As Thierry Henry announced this morning that he would be retiring from competitive play and taking up life as a pundit, there will be no shortage of newspapers and blogs saying that football stars of the calibre of Henry are ‘once in a generation’.
But in my eyes, he’s the defining player of this generation. There will never be another.
English Football transitioned in my lifetime. The late nineties, where players like Neil Ruddock and Julien Dicks could earn nicknames like ‘Razor’ and ‘The Terminator’ on Premier League pitches made way for a more technical, graceful style of play to match the increasing production values on Sky Sports.
And Thierry Henry was at the vanguard of that change – almost limitlessly fast, graceful and dynamic, yet at the same time unerringly passionate and ruthless in front of goal Henry possesses an almost superhuman level of on-field qualities you’d want from a player on the field.
But not only that, his persona off it was equally as almost-unfairly on-point, with an aura of coolness and charisma.
Just as he was at the centre of a change going on for ninety-minutes on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, he changed what brands could come to expect from a footballer they were sponsoring.
After Henry, no longer were footballers the talent that should be seen and not heard – they were expected to have big personalities and, heck, even a catchphrase or two. Va-va-voom, indeed.
Which is why the former Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona – and now – New York Red Bulls man was as in high demand for boot deals as he was clubs.
Thierry Henry is perhaps the only player we can think of to have boot deals with four major football boot brands in his career.
Kicking things off with adidas during his World Cup win in 1998, Henry was snapped up by Nike during his move to Arsenal.
The Frenchman’s sublime skills and penchant for knowing how to sell an ad, boot or idea on camera put him at the centre of some unforgettable adverts.
Whether it was lining up against, well, everyone in the 2002 cage, dazzling street football with Eric Cantona or finding a good portion of the Manchester United team in his wardrobe, Henry and Nike were a match made in heaven.
And despite being criminally underused in his time with them, Henry – along with Giggs, Shevchenko and Casillas – managed to put Reebok in the same conversation as Nike, PUMA and adidas for a little while.
That’s the pull this man has.
Of course, it would be unjustifiable to leave out PUMA from the list. Although barely with the brand for two years, Henry has been the lynchpin of the PUMA Football Club campaign, and even debuted the PUMA King Finale SL, once again haunting Leeds United with a goal.
Henry was 35 when he joined up with PUMA, and in a time where Robin van Persie, Carlos Tevez and Samuel Eto’o are all blacking out their football boots because they’re a little too old to throw a punt on for most brands – you could almost guarantee someone would have offered Titi boots to wear six months ago, had he needed them.