x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Wenger says Henry on loan for Arsenal is a calculated risk

At 34, even if he remains as the 'guy on the left wing', Ian Hawkey feels he will be allright under his old coach.

Can Henry turn it around in two months at age 34?
Can Henry turn it around in two months at age 34?

At the lowest of his ebbs while in Barcelona, Thierry Henry scarcely minded to whom he complained about his reduced status.

"Here, as far as the coach is concerned, I'm just the guy he sticks out on the left wing," Henry would say with a shrug, resentful about the role assigned him by Frank Rijkaard, the Barca coach.

Leaving Arsenal in 2007 had turned quickly from a mission into a horrible wrench for the Frenchman.

Henry's Barcelona spell yielded notable medals - two Spanish league titles and a first Champions League crown - and some memorable cameos, like a man-of-the-match display in a 6-2 away win over Real Madrid.

But they were neither his happiest nor his most edifying years.

He often cut a sullen figure, even on the pitch, making a great show of feeling marooned on the flank in Rijkaard's 4-3-3 formation while Lionel Messi delighted on the right wing and Samuel Eto'o arrowed effectively through the centre.

After Pep Guardiola took over from Rijkaard at the beginning of Henry's second campaign in Spain, Henry became a frequent substitute, a veteran in his 30s edged on to the bench by youngsters such as Bojan Krkic and Pedro Rodriguez.

Viewed from the Premier League and from his native France - whose national team he guided to a World Cup thanks to a shameful handball in a play-off against Ireland and whom he "captained" through three bad weeks in South Africa where he was often on the bench - the decline in Henry's career in Europe could seem puzzling as well as petulant.

For almost a decade, he had towered over the English domestic game in a way very few individuals have during the Premier League epoch. Eric Cantona managed it in the mid-1990s, Cristiano Ronaldo had something of the same peerless air for a period.

Between the years 2002 and 2006, Arsenal's Henry could impose his will on contest after contest.

That aura will not be resurrected over the next seven or eight weeks, as Henry returns briefly on loan to an Arsenal side he once helped make genuinely great.

Word from New York, where Henry has spent the last 18 months employed in the MLS with the Red Bulls, is that his egotistical streak has softened now that he is 34.

The word from Wenger is more explicit.

He used the adjectives "modest" and "happy" to describe Henry, who has been training with Arsenal for the past two weeks, mainly to maintain fitness rather than lobbying to play again at his favourite club.

"He is not here to suddenly be a leader," Wenger said firmly, reminding his former captain and the rest of an Arsenal squad in which matters of hierarchy are important, that "I have known Thierry since I had him as a 17-year-old player at Monaco, then again at 22 with Arsenal. There is no element of risk in this deal".

With Wenger behind the decision, that should be so. Their relationship is indeed a long and profound one.

It is partly why the other chapters of Henry's career do seem to feature so many complaints or clashes with other coaches, from Rijkaard to Marcello Lippi, who misused a young Henry at Juventus - there, too, he was 'the guy out on the left wing' - and from Guardiola to Raymond Domenech. None of them matched up to Wenger in Henry's eyes.

Wenger has a clear plan for his former protege, the Arsenal fans' former idol, which is to use him from the bench, to turn games in the second half, to keep daunted opponents on the back foot if the advantage is with Arsenal.

It is not an emotional recall, Wenger says, but a pure and pragmatic solution to the fact that the Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh will both be way at the African Nations Cup for much of the period that Henry is available.

That period will probably not start until next weekend, when the sight of Henry warming up in an Arsenal tracksuit will seem a priceless souvenir of greater days for many supporters.

It will give Henry a frisson, too … even if Wenger merely tells him to go be 'the guy stuck out on the left wing' for the last 10 minutes.

 

sports@thenational.ae

9.30pm, Abu Dhabi Sports

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