Why it’s still alright to loathe the memory of Thierry Henry 2

After announcing his retirement from football yesterday, the internet has spent the last twenty-four hours richly honouring Thierry Henry’s career.

Henry was someone who, through his dominance within English football, seems to have been able to transcend most rivalries.  Regardless of whom they support, fans are queuing up at the alter to figuratively lay wreaths at the feet of his goal-compilations.

Okay.  But if you’re not an Arsenal fan, is that really how you feel?

I loathed Thierry Henry.  He was the swaggering, posturing assassin who put the knife in my team’s heart season-after-season and I am not ready to love him for it.

Off-the-field, the Frenchman seems to be a very affable person and the news that Sky Sports have engaged his substantial analytical skills and his eloquent manner is good news.

On the pitch, though?

He was wonderfully gifted, of course, and he was one of the most destructive players our league has ever seen, but that was all coated with a veneer of pomposity.  The way he strutted and the way he celebrated were contrived affectations designed to remind you of just how superior he was to your own players.

And, worse still, it was an entirely justified arrogance.  When someone’s confidence is disproportionate to who they are it makes them easy to dismiss, but when that self-regard has been earned the world just has to tolerate it.

It’s unbearable.

Presenting Henry as some kind of statesman of the game is not only selective, but it rather misses the point.  He wasn’t humble in defeat and he didn’t always win with class.  He never missed an opportunity to humiliate an opponent and the graciousness he exudes on television was - and remains - a veil over his raging desire to win.

For a rival fan, Henry was terrifying.  Every time he touched the ball - regardless of where on the pitch he was - it felt as if a goal might be imminent.  I’m lucky enough to have seen almost every great Premier League player in the flesh and, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, he is the only one who made me tense back into my seat.

He was a schoolyard bully; he was so athletically impressive and his technique was so honed, that there were times when his participation in games felt unfair.  He was quicker and better than anybody else on the pitch, and that allowed him to break countless hearts, shatter dozens of dreams, and breed a lot of resentment.

It’s too soon for him to take a lap of honour and milk the applause from every side of the ground.  A true mark of respect for him is to be honest and to admit that, really, you still hate him as much as I do.

His impact in England was so pronounced that, beyond his Arsenal fans, he should still be making every rival supporter recoil.

The day he left this league was a wonderful moment.  He terrorised, tormented and teased us all, and when he became Spain’s problem there were nineteen teams who were better for it.  There’s really no such thing as an entirely benevolent world-class player; they’re all killers and a symptom of their greatness is that fear-tinged dislike that they all provoke.

In ten years’ time, maybe it will be different, but right now he probably wants to haunt your memory.

For Squawka: Why Michael Carrick is the most polarising player in English football.

Follow @premleagueowl