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Thierry Henry’s secrets of success

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Andrew Dickens
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He scored 228 goals in 377 games for Arsenal and, as Thierry Henry will tell you, he wasn’t even a goal-scorer. Greyhound speed, as graceful as he was devastating, as efficient as he was entertaining, and capable of pretty much everything on a football field, Henry is the greatest player the Premier League era has seen. He tells us how he did it. 

TALENT ISN’T ENOUGH

People always wonder why I never smiled on the pitch. I was happy, but never satisfied. Sometimes it’s nice, sometimes it’s annoying, sometimes it can be a pain in the neck, but ultimately it made me the person I am, and was on the field. I’m a very happy person, but I’m never satisfied. That kept me going, on my toes, grounded, humble. You’re always going to get judged on your next game, you always miss something in the game. I was always the type of guy, after a game, I talked about what I missed, not what I did well. “How can I make sure I can do that in the next game?” Talent is one thing, but you need work ethic, commitment, the right attitude. You need to put the work in to make sure you can be undefendable. Otherwise you’ll stay the player you were when you first started to play. 

I’m still the same. I’m an assistant coach [with Arsenal’s youth teams] while I do my badges. I try to give them the same attitude – look at any team, they usually are very close to the character of their coach. Working with Sky, I’m the same. At the beginning you learn about being on TV: understanding what can and cannot be said, the people talking in your ear, how to manage minutes. The approach is the same. I’m happy, but I’m never satisfied. And that’s the way it should be.

AIM FOR PERFECTION

You always need to bring something new to the game, especially when you’re at the top and people are expecting you to perform. I changed stuff during my career. For example, I started to learn about playing with my back to the game, scoring with my left foot, taking free-kicks, assisting a lot. Then when you’re not scoring, you can still have an impact. I wanted to be the complete striker. It’s impossible to be complete, but that was always my aim. What can I do to make sure the boss will not drop me? I can offer all this other stuff, even if I’m not scoring.

REGRET NOTHING 

There are games when you could have or should have done better, but I don’t regret anything in my career, because everything happens for a reason – it’s what shapes you. You come back stronger. You always remember stuff, such as losing the Champions League final in Paris, losing the FA Cup against Liverpool. We should have won 20-0, I don’t know how they won. Michael Owen happened.

I wanted to be the complete striker

GIVE EVERYTHING 

Try your best. I’m fully aware that sometimes that doesn’t happen. Sometimes the Arsenal fans were saying, “Come on Thierry, do more”, and I would like to do more, and the commitment and desire was there, but at times it wasn’t enough. If I was injured, you’re never going to find if I was injured or not. Because when you go out there, people want you to perform. They don’t want to know if I was sick in the morning, if a player has problems at home. Don’t go out there and say, “I’ve been carrying an injury for two years.” No, no, no. If you don’t want to play, stop. If you go on the field, you have to accept that and play fully. That’s why I have no regrets. For me, every time I stepped on the field, I needed to make sure that when I was back in the dressing room, I was able to look my teammates in the eyes. I can have a bad game, but I tried, so I can look at you.

ACCEPT THE PRESSURE

When you’re at the top, that’s when it’s very hard. When you’re at the top, every game people are expecting wonders. It’s hard, but you have to embrace it, you have to digest it. Even if you don’t, that’s just the way it is. You better get on with it and be good with it. 

BE YOURSELF

The most important thing is to be honest. With me, you could see straight away when I was OK, when I wasn’t OK. If I was p*ssed with a ref, or the player from another team or one of my teammates. I always say: stay true to yourself. Then you don’t lie to your fans, the people that really matter. Be open to the fans when you’re on the field. After, you need to have your private life. I said to myself, “Go out there, don’t act, play hard.” People will say, “I liked him, or I never liked him.” We can’t control that. I need to make sure that they see me. 

If you try to change for people, you lose who you are. When I just joined Arsenal, people used to hammer me because I was never in the box: “He’s always drifting. How’s he going to score goals?” If I listened to people, I wouldn’t have become the player I did. You would see my weaknesses. Why would I show you my weaknesses, when I could show you my strong points? I wasn’t going to change for no one, that’s the way I play. That’s the way I play – within the collective. If you listen to everything that’s around, then you lose yourself. 

BE YOUR OWN RIVAL

I had no rivals. I don’t want that barrier of, “I can’t play against him.” People can take it however they want to take it. For me it was like, I missed the goal, not that the goalkeeper made a great save. He should never get that ball. I gave him the opportunity to make a save. If they defended well against me, it’s because I didn’t play well, I didn’t make the right movement. I wasn’t disrespecting those guys – that was my way to improve and get better. If you talk teams, then we’re talking Manchester United and Tottenham, for obvious reasons, but I didn’t have one guy.

PLAY FOR THE TEAM

I was a player that scored goals – I wasn’t a goal-scorer. I was making passes. I could have won five Golden Boots in a row. But in 2003, in the last game versus Sunderland, I gave Freddie [Ljungberg] three goals. I’m battling with Ruud van Nistelrooy, but I gave him three goals [Van Nistelrooy scored 25 league goals that season, Henry scored 24 – and made 23 assists]. Is that the sign of a guy that wants to win a Golden Boot? If I have to make a pass, I’m making a pass. I’m more proud of my assists than my goals. I’ve said it many times. I gave people penalties. With Edu [Gaspar], I gave him the penalty in his last league game [Arsenal beat Everton 7-0 – Henry didn’t score]. I was fighting with James Beattie, but that was better than winning the Golden Boot. If I had to score a goal, I’d score a goal. If I had to make a pass, I’d make a pass.

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I try to do the right thing, and at the right time. Sometimes you get carried away. For example, the goal against Tottenham, when I went from one end to the other. Because it was Tottenham, I said to myself, “I have to finish that.” Every time I see the goal, I think, “Thank God I scored,” because Dennis [Bergkamp] was in space, and if I hadn’t scored he would have killed me. And rightly so. So sometimes you get carried away, but if you get the balance right you can do both things. We had a great team. People say they were feeding me, but we were feeding each other. That was the beauty of our team. At one point it was almost “you score… no, you score”. It was like a four-person moment and whoever was in the box, it was for him. Whether it was me, Robert [Pires], Freddie or Dennis.

Sky Sports’ sport coverage includes the Barclays Premier League, England’s Tour of South Africa and the PDC World Darts Championship

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Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens is Special Projects Editor at ShortList. A veteran of eight years on the magazine, he makes up for his lack of pace by having ‘an extra sentence’ in his head. Twitter: @andrewdickens Instagram: @andrewdickens

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