Thierry Henry’s emergence on the international scene was one to remember. His progression from young superstar to the rock of the France national team, all came in a short period of time.
Henry made his debut for the senior international side in 1997. Within a year of playing in the under-20 team, Henry was handed a spectacular call-up to the World Cup squad on home soil.
His coach, Aime Jacquet, was a huge admirer of Henry’s abilities and was brave to include the unproven forward in a squad full of experience. With mounting pressure on Jacquet, it was a squad that had to win the competition and it was.
Henry’s victorious World Cup campaign started with a fine performance against South Africa in Marseille. He scored France’s third but could have scored earlier had Pierre Issa not bundled into his own net. Henry then scored twice against Saudi Arabia in Paris and a win over Denmark in their final group game saw the French progress with a 100% record.
Henry hit the post in their extra-time win over Paraguay in the Round of 16. He then came off the bench to score a penalty in their shoot-out victory over Italy in the quarter-finals. He was then brought on in their semi-final win over Croatia but did not feature against Brazil in the final.
Henry’s status in the national side was growing and when Euro 2000 arrived, the now 22-year-old was the nation’s target man. Henry scored against Denmark and the Czech Republic as France finished runners-up in their group behind the Netherlands.
Henry would prove to make a telling impact in the latter stages, scoring the equaliser in their win over Portugal in the semi-finals and was the man of the match in their win over Italy in the final. Henry was now a World Cup and European Championship winner and his career was only just beginning.
France suffered the ignominy of a group stage exit at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Their defence was shortlived but long enough to witness Henry’s campaign come to a grinding halt. Henry was sent-off in their second game against Uruguay and it would be the last time we saw the star in Japan and South Korea.
A quarter-final exit at Euro 2004 against shock winners Greece saw the end of Jacques Santini reign as coach.
2006 saw France as one of the favourites for the World Cup in Germany and Henry was once again their key man. Playing as a lone striker, Henry scored three goals in the competition, including the winning goal against Brazil in the quarter-finals. He was unable to beat Gianluigi Buffon in the Italian goal in the final and was substituted in extra-time due to cramp before their penalty shoot-out defeat.
France were dumped out of Euro 2008 at the Group Stage and nearly two years later, an ageing squad struggled to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. France drew the Republic of Ireland in the play-offs and with the game in extra-time, Henry handled the ball twice to set-up William Gallas to score the winner. The goal was given and Henry was heavily criticised. The Republic of Ireland’s Football Association lodged an unsuccessful complaint. Henry had considered international retirement due to the abuse but carried on.
Their campaign in South Africa was consumed by off-field issues. Nicolas Anelka was expelled from the team and France bowed out of the Group Stage for the second time in three World Cups.
Following the competition, Henry announced his retirement from international football. As the nation’s top goal scorer, he finished with 123 caps – second only to Lilian Thuram. Henry is also the only Frenchmen to play in four World Cups.
An inexperienced forward at France 1998 to a veteran of the national set-up, Henry will be remembered as one of the greatest players to wear the Les Bleus jersey.