When Kenny Jackett took over at Wolves he promised a “young and attacking side” and stated that “there has never been a better chance for players aged between 18 and 23 at the club”, with in a few days these words were backed up with actions.
The new boss subsequently transfer listed four big name players without a moments hesitation. Realising the negative effect, two of those big four at least, have on the rest of the young squad. This was met with universal appraisal from many Wolves fans that praised a manager who was big enough to challenge, and not be beaten by, the egos in the dressing room that had hampered quite a few managers in the recent past.
After three wins and a draw in pre season, Wolves fans are beginning to realise, if they had not already, that the first eleven can quite comfortably cope, in fact, they tend to do better, without these four players. However, there was one sticking point, not a single club had contacted Wolves over the sale of any of the transfer listed players. This all changed when QPR, under the stewardship of Harry ‘imaginehimasEnglandmanagernow’ Redknapp, agreed a fee for Wolves’ long standing captain, Karl Henry.
It is time then to evaluate Karl Henry as a captain and as a midfielder. After seven years at the club was the man from Ashmore Park a success? Or was it more of a case of what could have been?
He arrived at the club in the 2006/2007 season in Mick McCarthy’s first year as boss. Henry joined from Stoke City after clocking up over a hundred games for The Potters, he made his debut, for Wolves, against Plymouth Argyle. Initially deployed as a right back, he soon established himself as a starter for Wolves, in the centre of midfield, teaming up alongside such household names as, Michael McIndoe, Lewis Gobern and Darren Potter. He made thirty-four league appearances in his first season and was already beginning to show how consistent he could be. To be picked so many times in his first season is remarkable, he helped Wolves reach the play-offs, only to be defeated by they-who-must-not-be-named, 4-2, over two legs.
He was first given the captains armband in the Christmas of 2006 because of the injury to Jody Craddock. Injury was a common theme in his first few years at the club, despite making forty-two appearances, his second season, like his first, was cut short by injury. On a more positive note, Henry was displaying his ability as a captain, he was given the armband the year Wolves were promoted and never looked back. Solid, stable and reliable, with a number eight on his back and drive and steel in his heart, he was an enforcer, no nonsense. You can see why Mick adored him. He was there in that memorable promotion season, when Wolves, at times, swept oppositions aside, with the help of the more forward thinking midfielder, David Jones.
In May 2009, he and Jody Craddock lifted the Championship trophy to a backdrop of confetti, cheering and celebration, the armband was now permanently placed on the former Potter, a firm favourite in the eyes of the adoring fans. Mr. Reliable.
The absolute epitome of Mick McCarthy’s playing/management style, and the man who was about to lead his men into a Premier League battle for the first time in six years. This came to be true as Henry missed just four league games for the club as the team finished comfortably in fifteenth place, with a double over Tottenham being remembered as a particular highlight.
Wolves and Henry were riding on the crest of a gold and black wave, fans expected the club to kick on and try to establish themselves as a Premier League club. If Wolves bought intelligently and managed to hold on to our best players, there is no reason to say that Wolves could not sustain a fifteenth place finish, or higher, over the coming seasons.
This transfer window and the subsequent months that followed were pivotal and we began to see the first few cracks begin to appear. Wolves bought, most notably, Steven Fletcher and Adlene Guediora but apart from that the squad was not supplemented with enough quality players. Wolves survived, by the hairs on their chinny chin chin, Henry again a major figure in the first eleven, playing twenty-nine times.
During Wolves’ time in the Premier League we saw a side to Karl Henry that was all too familiar, his ‘tackling’. incidents including Jordi Gomez and Bobby Zamora were notable low points in the midfielders career. There was one incident though that went above all this and it happened in the final season before Wolves plummeted through the ‘relegation trapdoor’. Karl Vs. Joey, the big fight live. The best thing was, we didn’t have to pay fifteen quid to Sky to watch it.
The match in question was against QPR (this event, with hindsight, looks even better with the news that Henry is on the verge of signing for the same team that houses Mr. Barton) a game in which Wolves got the stuffing knocked out of them. The result was insignificant when you watch the events that unfolded on a warm Saturday afternoon in Wolverhampton. You see a man who actually goes out of his way, disrupts the teams shape, rhythm and balance just for the satisfaction of settling, what can only be described as a vendetta against someone. Admittedly, almost everyone reading this would like to give Joey a bunch of fives but ultimately, Karl is a pressure footballer oh yes, and a grown man. He should have just risen above and made Joey look like the little man, which would have had a greater affect. It did not reflect well on the club at all.
Mick McCarthy took the stern decision, in Wolves’ final season to drop Karl Henry as captain. Whether that was because Mick felt that Henry could focus on his game without the burden of the captain’s armband or that after the disastrous end to last season, Mick thought that Henry was not the leader he may have thought he was. Whatever Henry says there is no doubt that having the captain’s armband taken off him will have knocked his confidence.
Over the three Premier League years Wolves fans could see a problem occurring in the midfield. Wolves had Karl Henry as a starter, McCarthy’s captain and leader, but there was no one beside him. We soon discovered that we could not rely on Jamie O’Hara for 38 games as his injuries were far too frequent. An injury prone O’Hara, plus the fact Wolves did not have a back up/replacement in mind, caused a conundrum, the squad was clogged with a lot of defensive minded midfielders and not enough creative players, it was a significant factor that was holding Wolves back from securing a solid place in England’s top division.
Wolves never plugged this gap and, over time, they were found out and exploited. Nowhere near enough creativity in the middle and relying too heavily on wing play, bread and butter stuff for any competent Premier League team. Henry was extremely exposed in the midfield, without a creative midfielder beside him, he was forced to perform roles in the team that were not attributed to his natural game. His exposure was not helped when David Davis was introduced into the team, he played a similar game to Henry, except he was able to get up and down the field a lot more than his predecessor and show a wider range of abilities.
Henry’s future at Wolves looked doomed when Stale Solbakken took the reins at the battered old club. With the promise of a more expansive, pressing style of football, some people found it difficult to see how Karl Henry would fit into this new look Wolves side. He did play a part, funnily enough, under Solbakken and played an important role whilst Stale was finding his feet in English football, under the disastrous reign of Dean Saunders however, Karl Henry was dropped from the team. Henry played just seventeen times in his seventh season and with a successive relegation under his belt it seemed that Henry’s time was up.
So after an extremely long stay in the midlands what can we say about Karl Henry? Well firstly we have to acknowledge his years of service for this grand old club, in times were contracts are written using crayon and loyalty is as rare as rocking horse excrement. Lets take a moment to just enjoy the years that he has had here, not one to get on the score sheet, hardly ever, but a player, at one stage that you could rely on and trust to do his up most. In the nicest possible way, Henry is a one dimensional player and once that dimension fails to be as good as it used to be, you are never going to be as good as you once were without adapting the way you play.
Cynics will say that the only reason he did not move was because he was not good enough to move, but I am sure there were opportunities to move in the past, and he turned them down. I believe that he genuinely loves the club and, in his ideal world, he would retire here. But some players have to be made examples of, the four that have been listed are such examples. A massive sea change was needed and under Jackett this change is happening, as much as we once adored these players, there time has been and gone. Henry’s time has passed, he has failed to adapt his game and was finally revealed to be not up to much in a League where Wolves were once again out thought on tactics, team selection and technical ability.
The fancast and I asked the Wolves fans on the Twitter sphere what they thought about the departure of the former Wolves captain. We asked them whether Karl Henry should have been dropped as captain?
Daniel Glover (@DanGwwfc) says that “he should of never been bought, never rated him since the first time I watched him, 07 v PNE, lost 3-1”
We also asked the listeners whether they thought that Karl Henry leaves with your respect and thanks?
Jordan Banks (@Banksy4Wolves) thought “he was good for a spell but then let us down with poor performances”
Meanwhile, Kevin Astley (@kevtheman10) though “Henry could not tackle without getting a yellow card most games, fire & passion is one thing, getting the ball is another”
Rob Smith (@RobSmith1877) is quite magnanimous “like most players, they run their course. As did Karl. But he was in the team that got us up and kept us up.”
Finally, Steve Wiles (@wiles_steve) appreciates Henry’s love for the club “has a great heart but a very limited footballer. Loves his hometown club but, time is right for him to move on.”
Henry will do well at QPR, I’m sure, under the laissez faire leadership of every one favourite wheeler-dealer. He is not going to be bombarded with instructions every five minutes about pressing or formations. ‘Arry will let him get on with his game, a game that, at times, evoked a passion and will not seen since a certain William Wright donned the old gold.
I say, good luck Karl, do your best. Thanks for the memories we certainly won’t forget them. We will need those good memories now, more than ever, when we are 2-1 down, at home to Crawley, we will look back in fondness at better days, whilst this sleeping giant begins the absolute mammoth task of rebuilding it self.