words Kieran Long + Marcus Fairs
If you’re not interested in football, turn the page now. Our icon this month is Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, and we’re not even going to attempt to justify our selection on design grounds.
However, while we were in Milan for the furniture fair we ensconced ourselves in a restaurant to watch Arsenal’s second leg quarter final match against Juventus. Henry’s brilliance silenced the partisan locals and provoked more awe-struck conversation than anything we saw at the Salone.
Henry was born on August 17, 1977 in Paris, of parents from the French West Indian islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. He began his professional career at Monaco before securing what should have been his dream move to Juventus in the Italian league in 1999. The Turin club never built a team around him, though, and the strict Italian defensive discipline did not suit him. Arsene Wenger, who had been his manager at Monaco, brought him to Arsenal, put him at the heart of his plans, and rehabilitated his career. He has gone on to become Arsenal’s record goalscorer, and the soul of a team that most neutrals would agree play some of the most beautiful and effective football of all time.
It is the intent and direction of Henry’s play that sets him apart. He can take alarming detours and turns, making up lost yards with searing pace, and buying space in unconventional areas of the pitch. His is a game built not on intuition, despite many moments of individual brilliance, but sustained imagination. He has been able to conceive a way of playing the game as he goes along, imagining the unconventional runs, the intricate passes. The way Henry scores goals is a result of a process. Any fan will recognise the characteristic sight of Henry scoring yet again from the left hand side of the penalty area, curling the ball around the despairing dive of a keeper in the the far corner. His goals are not unique, they are built on a repetitive, imaginative act.
Arsenal’s squad has been built by Wenger in the image of his star striker. Robert Pires, Fredrik Ljungberg, Gilberto, Lauren, Emmanuel Eboue, Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini are all designed purely to service the high-speed, high-skill brand of football that is Henry’s trademark.
Watching Henry play is difficult to understand, even, perhaps especially, for someone who has been watching the game for a lifetime. The canonical great players (Ronaldinho, Zidane, Maradona, Best, Pelé and others) transcend the ordinary, and are the inimitable mad geniuses of the game. Henry is more like Johan Cruyff (the midfield general of Holland’s total football in the 1970s) or Ferenc Puskas (the maestro of the Hungary and Real Madrid in the 60s) – the inventor of a whole new way of playing.
Highbury, Arsenal’s legendary ground, is just up the road from where most of the icon team live and is due to be demolished this summer as the club moves to
a purpose-built stadium at nearby Ashburton Grove. But north London is not talking much about that: all the pub gossip concerns whether or not the gifted Frenchman will leave Arsenal for a lucrative contract at Barcelona.