Thierry Henry has announced his retirement from professional football after having come to the end of a five-year deal with MLS side New York Red Bulls.
Arsenal fans had hoped that their former star forward would return in the second half of the current Premier League season for a third stint at the club that he left in 2007 and re-joined on loan in 2012, but those dreams will now have to go unrealised.
Yet whatever disappointment may exist over the thwarted desires of those who wished to see their hero close out his career with a final, fittingly emotional and dramatic reprise, can take comfort in his record of service for the club as is.
After arriving from Juventus in August 1999, just eight months on from joining the Italian giants from his first club AS Monaco, Henry arrived in North London, and quickly became synonymous with Arsenal FC, Highbury, the reign of Arsene Wenger and, later on, the newly built Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners wouldn’t be the club with whom he would experience his greatest successes, but they would prove to be the side that made him into the globally recognised, world class striker he is now remembered as today.
In many ways he was to Arsenal and the Premier League in the 00s what Eric Cantona was for Manchester United and English football the previous decade.
Both Frenchmen became cult icons on the opposite side of the channel to their homeland. Cantona embodied the assertive, confrontational swagger of Manchester in its full stride as a Northern cultural powerhouse while Henry came to represent something more sophisticated.
Neither were ashamed of fronting a few advertising campaigns. United’s catalyst built his brand around attitude, upturned collars and shows powerful enough to blow a daemon through.
Henry on the other hand was all about the knowing winks; playing with or breaking down the fourth wall; flattering the tastes and intelligence of his audience, both in the stands and in front of the TV screens; providing deft strokes rather than violent bursts of genius.
The forward’s two most famous ad campaigns revolve around his modernist home, firstly for Renault, who task the then Arsenal man with defining “va va voom” and later Nike, who sent him dribbling through his designer halls of cutting edge architecture.
He managed to be cool in an understated way, divorced from the machismo of Cantona, as he helped English football to move up a level and realise yet more of its burgeoning potential. The Premier League and its early players had got the ball rolling, but Henry was the man to throw the refined feints, flicks and finishes to add a greater sense of continental elegance.
It wasn’t all art either. In his eight years with Arsenal, the Frenchman scored 226 goals in 369 at the front of one of the most widely celebrated teams of the era.
When in full flow, he epitomised the stylish brilliance of Wenger’s free jazz football, and helped fire the Gunners to two Premier League titles in 2002 and 2004, as well as three FA Cups in 2002, 2003 and 2005. He also helped them to two European finals, losing to Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup in 2000 and Barcelona in 2006.
A year later he left for the bright lights of the Camp Nou to become one of the first foreign imports into English football to become a big name expert to one of the two La Liga giants.
David Beckham and Michael Owen had of course left for Real Madrid in years previous to the Arsenal captain’s defection to Spain, but Henry’s move to Barcelona seemed different.
Before Cristiano Ronaldo, before Cesc Fabregas and before Gareth Bale, he was the stand out player deemed to possess the necessary quality and wide-ranging appeal to justify being chased by the Catalans.
His arrival at the age of 29 in 2007 was a somewhat controversial move given his age, but he came to be a key figure in the club’s record-smashing sextuple winners in Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge, in 2008-09.
In total he won two league titles with Barca and, in their all-conquering period between late 2008 and early 2010, the Copa de Rey, the Supercopa de Espana, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the World Club Cup. It was a clean sweep for Henry who rode the early wave of tiki-taka to an almost unassailable peak.
Those major wins weren’t his first outside of the Premier League however. After all, he arrived in North London as a World Cup winner, having played his part in France’s home victory in 1998.
In 2000, he played an even greater role in securing the European Championship title for France, in one of the most convincing tournament wins in modern times prior to the rise of Spain.
Yet even though he turned up at Arsenal with a World Cup ’98 medal, his inability to find the net during his first eight games ruffled feathers.
His failure at Juventus was a dark mark against the Frenchman, who had done well at AS Monaco, coming through under Wenger before the man he still calls “boss” headed off for Japan, winning the Ligue 1 title in 1997.
Perhaps it was the trust of his manager, or the necessary time needed for players to adapt to the cut and thrust of England, but he soon came good. Those who watched him during his time playing football for the Mediterranean coast principality never doubted his talent.
Some did doubt his decision to later leave Spain for what would turn out to be an extended retirement package in MLS with New York Red Bulls, but he didn’t quite live up to the expectations over the pond, his abilities still reigned over almost all of his opponents.
He even showed what he could still do in more respected divisions with a loan move back to the Emirates in 2012 to act as cover for Marouane Chamakh who was called away to the African Cup Of Nations.
In his short cameo spell back in the red of The Gunners he scored three goals in seven games in all competitions, although one of those strikes was later attributed to be an own goal by Scott Dann of Blackburn Rovers.
His final total for goals scored in an Arsenal shirt ended up at 228 goals in 376 games. Adding on his record at his other clubs and Henry walks off into the sunset having put away 360 career goals in 792 games.
In that famous Renault TV ad mentioned earlier, the forward ends the spot with a question to an off-screen companion:
“Hey Bobby! What is the French for Va Va Voom?”
Perhaps, after having produced 20 years worth off exhilarating, artistic football through his powers of agility, skill, speed and intelligence, that question has become rhetorical.
“What is Va Va Voom? […] Is it joie de vivre or je nais se quoi?”
Maybe it’s simply Thierry Henry.