity to sign the likes of Fernando Torres and David Villa, a bid for the third-highest goalscorer in Premier League history may represent a shrewd bit of business for The Citizens. Their transfer policy over the last 18 months has demonstrated a preference for purchasing proven Premier League players, and it is clear that Henry falls into this category. Considering their signing of Henry’s old Arsenal ally Patrick Vieira, it is clear that City would be unperturbed by Henry’s age. It is indeed a foregone conclusion that they would be able to afford the high wages that Henry is likely to demand.
Manchester City are not the only club from the northwest said to be clamouring for Henry’s signature, with Liverpool having emerged as surprise contenders for the acquisition of the Frenchman. Moving to Anfield would certainly help to solve the troubled club’s over-reliance upon star striker Fernando Torres. Henry would thrive in his favoured role of lone-striker in the club’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and his versatility means that he would also be able provide some much needed pace and trickery down Liverpool’s uninspired flanks. Henry has not been shy in expressing his admiration for the Merseyside club in the past, informing The Times in 2006 that, “First of all, I would have loved to play with Steven Gerrard and second I like the club and their fans. There’s something about Anfield that you can’t explain. I love it when you step out of the dressing-room and you see the Kop, the scarves, and [hear people] singing You’ll Never Walk Alone. Just that, that would do it for me.”
Given the financial turmoil that the club finds itself in it is unlikely that club would be able to finance such a deal, let alone Henry’s wages. Further to this, Henry’s loyalty to Arsenal may preclude a move to Anfield, with the Frenchman stating (of a move to Liverpool), “Obviously it can never happen because I love Arsenal too much. There can never be a possibility of playing anywhere else in England.”
Bearing in mind NY Red Bulls’ strong interest in the Barcelona man, it is uncertain whether or not we will see Thierry Henry bamboozling defences in England ever again. Aside from capitalising upon the lucrative MLS ‘gravy train’, his decision to spurn a return to the Premier League may end up being a wise one. Henry departed Arsenal at the peak of his powers, with fans left with wonderful memories of a fantastic player in his prime. A return to England may yield inconsistent and inadequate memories, spoiling the nation’s memory of Thierry Henry circa 1999-2007. Thanks to a string of indifferent displays at Manchester City, Patrick Vieira is starting to erode his reputation as one of the finest midfielders of the last 10 years. Henry should seek to avoid a similar fate.
In addition to this, Henry’s controversial conduct that facilitated Republic of Ireland’s failure to qualify for the forthcoming World Cup has left his reputation in tatters, with many branding him a cheat. Football fans despise injustice, and Henry’s unforgivable act of bad sportsmanship is unlikely to ever be forgotten, with his name already tarnished. A return to England may further diminish his already waning reputation, and for the sake of his legacy, it would be unadvisable for ‘Titi’ to return to the Premier League.
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