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More Hollywood than highbury
For some players scoring poignantly emotional goals and/or altercating insults with fans from their own side are rare occurrences, landmark moments which mark their careers. But for veteran French international Thierry Henry, back in London's Arsenal for a super brief loan, both incidents have featured him in the public psyche within the first few days of his return.
The goal on home turf couldn't have been scripted;the once adored then repudiated hero's comeback made the famously phlegmatic terraces break into chants of love. "I've never heard so much noise from the stands" remarked a young supporter blissfully unaware that the moniker Highbury Library which characterised Arsenal fans' lack of expressive outbursts was originally firmly based on observable behaviour.
And then, just a few days later, agencies saw their copy swiftly picked up following a fracas after Arsenal lost away to Swansea. "When I arrived in front of our own fans, I couldn't understand the abuse the team was getting from one of them. I wanted to tell the fan in question that we need their support not abuse. The sentiment was right but in hindsight could have been better expressed, " Henry said as he issued an apology.
Thierry Henry is in his mid-thirties now but still cuts a cool figure on the pitch. The super stylish player still manages to look as if he is about to say "Va Va Boom" in a sexy whisper with a cheeky half-smile;a catchphrase from an advert in which he sold cars. He became emblematic for Arsenal - his charisma and his undeniable talent on the pitch spiced the North London club with a hint of je ne sai quoi, and the kids loved him.
His departure from Arsenal was not without acrimony. His once revered confidence seemed to turn into dislikeable petulance. Barcelona had defeated Arsenal in a Champions League clash the previous season - following an acrimonious title clash in Paris in 2006 - so his joining the winners was frowned upon by some.
Suddenly, the kids decreed Thierry Henry was over.
Today, the brief return on loan to Arsenal to make full use of the long winter break in America must be a welcome treat;a chance to return to the roots of his trade, and to savour the essence of football proper one last time before the impending hanging of the boots.
Less simple is understanding the rationale motivating Arsenal - although rationale is not the first thing we ought to expect from the world football. On the one side a handful of weeks in the dark short days of January can be made to feel cheerier with the return of a long-lost hero, the drama and nostalgia certainly made an impact with his first appearance right on cue. On the other, it is uncharacteristic for Arsene Wenger to throw such a blatant spanner in the workings of his squad - Henry looked set to absorb the limelight, and his presence for such a small number of games cannot possibly avoid rocking the structure of the squad.
There are worries about how this might Van Persie, for example, who despite his relish for performing the lone wolf role and carrying the team on his shoulders, can also go into a shell when he has to share the responsibility with another star like Henry. The example is illustrative, because Van Persie's been having a fairytale season, but if Henry's Guest Star credit roll rocks his boat, could it even finally hasten Van Persie's departure?
It is after all the January transfer window. In a world in crisis, no one's expecting the big bucks of yesteryears to dominate the market. Wenger himself has in the past been outspoken against this particular slot for business, on occasion saying "it gives unhappy players more power to leave".
But the truth is unhappy players can always leave, and desirable, coveted players in particular will always have the market power to haunt their employers. Cesc Fabregas became one such case in point, visibly losing the will to work towards the end of his days at Arsenal only to resurface as a prodigy with Barcelona.
It is more likely that Henry's short visit to his North London relatives is no more than that - a commercially sound reminder to shirt buyers that he once meant something to this club. With the purse strings tightened, Wenger couldn't buy miracle workers, so a visit from what once was is a fairly attractive option.
Indeed, it could have been perfect. It was clear that Henry's FA Cup goal was well worth it, but then the reality check ensued by the insults from the fan upon defeat tell us, after all, that the punters want long-lasting results.
"I would like to first and foremost apologise for using inappropriate language to that particular 'supporter'. I didn't intend to be malicious or threatening, " is Henry's statement. "We have had great moments at this club but we are all in this together. We need your support in the good times but more importantly, the bad. Let's get behind the team against Manchester United on Sunday and try to get three points to get the season back on track. "
As a gimmick to get a point across, it's certainly more Hollywood than Highbury. And in the meantime, the kids are once again buying shirts with "HENRY" printed on their backs.
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