Over on the wonderful Twisted Blood blog there is currently a series of pieces in which 'football writers explore those players, managers and teams that have, for them, for whatever reason, managed to transcend the traditional barriers of rivalry and loathing and achieve a respect that, while perhaps grudging, is nevertheless heartfelt and sincere'. There are some great entries over there, particular favourites of mine being the tributes to Dennis Bergkamp and a blasphemous confession of admiration for Alex Ferguson from a Liverpool fan (to arms, Scousers!).
Inspired by the series but faced with the knowledge that my meagre total of twenty Twitter followers means I'm too smalltime for the dizzy heights of publication, I've decided to post my own eulogy of a true footballing antagonist right here on this fledgling blog.
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Va-va-voom. Simply reading that phrase is probably enough to leave you feeling rather unwell and in urgent need of punching someone, anyone, quickly. You're most likely familiar with the phrase due to that Renault Clio ad in which Thierry Henry pulled some facial expressions and said cool things in a French accent because the French accent is cool, innit. If that ad had gained Henry a few detractors, a certain handball incident won him the hatred of an entire country.
The terms 'long-suffering' and 'Republic of Ireland football fan' have long since been reunited, nine years after last playing in a major tournament. Taking France to extra-time in a World Cup playoff, it looked like our misery may have been coming to an end. Anyway, you all know what happened next. Our friend Thierry took inspiration from his love of NBA and made poor Damien Duff cry. How could you, Thierry?!
I would find it difficult to forgive most footballers for either of these ghastly crimes but Henry is not like most footballers. Henry is a king, a majestic footballer capable of acts of pure genius without any warning. In his devastating pomp, Henry outpaced every defender in the land in what seemed almost like a stroll. Henry was far too stylish to sprint, sprinting being the preserve of mere mortals like you and I. Instead, he glided past defender after defender with the most glorious nonchalance, echoing Eric Cantona, the player that paved the way for his arrival in the Premier League.
Most of the game's true striking greats are revered for one of two things: either a penchant for the truly breathtaking like the aforementioned Cantona or for a staggering goalscoring rate like banality's Alan Shearer. Henry was one of those rare players who could legitimately be accredited with both of these plaudits. Not content with simply scoring goals of astonishing ingenuity, Henry scored 30 goals or more in five consecutive seasons. No, I'm not on some sort of perverse acid trip full of made-up stats, he actually managed to do that. Who cares if he's now off in New York occasionally playing soccer matches, that phenomenal record seals his place as one of football's greats.
When measured against that crushing objectivity, any animosity I harbour for the man that dashed our World Cup qualification hopes (no, not Paul McShane, the French one) must take a backseat to respect and admiration. So through gritted teeth, I ackowledge Henry's genius and thank the footballing gods for giving me the opportunity to witness such a talent.
The ad's still rubbish though.