Football, or soccer for those in the United States, is the most popular game on the face of the planet. Millions of children and adults play football on all of the five continents of Earth, making it the singular most-played sport in the world. In terms of the professional level, there are an estimated 250 million professional or semi-professional footballers participating in associations in roughly 200 countries.
With so many players participating in such a global sport, it is easy to see how difficult it could be for one man to carve out an international profile. Out of those 250 million players, however, there are a handful of names recognized around the world. The French striker Thierry Henry is not only one of the most popular global faces of football, but also one of the most accomplished.
Although most people immediately, and rightly so, associate Henry with French football, he is in fact an individual with deep roots in the Creole cultures found on islands throughout the Caribbean.
Thierry Daniel Henry was born in the Paris suburb of Les Ulis, Essonne on 17 August 1977 to parents Antoine and Maryse Henry. Although he is undoubtedly French having been born and raised in France, his parents have deep roots in the Creole world of the Caribbean that have been passed onto their son.
His father Antoine was born on the island of La Desirade, one of several islands that make up the nation of Guadeloupe. Henry’s mother Maryse is from the island of Martinique. Both island nations are overseas regions of France and located in the Lesser Antilles.
A Young Talent
The football world can thank Claude Chezelle for bringing Thierry Henry to the attention of football clubs in France at a young age. As a tender seven year old Henry already displayed superior football skills, a fact that was immediately recognized by Chezelle who recruited him to join the local club CO Les Ulis.
Despite a clear skill set with a football at his feet, Henry didn’t have a particular passion for the game himself. It was at his father Antoine’s urging that he attended training sessions with Les Ulis, where he would go on to play from 1983-89. After playing for three more youth clubs between 1989 and 1992, Henry was presented with his big chance on the national stage.
Beginning of a Stellar Professional Career
In 1994, after being scouted for years as a youth, Henry signed his first professional contract with French side AS Monaco under the management of Arsene Wenger. After a slow start to his professional career with Monaco, Henry quickly gained notoriety for his play and skill on the field. He was named the French Young Footballer of the Year for 1996 and helped lead Monaco to the Ligue 1 title during the 1996/97 season.
Henry played for Monaco from 1992 as a youth to 1999 when he transferred to Italian Serie A club Juventus for an estimated £10.5 million. Henry’s talent and ability was largely wasted in Italy because of the defensive nature of most Italian clubs. In such an environment playing at left wing was an unhappy and ineffective experience. After just a few months with Juventus, Henry transferred to the English Premier League and Arsenal FC.
At Arsenal Henry was reunited with his first professional manager, Arsene Wenger, and would experience unparalleled success as a first team regular for the Gunners. Playing for Arsenal from 1999 until 2007, Henry made his name as a world-class footballer. Once again under Wenger’s tutelage, Henry was molded into a top striker and notched 26 goals in his first season with the club.
Over the course of his time in England, Henry helped lead the charge as Arsenal won two Premier League titles, three FA Cup finals, and made an appearance in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final. By 2007 however Arsenal had begun to slip back from the successes of the early 2000s, and Henry had struggled through a number of injury plagued campaigns.
No longer an automatic first team selection, Henry made the move to Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga. While Henry would enjoy greater success in terms of honours and trophies at Barcelona, he was a less distinguishable cog in the works than he had been at Arsenal. With Arsenal Henry cemented his legacy, becoming the club’s all-time goal scoring champion and winning several league scoring titles.
At Barcelona, Henry was largely a substitute or first team selection in matches of lesser importance. After spending three seasons in La Liga, Henry rode off into the sunset heading west across the pond to the United States. In America, Henry became a top striker with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer.
An International Life
In addition to his larger than life profile in some of Europe’s top football leagues, Henry was a regular fixture both in the French national side and in the global community. Henry made his first national team appearance for France in October 1997 in a 2-1 win against South Africa, marking the start of a brilliant international career for Les Bleus.
Henry was a surprising selection for France’s 1998 FIFA World Cup squad. The French went on to win the World Cup that year, defeating Brazil 3-0. In the process, Henry launched his international career with three goals in the tournament, finishing as the top scorer for France. He would go on to appear in a French kit at UEFA Euro 2000 (winners), FIFA World Cup 2002, FIFA Confederations Cup 2003 (winners), UEFA Euro 2004, FIFA World Cup 2006, UEFA Euro 2008, and FIFA World Cup 2010.
His illustrious international career came to an end at the conclusion of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. When Henry left international football, he did so as France’s all-time top goal scorer with 51 goals and the nation’s second most-capped player with 123 appearances for Les Bleus.
In his private life, Henry has lived on the same international stage as his career. Henry became the 9th most valuable ad icon amongst international footballers, appeared frequently at American NBA games alongside his friend Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, and was married to English model Nicole Merry for four years (one child).
Henry used his status as a global icon to give back to communities around the world. In addition to a long-standing partnership with UNICEF, promoting football to children around the world, Henry has also worked with Nike to establish Stand Up Speak Up to combat racism in football (having been a victim of racism himself), the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and donates to Goldman Sachs Gives.
Despite an international career that has netted him millions in income and taken him around the globe, Henry has never forgotten his roots. As courtesy to his parents, and to his origins, Henry speaks not only English and French, but also their native Creole tongue from Guadeloupe and Martinique. Also, when the situation allows, he roots for his parents’ homelands. This past summer Thierry openly supported Martinique as the small island nation appeared in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.