Henry, Thierry 1977–
Thierry Henry 1977–
Thierry Henry is considered one of the top soccer players ever to wear the jersey of one of England's Premier League teams. The center forward spent several years with London's Arsenal Football Club (FC) while also playing for the French national team in international competitions. In 2007, after eight seasons with Arsenal, he was lured to Spain with a lucrative contract from FC Barcelona. The move prompted shock and dismay in Britain, for Henry had become a much-loved athlete and public figure in his adopted homeland. He was also becoming better known in the United States, thanks to his friendships with National Basketball Association stars such as Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. “I think everybody knows I love America,” he enthused to New York Times writer Jack Bell. “I always say that one day I can play over there. I love the way you live. I love American sports. For me, it's a dream to go to training and then see a game of football, basketball, whatever game. For me, New York is the best city in the world.”
Henry was born on August 17, 1977, in Paris to Antonie “Tony” and Marylese Henry, a couple who had moved to France a year earlier. Tony Henry was a native of Guadeloupe, and Marylese came from Martinique, both overseas territories of France. Henry and his older brother, Willy, grew up in the large-scale housing projects of Les Ulis, a suburb southwest of Paris that was home to many immigrant families. Like other cités HLM in France—the acronym for habitation à loyer modéré, or “housing at moderated rents”—Les Ulis was a rough area with a high crime rate. “If you ask me if would I like to grow up there again, I would say yes,” Henry once said in an interview with London's Sunday Times. “Because you learn stuff you don't learn anywhere else.”
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Henry's parents were devoted to their sons, but their marriage ended when Tony returned to Guadeloupe alone. Henry was seven years old at the time. Tony had been his son's most ardent champion when he began playing soccer, even predicting that he would one day play for the French national team. At age thirteen Henry was spotted by a scout for the Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club (AS Monaco), which is the professional team in Monaco that plays in France's Premier League. He was so talented by then that he was signed without a tryout, and the club's management placed him in Clairefontaine, an esteemed training academy for junior players run by the French Football Federation. Poor grades almost prevented his admittance, but he was given a trial period to improve his marks. At the time, the manager of AS Monaco was Arsène Wenger, whose star was rising as a skillful team manager who had improved the once-moribund AS Monaco through shrewd trades.
Henry made his professional debut with AS Monaco in 1995, arriving in the famed French Riviera playground at the age of just seventeen. He recalled in an interview with Andrew Anthony of the Observer that he was speechless. “Big boats everywhere, big cars, beautiful women, the sun, the sea, the famous people.” Over the next four seasons he did well with AS Monaco, scoring 21 goals over 115 games, and in 1997 the team won the championship title in France's Ligue 1. He also began to play on the French national team, the handpicked roster of soccer stars that represent the country in international play. He was a member of the national team that won the 1998 World Cup, and with his three goals was the leading scorer for France in that contest.
In 1999 Henry spent several months with Juventus, one of Italy's top teams, but felt unwelcome by the Turin-based team's players, management, and fans. By then, Wenger, his longtime mentor, had become the manager of Arsenal in England and convinced its owners to pay a record transfer fee of $6.1 million to bring Henry over. At the time, Henry barely spoke English, but he soon proved to be a wise investment by becoming Arsenal's season leader in goals scored and leading the team to English Premier League titles in 2001 and 2002. Though Wenger's reliance on foreign players was the subject of great debate in England, the French manager “transformed the traditional British game of blood and thunder into an audacious foreign cocktail of speed mixed with skill and verve,” wrote David Hirshey in the New York Times.
Set New Arsenal Record
Henry's celebrity status rose along with Arsenal's impressive record. In the 2003-04 season the team went undefeated, a rare finish for a Premier League club and an event that had not happened in England for more than a century. Henry was also a strong fan favorite in France thanks to his continued scoring abilities on the French national team, and in international balloting he emerged as one of the top five finalists in the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA; International Federation of Association Football) World Player of the Year honors each year between 2003 and 2006. In an October 2005 match he scored his 185th goal for Arsenal and became the top goal-scorer in the 119-year-history of the club.
In the spring of 2006 there were rumors that Henry would sign with FC Barcelona, one of Spain's top teams, before Arsenal renewed him for another year. A year later England lost him to the Spanish club, which signed him to a contract that gave him a $9-million annual salary. Besides his astronomical Barcelona paycheck, Henry also earned income from several lucrative endorsement contracts. He has appeared in an ad campaign for Gillette Razors along with two other international sports superstars: tennis champion Roger Federer and golfer Tiger Woods. In Britain he helped sell the Renault Clio in a series of television ads that featured the catchphrase “Va-va voom,” which was later deployed in hundreds of newspaper headlines about Henry, his career, and even the end of his marriage to Claire Nicole Merry, a former model whom he wed in 2003 and with whom he has a young daughter. Their separation was announced shortly before Henry served as best man at the 2007 wedding of his friend, Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, to Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria; he appeared at the event solo.
At a Glance …
Born Thierry Daniel Henry on August 17, 1977, in Paris, France; son of Antonie and Marylese Henry; married Claire Nicole Merry, 2003 (separated, 2007); children: daughter Tea.
Career: Signed with Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club, and made professional debut with the team in 1995; Juventus Torino, Italian Serie A, player, 1999; Arsenal Football Club, English Premier League, player, 1999-2007, and captain, 2005-07; Football Club Barcelona, player, 2007—; French national team, member, 1997—; One 4 All Foundation, founder, 2005.
Selected Awards: Golden Boot Award for top scorer in the English Premier League, 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006; named one of the World's Most Influential People, Time magazine, 2007.
Addresses: Office—FC Barcelona, Avinguda Joan XXIII, 08028 Barcelona, Spain.
Henry serves as the global ambassador for the apparel company Tommy Hilfiger, which in 2007 introduced a line of limited-edition apparel under his name, with all proceeds earmarked for Henry's One 4 All Foundation, an antiracism organization he established in 2005. He was also the founder of Stand Up Speak Up, a public-awareness campaign to end racism in soccer. In a sport long known for the abominable and sometimes violent behavior of its fans, taunts against black players are still common from the stands in some European countries. Racism is not limited to the stands, however: In a 2004 international match, television microphones picked up a shocking slur uttered by the Spanish national coach specifically about Henry. The British media had a field day with the remark about one of the Premier League's most talented and well-liked players, but Henry refused to make a statement in response, expecting that the coach would be officially reprimanded by FIFA authorities. When that did not happen, and following an incident in Madrid in which black English players were taunted, Henry launched his antiracism campaign with the backing of one of his sponsors, Nike. He discussed Stand Up Speak Up's mission in an interview with Time International writer Bruce Crumley, pointing out that even though the hard-core offenders were few in number, “racists influence the atmosphere and people around them by shouting over the silent majority. You probably can't change the hard-core racists, but by urging the majority to stand up and speak out against them, we can make these people feel less comfortable spouting their racism.”
Daily News Record (Los Angeles, CA), July 30, 2007.
New York Times, April 26, 2007; August 19, 2007; October 17, 2007.
Observer (London, England), October 3, 2004.
Sunday Times (London), December 14, 2003; October 3, 2004; May 21, 2006.
Time International, October 10, 2005.
“Goal.com Profile: Thierry Henry,” Goal.com,http://www.goal.com/en-us/Articolo.aspx?ContenutoId=336318 (accessed December 6, 2007).