Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Thierry Henry and the Art of Petulance

Now there are very few footballers who've given us more pleasure than the man known round norf Laahndan way as Terry 'Enry. A paragon of style, an exemplar of fluid grace, a capo de tutti capi of cool. An utterly modern footballer, in that he could not have existed, in British football at least, in any previous generation, yet he epitomises an intelligence and class apart from most of his current fellow professionals.

But, my God, he's turning into Naomi Campbell, isn't he?

It could be to do with an advancing self-importance, brought about by years of the type of gushing praise contained in the first paragraph above. Or it could be the insiduous manifestation of suppressed frustration at his own decision to stay at Arsenal last summer and spurn the chance to become a Catalactico at Barcelona (in this scenario he would be much like the daughter in a Tom Murphy play, forced to stay at home to look after an ailing but indestructible mother, lamenting the withering of the flower of her youth).

Whatever, it seems these days that Thierry Henry attracts attention as often for petted-lip displays of petulance as for demonstrations of his sublime talents.

It started back at that Champions League final against Barcelona, when his post-match interview sounded more like the words of a trash-talking professional wrestling star than an erstwhile proponent of insouciant class.

Then there was the sulky huffiness to which he responded to his pre-Christmas 'rest', enforced on him by his manager (and redoubtable matriarch in the aforementioned Tom Murphy metaphor) Arsene Wenger. Reportedly, last December, Henry flounced out of training in response to Wenger's diagnosis of his fitness, specifically to being told that he would not play in the north London derby on December 2nd.

When the two publicly made up, it appeared that Henry had accepted that Wenger knew what was good for him. "I must stop for at least a month for the pain to go away, but I did not squabble with Arsene," he said, before adding "yes, I did get angry about it because I cannot help out my team on the pitch. It's something I find hard to accept."

Then last Sunday Henry was criticised for goading Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland following Arsenal's 81st minute equaliser, having been incensed by Kirkland's perceived time-wasting earlier in the match.

So is Mr.Va-Va-Voom turning into a Grumpy Old Man?

Of course with the artist comes the artistic temperament. After the alleged row with Wenger in December a French Sunday newspaper quoted an unnamed French international as saying that Henry was "an enormous bighead who cannot take criticism". Unlike Naomi Campbell, however, who belives erroneously that being an overpaid clothes-hanger earns the right to spectacular strops, Henry's talent buys patience.

It bought him months of agonizing over his future in that deeply uncertain period until his ultimate decision to stay at Arsenal. Arsene Wenger is a well-known pragmatic, reknowned for bringing the appliance of science into an English game more used to the lager and fry-up method of match preparation. He refuses to give contracts of longer than a year to players over 30, exhibiting an Orwellian ruthlessness to the geriatric community borne of an immunity to sentiment.

Yet he clearly gave Henry as long as was necessary to come to his decision, and was open-hearted throughout about his wish for the striker to stay. Not for Wenger any negotiating table brinkmanship, or Benitez-style lack of affection. Whether the spirit or atmosphere inside the club was damaged at this time or not, for Henry, anything was possible.

So a little self-importance in the light of this veneration is unsurprising. And the use of the term 'spoilt' is unfair too: that would tend to suggest that there was something about the player that had been damaged. Sure, like many players who participated in the World Cup last year, he has been, at times, a little flat this season.

Yet, as his recent goal against Blackburn (a typically sweeping counter-attack, a combination with Cesc Fabregas and a magnificent looping shot into the top corner from the edge of the box) suggests, the artist remains in control of his genius.

Perhaps the little spat with Wenger in December was his manager's way of reasserting authority after the concessions to Henry's ego of the previous season, before he had committed his future to the club.

Still, Wenger knows that where his star turn is concerned, a little petulance is a part of the package he is more than happy to tolerate.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Fence said...

quoted

I have been a fan of Henry's, but lately I'm not too sure, but you are right, genius deserves patience

1:17 p.m.  
Anonymous arseblogger said...

If it's the thing with Kirkland it's the epitome of a storm in a teacup.

I can't believe the fuss and hysterics about it, to be honest.

6:38 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

It always looks bad when someone from a BIG team is seen as being unsportsmanlike or goading someone from a wee team. People always back the underdog in these situations, believing the more celebrated players not to be entitled to human emotions of frustration or righteous contempt.

12:46 p.m.  

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