Leeds United: Striker Henry, scourge of many United defences, hangs up boots

Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry

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“It had to be,” said Simon Grayson after a half-fit Thierry Henry mugged his defence and knocked Leeds United out of the FA Cup in 2012.

Wearing Arsenal colours again, Henry was back at a club he loved, playing against a team who always suffered at his hands. One deft finish was all it took for him to settle the third-round tie at the Emirates, a few short days after rejoining Arsenal on loan from New York Red Bulls.

Grayson was philosophical in defeat. “It was all set up, wasn’t it? He always scores against us and it was a typical Thierry Henry goal.”

He was not the first United manager to sit in front of a stack of microphones lamenting and admiring the Frenchman’s brilliance.

Henry retired from professional football at the age of 37 yesterday, the end of a stellar career.

He and Leeds moved in very different circles during the past decade but at Elland Road he leaves behind memories of regular torment.

He scored on his first appearance for the Gunners against Leeds, shortly after Christmas in 1999, and never looked like stopping. In 12 games involving Arsenal and United, Henry claimed 12 goals and failed to score in only four. “Phenomenal,” Eddie Gray called him after the striker went to town in April 2004.

On that Friday night, Henry was unplayable by any standards. He struck four times in a 5-0 rout at Highbury, once from the penalty spot, and annihilated a team who were about to be relegated from the Premiership.

Throughout that season, Henry and Arsenal ran Leeds ragged.

They won twice at Elland Road by the same 4-1 scoreline, once in the league and once in the FA Cup.

Three of those goals came from Henry and the first result began the countdown to Peter Reid’s sacking.

Henry was 34 by the time he and United came face-to-face again in January 2012 but sharp enough to kill a pass from Alex Song with his right instep and stroke the ball around Andy Lonergan in one fluid movement.

It was trademark football from a player who by then had been cast in bronze outside Arsenal’s ground.

Now 37, Henry left New York Red Bulls at the start of this month, prompting speculation about another return to Arsenal.

However, the former France international and World Cup winner chose instead to draw a line under a career which included spells with Monaco, Juventus and Barcelona.

He is to pursue a career in media and has joined Sky Sports as a pundit.

Henry said: “After 20 years in the game I have decided to retire from professional football. It has been an incredible journey and I would like to thank all the fans, team-mates and individuals involved with Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona, the New York Red Bulls and of course the French national team.

“I have had some amazing memories (mostly good!) and a wonderful experience. I hope you have enjoyed watching as much as I have enjoyed taking part. See you on the other side...”