LONDON — According to Thierry Henry, he had not thought about signing a new contract with Arsenal before last Wednesday’s Champions League final defeat by Barcelona. The match over, Henry said he would start to think about his future.
Even though multimillion pound contracts usually take weeks to thrash out, the day after the 2-1 loss to Barcelona, Henry did an interview with The Sun revealing he was staying with Arsenal.
It is staggering to believe that Henry had not mulled over in his mind what the next step in his career would be. It is one thing to be focused, but that is elevating single-mindedness to new heights.
Taking Henry at his word, how and why did he reach such a major decision so quickly with usually complicated contract negotiations fast-tracked as a four-year deal was agreed to?
Barcelona had been constantly linked with him, but with a front three of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho, plus Ludovic Giuly in reserve, where would Henry fit in?
Without giving much away Henry said: “Were Barcelona the only option? I didn’t want to know about other options. I’m an honest guy, so maybe that would have been the team I’d have gone for had I left. But I’m still here, and that’s all that matters.”
Henry also ruled out any suggestion that he could move to Spain in the future — strengthening the belief that he intends to finish his career at Arsenal.
He said: “I’ve never played in Spain, and I never will. I’ve played in France and Italy, but this is the best country to play football and this is my last contract. I enjoy playing away or at home, getting stick. It’s the passion I like. Here you can do your job in the right way — people here respect the player.”
Footballers make money for clubs so can claim to be worth the investment, but Henry reacted angrily to suggestions that financial matters ever played a part in his decision, even though he will earn a reported £130,000 per week as part of his new deal at Arsenal.
Fans do not care how much players earn, as long as the team is winning, and whatever Henry is paid by Arsenal there will be very few dissenting voices from those supporters who subsidize such a huge pay packet.
He said: “It was not about the economic question. It was not about money. Even if I’d left or whatever, again it would have nothing to do with money.
“At some point, people have to stop talking about that. People want to give you a label as a footballer where it’s all money, money, money.
“Of course money has contributed to a certain lifestyle for us and one day that will stop, but there’s love, there’s emotion, real emotion, real love; sometimes when you want to go because you might want to live somewhere else. It’s not always about money, whether you stay or leave. In any walk of life it’s same.”
The presence of Henry will make it easier for Arsene Wenger to sign a couple of top-class new players this summer.
It is also a huge boost to the Premiership that one of the world’s best strikers will be in England for the rest of his career.
Unpredictable on the pitch, Henry left many questions unanswered by the speed of his decision and announcing it in a usually generous tabloid rather than on Arsenal’s official Web site.
Not that Gunners fans will care too much about such things. They are simply happy that their club has made what it considers will be the best signing of all this summer.
THE CHAMPIONS league final deserved a better referee than the hapless Terje Hauge from Norway.
Not considered good enough by FIFA to officiate at the World Cup, UEFA selected Hauge for its showpiece club final by rewarding him for failure, an astonishing example of refereeing politics that backfired.
The UEFA Cup final was refereed by Herbert Frandel of Germany who is also not going to the World Cup this summer.
Two of the most powerful men on UEFA’s referees committee are from Germany and Scandinavia, which may be coincidental, but to hand Hauge the most important club match of the season smacked of political undertones.
He became the first referee to send off a player in a European Cup final; when he showed Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann the red card for bringing down Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o in the 18th minute.
The ball broke to Ludovic Giuly who slid it in the net, but Hauge had already blown for the German goalkeeper’s foul, the denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity to Eto’o.
At this level we could expect a referee to wait a second or two to see if an advantage could be played. Had Hauge done so, Giuly’s goal would have stood and Lehmann would not have been dismissed because there would have been no denial of a goal.
In effect, Hauge penalized both Arsenal and Barcelona, while ensuring the most eagerly anticipated Champions League final ever became an uneven spectacle. Had Hauge not been so quick on the whistle he would have been hailed as a brilliant referee, but instead he has been charged with ruining the final.
He even admitted his mistake, an unwise move that will have repercussions on his European career. Rule one for referees: never admit mistakes in public.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I must admit that I should have waited before blowing the whistle,” said Hauge. “I should certainly have waited to see where the ball was going. Four or five seconds after I blew the whistle, the ball was in the goal. But since I had already whistled, I had no choice. So the goalkeeper got the red card and Barcelona a free-kick.”
It was never four or five seconds, two or three at the most, but Hauge kept digging the hole for himself saying his prompt whistle was explained by the fact that he was “tense and very attentive.”
You can rest assured that Hauge would have been told what he admitted by the UEFA referees powers-that-be, who would also have pointed out that Emmanuel Eboue was not fouled for the free-kick that led to Sol Campbell’s opening goal, the Arsenal defender had dived.
Now we know why FIFA overlooked him for the finals, which is no consolation to Arsenal or everyone robbed of the anticipated spectacle in Paris.