My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Football books are more often than not hagiographies or takes on a theme of ‘love him, hate him, but can’t ignore him’. Both these types of books usually have banal descriptions of famous incidents that rekindles the nostalgia of fans. A lot of it inevitably will be fiction, more than fact. But when I saw a book on Thierry Henry in a second hand book store at a throaway price, I could not resist. Henry was one of my first football idols. He made me fall in love with Arsenal whom I am still married to. But that is not the reason why I bought the book. I was familiar with Phillipe Auclair’s writings and have listened to him on several podcasts. He unlike,most football journalists, is a thinking person’s writer. He is not just an Arsenal fan, but has followed French football for decades and is also known for the critically acclaimed biography of another French football legend, Eric Cantona. I was curious.
The book, I must say, left me feeling ambivalent about Henry which probably means Auclair did a good job. Henry is a difficult person to write about. After having won the World Cup and the Euros at a very young age, he was led down a difficult path due to some bad decisions and fulfilled his destiny when a certain Arsene Wenger brought him to Arsenal and decided that he is a Centre Forward and not a Left Winger. But then followed the ignominies of the infamous ‘Hand of Gaul’ and the imploding of the 2012 French World Cup Team. Then came the unexpected return to Arsenal in 2012 to score against Leeds and Sunderland. Auclair does justice to the footballer that is Thierry Henry for sure, and tries to explain some of the questions people might have had about Thierry Henry the person through the personal trauma that he might have experienced in the rough world of professional football. And not just that, Auclair gives a fascinating narration of the evolution (and devolution) of French football and the roles played by several people in the process like Jean Tigana and Raymond Domenech (whom he clearly does not like!). Overall, a brilliant read and highly recommend it for football lovers.