This is the question that is at the forefront of Thierry Henry’s mind at the moment. Currently he is either waiting the right moment to sit down with club to discuss a new contract or he is awaiting their offer, depending on which media outlet you believe. Either way, someone needs to act and resolve this situation quickly.
It is apparent from his recent performances that he is not concentrating on the pitch where it matters. He is the one who can bring resolution to the issue quickly – go to the club and say I want this package, review their response and say yes or no either way. And yet somewhat perversely, he is showing no public signs of doing so. There is a lot of water being muddied by claims of “The club has to match my ambition”. Well, he can see with his own eyes what the ambition of the club is. He can see with his own eyes whether or not the quality of players being signed is good enough to match his own desires. We can see with our own eyes that his mind is not on the job and nor, I believe, does he have the stomach for the fight that is ahead.
For several months now, his body language has been appalling. Indeed, it seems that the captaincy and his undecided future are too burdensome for him to manage at once. His demeanour is one of a petulant, sulky teenager not that of a leader of men. This is completely at odds with the experience I have of the good manners and grace that he showed to my eldest son on Members Day. He showed no sign of impatience at the five-year old boy gibbering on at him when signing his autograph. He stayed and talked to him for several minutes when he could quite easily have moved onto the next youngster in the line. When Power Ranger had his photo taken with the squad, Henry made sure he was facing the camera and put him at ease. Simply put, he was a superb ambassador for the club. Yet that is not the part of the Captains role that counts on the pitch.
When Wenger talks of loss of form of senior players, Henry is the prime example of this. His goalscoring return this season is as good as ever but the goals are coming in bursts as opposed to the consistency that he has shown in previous seasons. His all round team play is non – existent. He is not making challenges, merely shadowing the opponent in possession of the ball and then standing still with his hands on his hips, sulking until the next time. At Anfield last night, there were several occasions where, having received a pass he gave possession away cheaply. The verve is missing from his runs. Where is the “Va-Va-Voom” that he publicised not so long ago? He is not smiling, indicative that he has the worries of the world on his shoulders. Yet compared to the majority of the population, his choice about where to ply his trade is relatively simple. He ought not to be concerned with money. Surely his earnings thus far in his career to date have not been squandered? If he has received sound financial advice, his pension fund and investments ought to have made himself and his family secure for the rest of their lives. Which leaves any decision down to (a) where does he want to play football and (b) is this the best environment for his family? Were that our choices about changing employers could be so clear cut. I have no doubt that his comments about not being hassled to make a decision were genuine but the perceived lack of action indicates that his proclamation of staying loyal to Arsenal was perhaps made in haste. And in this the club are culpable too. The contradictory statements made by the Chairman do not help progress the situation – one minute he is staying only if we can afford him, the next we will pay him £120k per week. This Is The Time For Action, as Ian Paige once proclaimed.
As a Captain, I am struggling to identify exactly what it is that Henry brings to the team. A Captain is a leader. He is the manager on the pitch. It is up to him to direct and cajole his younger, inexperienced teammates onto a higher level. He is not a communicative man in that he does not exhort the troops in a way that Tony Adams did. He does not have the physical presence of Patrick Vieira and therefore he cannot impose himself on players. He does not have the ability to lead by example as say, Bobby Moore did, simply due to the fact that his level of performance is not consistent enough to inspire others to raise the standard of their game. It is the sign of a good leader that he or she recognises when their attention is being diverted away and step aside, leaving this to someone more focussed on the task in hand. It takes a strong character to be able to take this course of action but there is a complication. Who in the current squad is good enough to command respect from the rest of the team and can raise their colleagues performances above the current standard. Looking at the players, the list is very small. Prior to his personal issues, Sol Campbell would have been a possibility. Now it is more a case of if he returns rather than when. Lehmann has the strength of character to become a Captain but I have doubts as to how much a Goalkeeper can influence a team and whether or not he has the temperament to handle the failings of others. Lauren is experienced but perhaps too laid back. Which leaves Toure (maybe in a couple of years time) or Gilberto. Certainly he has the personal collection of medals to rival Henry so must command respect from him. Perhaps his character is such that he is identifiable as one who is not good at leading. Maybe this is why Henry is Captain – there is no one else to do the job.
I do believe that Wenger must address this issue urgently because all the while it is hanging in the air, there is a real danger that the season will slip away from this team and the only European football we will see is the pre-season tour to Austria.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Henry’s future will be resolved within the next three weeks. Win against Real and he will probably sign, reasonably sure of the quality of the squad and that this current malaise is nothing but a temporary blip in form. Lose and the man will be leaving. Maybe it is time for Wenger to grasp the Bull by the horns and deal with him firmly. It may even be in the same way that Vieira was despatched – the player has no say in the matter other than to decide which club to go to.
Should Henry leave, the squad will require strengthening. There are plenty of forwards who could replace Henry. May be the list would be Fernando Torres at Atletico Madrid, David Villa at Valencia, Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Juve, Luca Toni at Fiorentina or Dirk Kuijt at Fejenoord. What is certain that the media would have a field day if he left without a suitable replacement being lined up. There is another certainty – Wenger would have to change tactics for some of these players as their mobility is perhaps not as good as Henry’s and they have different strengths. Perhaps the closest to him in terms of how they play the game are Torres or Villa although neither can match him for speed but they are certainly better in the air.
Overall, something has to give. Henry has a duty to himself, his colleagues, his employers and the fans to sort himself out. If that means so long, farewell and thanks for all the goals and enjoyment then so be it. The least that he deserves is to sign off in style with a celebration of his goal scoring record rather than his reputation being tainted by inconsistency and sullenness on the pitch.
Todays Tunes mark the welcome return of The Clash – two live tracks from the bootleg album, From Londo to Jamaica, in 1982 for your delectation.