Dreams come true… Henry proved it with his goal against Leeds
When I saw Thierry Henry after the game on Monday night, he was stunned. It was more than an hour after the final whistle and he was still in his kit, looking around and trying to take in what he had just done.
Former footballers often have dreams in which they are back playing for their favourite club again and it takes a while when you wake up to realise that it was just a dream.
Thierry told me he had those dreams, but against Leeds it was actually happening – he just couldn’t quite believe it. It was surreal and a long way from his first few days at the club in 1999.
King Henry: Thierry Henry returned to Arsenal with a bang against Leeds
Revealed… that phantom ball-kicker
PS… It was a former Spurs man who you may have seen hit me with the ball while I was on-air on Monday night. Alex Bruce tipped me off that his Leeds team-mate Michael Brown – the ex-Tottenham midfielder – was the culprit. At least he was apparently trying to aim at Robbie Savage, not me…
Back then he spoke very little English and I remember sitting with him in the stands at a testimonial game pointing out Ian Wright's excellent movement.
He was short of confidence after a tough spell in Italy at Juventus, but he watched that and learned from Wright, adopting those type of runs into his game because he knew it would help him succeed in the English game.
From the start, I deliberately made life hard for him in training. I was quite physical with him, which some people might have thought was harsh, but I loved the way he responded. He dealt with it.
Gunners greats: Martin Keown was privileged to play with Henry in his pomp
I trained like I played and my philosophy was that new players were going to find out how tough it was in England, so they might as well find out from us first.
You wanted new signings to toughen up and he did that quickest. I could tell he was special straight away and he is still to this day the best athlete I have ever seen wear a pair of football boots.
He was 100 per cent focused in training the whole time. If he could embarrass you, he would. That didn’t mean trying nutmegs and clever tricks, because he didn’t need to do that. He would just knock it past you and be too quick. He did that plenty of times to me — though not as much as you might think!
When he joined, the club asked me if I would give up my No 14 shirt as Henry wanted it. It was fine with me because I wanted the No 5 that Steve Bould had recently vacated.
Magic moment: Henry slots hope to send the Emirates into ecstasy
When he scored his first Arsenal goal — at Southampton — I ran over to him and told him how glad I was that I could tell my kids that I was playing the day Thierry Henry scored his first goal. He said I was crazy afterwards, but I had seen a special player and I made sure he knew that.
He needed to know how good he was to restore his confidence. Arsenal and Arsene Wenger restored his confidence after Juventus and now, in some ways, he can do the same for Arsenal after years without a trophy. It’s a kind of role reversal.
Up for the cup: Henry was the star turn in Arsenal's 2002 title-winning side, and could have a similar galvanising effect this time around
Henry can help those around him.
It was great to see him sitting next to Theo Walcott on the bench, talking to him about what was happening in the game, no doubt telling him how he could learn from each situtation.
That guidance is invaluable. I was the same with Liam Brady when I was an apprentice.
I remember watching him training one Christmas and we all wanted to be there to see him in action. It was an inspiration and it was hard to take your eyes off him.
The players would have already learned plenty before Monday night, but it’s one thing to train with a champion, and watch how he behaves, it is another to see him in competition.
Helping hand: The likes of Theo Walcott can learn much from Henry
The Arsenal squad finally got the chance to see that on Monday night — how much he wants to win. In the few minutes after his goal, you could see the others respond to what Henry had done — they were lifted.
It's especially great for the younger players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Walcott. They can’t fail to be inspired by him.
Wenger is the leader but there is nothing quite like being able to copy someone. They can adopt his habits.
His movement from the second he came on was excellent and he was making things happen. You could see the players just wanted to give him the ball.
It brought out a fantastically warm reaction in Arsene Wenger too. He is such a kind man who has a special relationship with his players and their embrace after the goal showed a side of him most people don’t get to see very often.
He is so good with his former players and we should thank him for bringing Henry back.
At the age of 34, Thierry is not finished. He can still rekindle that brilliance if he wants to. He just needs the right challenge. He has that now for the next few weeks and we should just enjoy that.
The club shop might have to re-release the DVD of all his goals though!