Thierry Henry Relives His Greatest Moments As a Professional

We caught up with legend Thierry Henry to recount meaningful moments in his career as well as to discuss his new collab with the UEFA Champions League tourney.

Football legend Thierry Henry commentating

Image via Getty/John Berry

Football legend Thierry Henry commentating

Among the pantheon of footballers that incarnate the elegance and joy from which “the beautiful game” is coined, few surpass the silverware studded legacy of Arsenal’s all-time goalscorer and French national team legend, Thierry Henry. 

We’re not talking supper when I say silverware – we’re talking a menu of medals across five-time League Championships in England, Spain, and France. You can’t also forget a 2008-09 Champions League Title, a 1998 World Cup victory, a 2000 European Championship, and exactly 29 other accolades that would evaporate my word count. 

When contemplating the Premier League’s greatest footballer (a designation validated by a 2020 bracket by The Mirror) the trophy cabinet is far from the first thing that comes to mind. The decorations pale in comparison to the indelible moments of brilliance Henry unleashed between the paint – pirouetting around lethal slide-tackles, ripping howlers from 35 yards out, and dribbling defenders like a knife through hot butter. 

We touched base with the legend himself to recount meaningful moments in his career as well as to discuss his exciting new “No Lay’s, No Game” campaign in collaboration with the ongoing UEFA Champions League tournament. Check out the conversation with Titi below. 

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This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Your professional career started in 1994 at AS Monaco. Can you tell me what it was like to play before the bright lights and professional contracts, when you were back home with your friends in Les Ulis?
Basically you’re referring to real football, at least what I call real football. Before the money happens, bigger problems happen, and pressure happens. You’re talking about having fun. 

The best moments are always when you go and play with your friends. After that, when it starts to become your job, it’s a different ballgame. You got to win, you got to perform. But of course, I remember all those times growing up. You know, I would be stuck on the bus, the bus breaks down, and I’d have to walk all the way to the game and back myself. There was one ball for the whole neighborhood. One goal would be the door of my building and the other goal would be the door of some other guy’s, maybe 500 meters on the other side of the building. Here you learn how to play – you protect the ball, you protect the goal, it was pure joy. It was about showing up and making a name for yourself in the neighborhood. You know, trying to be the best that you could be. That’s real football. I’m not saying that I didn’t like what came after, obviously, but I call it real football because there was no real pressure other than to exist. 

Do you think you’d be the same player if you didn’t have that experience as a kid?
Well, no, because I can’t go back in time and redo it again. This is a very difficult question to answer – what ‘would’ I do – because I don’t know. I became what I became because of the path that I took. I can’t go back and say ‘what if’. I changed because of the defeat, pain, and struggle. Whatever happens you have to get better. If you lose the final, you hope it won’t happen again and you work even more. That’s what made you and you can’t go back and try to say ‘oh, I would have loved to…’ – whatever happened, happened. It happened for a reason and that’s what made you.

Are there any moments in your career that you wish you could live again for the first time?
That’s a good question. Usually people ask you what you would like to change – but what would I like to live again? I would say the first time I put on a shirt to play professionally. When you walk into the dressing room – or even before the dressing room – when the boss turns the page of the clipboard, and you see your name. I was 17. I’m looking at the board and I’m like, ‘is that my name’? Sure, I knew that I was there so obviously my name might pop up but truly, when I saw my name, even I forgot it. I looked at it and I was like, wait a minute, I’m about to be professional. My name. My name represents my family and the Academy – because when you get on that field you represent the Academy and if one guy from the team steps up and doesn’t perform the coach might look at the whole Academy differently – so you represent a lot of people. You represent your neighborhood, you represent your family, you represent yourself, your team, your academy, everything. I remember everything I did in the first five minutes and only five minutes into the game, I was dead. I couldn’t run anymore. But I managed to play for an hour. We lost. We lost but it was the beginning. I’d like to live that feeling again.

Beautiful. You describe this anxiety, this pressure, this moment that your life has built up to. What do you tell yourself to get past that or does it just wash away when the whistle blows?
It’s different now, you know. Right now you’re growing up in a different generation, a different era than mine. In mine, there was no communication, no ‘Oh, boss, can you help me? What shall I do?’ The boss said if you’re not playing it’s because you’re not good, because you need to go figure something out. I don’t know why but that was the way it was so you teach yourself to brush everything aside and keep moving. Is that the right way to do things? I’m definitely not saying that, and honestly, I don’t think it was. Now, everything has to be explained and drawn out clearly on a screen – the boss gives you your iPad and tells you exactly what you have to do tomorrow. In my time, even when I was 17, you had to figure it out. Back then I didn’t think about it like that, all I was thinking about is if I did everything I could do in the moments I had. My Dad was doing everything he could do for me, same with my mom, my brother, and my family. We came from the hood. In every game I had to realize that was my moment. I had to only focus on that.

It’s very clear to me that your experience during and after professional football is tied to the many meaningful people that brought you there. I think that’s very admirable. Does it ring a bell if I say the words ‘triple espresso’?
Triple espresso, whoa. Triple espresso? No, it doesn’t – am I missing something? 

Let me throw a couple of the names in there. Francesco Totti. Hidetoshi Nakata?
The Cage! Oof, I’m old man.

It was 20 years ago, so I don’t blame you. I bring this up because I think it was the first time I ever saw you play – I think I was six? Can you tell me any details you remember from that set – from that legendary moment in football history?
It’s funny that you’re saying this because I saw Francesco the other day and we were reminiscing about that ad. Usually when they put ads together to make it look the way it looks it’s totally fake – you do your part, leave, and another guy arrives to do his part. In The Cage they actually had almost everybody there on the same day which was pretty unusual. What I remember the most was looking at all the other guys and having mad respect for each other. 

Can you tell me about the Lay’s “No Lay’s, No Game” campaign and how you’re involved?
With the “No Lay’s, No Game” campaign, I went to surprise people, fans, in their own home. If they had Lay’s with them to watch the Champions League matches I would stay and watch as well but if they didn’t I would go to the next house.

Football legend Thierry Henry surprising family

What I didn’t expect was to be as surprised as they were. For me, I just kick the ball, work hard, and share my gifts. In my mind, I’m just doing my job – working hard and doing what I have to do. I don’t expect people’s reactions even after knocking on their doors.

Football legend Thierry Henry surprising family

There was one woman in particular who went around her house trying to find out if she had Lay’s for a while so I had to move on to the next house. When I headed to the van she came out to the street, looking for me, and started to cry. I was like, wow, this is what football means for people.

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