Nice Run: In Defense of Thierry Henry

Sacre bleu that's a lot of scapgoats
Sacre bleu that's a lot of scapgoats

No, Kevin hasn’t stolen my password and logged in as me to write this and I’m still not a Les Bleus fan or anything like that, but I do think it’s high time I took a stand on this issue. The issue is not really about Thierry Henry or Sergi Busquets or Lionel Messi, but it takes the form of Thierry Henry.

What appears to be happening is that people are taking their personal whims out on Henry, disregarding his actual contributions on the field and replacing what he actually did with what they would like him to have done. If you’ve read this site or its previous iteration long enough, you’ll know that I’m not unbiased, that I often make opinionated comments about particular players and am sometimes overly zealous about running players out of town if I deem them surplus to my own strange requirements. And before this gets going, I want everyone to know that disagreement with my opinions here or belief that you are one of the people I’m talking about doesn’t equate me judging you or holding it against you because, to be honest, I’ve forgotten who the specific people making these points were.Okay, let’s take the match against Depor yesterday as a prime example of what I’m talking about. At halftime people were disparaging Henry for having had a terrible match, calling for Pedro!’s inclusion. That is a legitimate call to make if your view of Henry’s performance is negative, of course, but let’s talk about the actual performance. There were several times when I noted in the liveblog that Henry was wide open on the left and was completely ignored by his teammates, especially Xavi.

There were other times that were more frustrating for me as a watcher and a fan. One such moment was a fast break started by Henry, who passed to Messi and Messi began dribbling through players. Henry made a mostly vertical dash through the defense, taking a slight angle (diagonal) route towards goal. When Messi passed the ball, Henry was offside, having cut through the defense. Several commenters on the liveblog said Henry should have either held his run or taken a more diagonal approach. The problem, though, was not Henry’s run, which was timed perfectly to coincide with Messi beating a defender and thus opening his passing routes, but rather Messi’s unwillingness to pass the ball at the first opportunity, choosing instead to pass after he’d be the next defender. Because of that, Henry was offside, as he would have been had he taken a more diagonal route (which would also have had the consequence of putting him with his back to goal and farther from Messi).


Why was no one demanding Messi pass the ball earlier rather than Henry adjust his run? Because, of course, Messi is Messi. And don’t get me wrong, I get that Messi is Messi and Henry is not Messi, that the reason Messi is so wonderful (check his first goal), is because he’s unpredictable and brilliant, but my point is that Henry’s run was the correct run and that Messi made the mistake, not Henry. I don’t particularly mind that Messi made that mistake because he’ll do the extraordinary sometimes to make up for it, but it’s still a mistake and if you’re going to label part of the play a mistake, label the actual mistake a mistake rather than the part that isn’t attributable to your favorite/favored player.

Now let’s take the assertion that Pedro! is better than Henry. I don’t have a problem with that statement on its face, as it is totally possible. However, the idea that Pedro! is more effective than Henry at this very moment is, in my not-so-humble opinion, dead wrong. Pedro! was, at the very least, no more effective than Henry throughout his time on the field. I know that Pedro! provided the assist for our second goal (and Messi’s second), but does that make him more effective necessarily?

We’re talking about something that’s a bit hard to be totally precise about (it’s why there are coaches rather than spreadsheets), but roughly speaking, Henry made the right runs throughout the day and then Guardiola made a tactical substitution to switch the point of attack, moving Pedro! to the right where Henry is not known as an effective player. Pedro, on the other hand, appears to have more versatility in his positioning, perhaps stemming from his La Masia training or perhaps stemming from just simply being more versatile.

Watch our second goal (complete with “atomic worm” references from the commentators):

Pedro! is on the right, playing a pass-and-move game with Dani Alves and Messi and slips in behind their back line to get a nice little chip to Messi, who buries a header. Wonderful offensive play, but look at where Iniesta is. Is he being worthless way over there on the left all by himself or is he being effective in his positioning? Thierry Henry made that same run time and again in the first half, coupling it with the same run Pedro! made through the short side of the box (by short side I mean the side with the ball) but instead of being pared with Dani Alves, Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi, he’s pared with Abidal, who is trailing 40 yards back in order to play defense.

Note: when Pedro! came on, Iniesta switched from a predominately middle-aligned role to a left, left-of-center aligned role, meaning he was effectively filling Henry’s spot. However, Henry was not receiving much support, and as I wrote before, wasn’t receiving any passes. There are obviously ways to interpret that, but if Guardiola interprets it as an inability to play with or at the level of Xavi, Iniesta, etc, then Henry should be sent packing and pronto. If he’s a place-holder for Pedro!, who is growing into the role, then awesome, but for now Henry is doing a very effective job and should be given the same leeway (or lack thereof, I suppose) as anyone else.

If you’re down with numbers: when Henry has played in a league match, we have won that match. When Henry has not played in a league match, we have drawn that match half the time (3 of 6)–though one of those wins was the 6-1 mauling of Zaragoza.

So, you should feel free to judge Henry however you’d like, but remember that there are other positions you can take to defend him that are just as logical and just as “unslanted” as any opinion condemning him. Feel free to make your cases in the comments.

Categorized as Thoughts

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


  1. Oh come on you could have made a Banner voting post! I’m getting tired of this discussion 😡

    1. not to say it a bad piece of writing or anything…just feel like changing the subject a bit.

  2. Damn. I had forgotten what it feels like to be Hectored. Here is what I wrote in the previous post. It was before reading Isaiah’s take so its not a direct response:

    Regarding Henry, think we can agree that he simply has not had a good first half of the season. There are many reasons for this including, injuries, NT games, age, and even having his morale affected by the Le Hand of Titi incident. To me, he has not had enough time to get into a rhythm or flow with the team. Remember that during his first two seasons at Barca he played two whole years with mainly Samu, Messi, and Bojan as his front line partners (Iniesta and Henry rarely shared time in the same front line, it’s usually one or the other up front). Now, Samu is gone and Bojan has been seemingly been demoted in favor of Pedro as first forward off the bench. So now Henry has to adapt to playing with Ibra and Pedro and sometimes share the front line with Iniesta. His injuries have delayed this process.

    I think Ramzi perfectly explained Henry’s effectiveness last season. He played more like a striker who cut in than a winger who spreads the field. He is at his best either being released into space or slashing into the box off the ball. Notice how many of his goals last season where either first touches or balls played into space. He is still good for the occasional solo stunner (see the second Atletico game for example) but is at his best when he cuts into space and receives service. He is not at his best with the ball at his feet for relatively long periods of time.

    In the last few games, he has done a good job on part of his job description which is to provide width. He did get balls thrown his way into the wing but did not do a good job of attacking one on ones. His first touch seems strangely off whack but you have to believe he will correct that as his game shape improves. It reminded me a bit of 2007 in that sense. His defensive duties are still being fulfilled admirably. However, his off the ball movement, his strength last season, has been sorely lacking IMO. Part of it is concentration (see all the offsides he has drawn lately) but a bigger part of it, again IMO, is that he and Zlatan have not developed sufficient chemistry yet partly due to their respective injuries and NT commitments. I think we have played Henry-Ibra-Messi less than five times this season if not less. Ibra likes to drift left whereas Samu preferred to go right. Count how many goals Samu scored making diagonal cuts from the middle to the right last season. It may sound stupid but that makes a big difference for Henry. Ibra is also more static than Samu and is only now discovering the joys of constant lateral cuts to unmark himself instead of constantly playing to break an offsides trap. Last season, Samu’s cuts would open vacuums of space for Henry to cut into. Now, Henry runs into Zlatan and his defenders.

    In contrast to Kevin’s worry 😀 , I think Ibra and Messi are doing a magnificent job of developing chemistry considering how long they’ve played together (of course, not at the Alves/Messi level, that was love at first sight for those two 😀 ) . Now, Ibra and Henry have to work harder to develop chemistry and understand their movements. They both speak English so there is no language barrier excuse for any of the two. I simply don’t buy the “Henry never gets any help” argument. The reason he is frequently isolated on the wing is that Abidal usually stays back to help provide cover but this season we have seen a much offensively improved Abidal who HAS provided Titi with more support. Even then, Henry is not a winger, he opens up the field to provide width not to take on defenders in every play. His damage is done when he cuts into the box or drifts in from left to right or breaks an offside trap from the wing. Xavi and Iniesta are equal opportunity playmakers, if you are open then they will try to get you the ball. Henry has not held himself onsides and he has not made runs into the box with the same effectiveness which is why he has received less service so far this season. Even as a 9, his first touch has been off and his runs unable to find space. Like I said before, part of it is due to injuries, part to age, and a large part to currently undeveloped chemistry with him and Zlatan. I still hope he improves drastically. To me it’s only a slump and hopefully he will be at his best when we need him the most like last season in the CL 1/8 and ¼ finals.

    1. I think if Ibra starts to open to the flank (left) more often, that will help the case a lot. I kind of see more promising partnership between Ibra and Henry than between Henry and eto’o or even Ibra and Messi. Yet, If Henry and Ibra start synchronizing their moves, the result will be valleys of space for Messi/Keita to slide through.

      I still have hopes.

      (I can also paste from previous posts 😛 )

  3. I won’t repeat myself. So far this season Henry was disappointing. And last night he put one of his worst performances. Whoever want to break down the game minute by minute, I have it recorded as well, and we can go for it.

    The “lack of supply” is pure illusion. I watched the game after this debate in the previous post. I took the first 20 minutes as a sample, How many times the tro Busquets-Xavi-Iniesta opened the play to the left flank (Henry/Abidal) and how many times they did it to the right flank (Alves/messi) in the final third? It was 12 Left/16 Right including 3 balls into the box for Henry. That’s support. The thing is not that no one notice when henry is available and he didn’t get the pass. The fact is that no one notice how often Alves or Messi are available and still they didn’t get the pass, because they didnt show their none satisfaction about it on the field waving their hands and zooming their lips (Though Alves did it minute 3:45) but no one noticed probably. In the field you make yourself available, and the playmakers pick the best choice for the offense build up. I dont know about you (and Henry), but for me Xavi and Iniesta are not the worst playmakers when it come to decision making. Period.

    Let’s not talk poetry. Bring me a statistics how many times Henry received the ball and how many times he lost it. You will be shocked.

    If this Henry is even close to your expectations then you are not only too easy to be satisfied, but even not aware of what he can deliver.

    This Henry is not acceptable. The Henry I want is the Henry I know he can be if he bounced back to forum and recreated a new motivation to play (after he finally won the CL, which was the last title he missed).

    Tactical roles are the deciding factors here. Thats the skeleton of the game. Not running, or else lets sign a bull. Judging any player before really understanding what he is there to do and then checking how far he is doing his role lead to an “Objective emotional evaluation” How about this expression? 😀 . Its the reason why Keita was a bad player till he scored couple of goals. Was it right? No. But goals are one of the rare things that no one can argue with, though its one of the least things that you can build a judgment based on -unless if you are a striker.

    It’s easy to write poetry, but this team has a train to catch, pick yourself and jump in, or you will be left behind.

    Henry doesn’t need any one to defend him. He is too good for that. When his performance improve, he will be talking about himself, better than anyone can.

    My bedtime, whip me till tomorrow 😀

  4. I also thought that Henry wasn’t that bad in the first half. He stretched Depor’s defense well, his runs were smart, he was a bit unlucky in front of the goal, overall not as bad as people made it and yes, he could have received a pass much faster at times. The fact that Xavi didn’t pass him the ball is because Xavi and Henry still think at times different. For Xavi it makes no sense to pass the ball to Henry on the left, when he still has at least 2 defenders to beat, even if he is wide open. Henry obviously sees things different.
    But anyway…I thought he was alright. Pedro, as said a couple of times, fills the role Bobby Horry did for every team. You actually don’t know what the guy does and why he plays but he gives the team an extra dimension and something others don’t have.

    1. For me, P! is the new Giuly, who was great for coming in with a burst of energy. Also like P!, when Giuly started he was good, but never as good as when he came in after the defense was softened up for the kill.

      What P! brings is movement. Constant movement, and youthful energy. It’s that wild card factor that we had last year with Eto’o, that “What the hell is he doing now?” It works in his favor because he’s Pedro!. There are more important folks to mark, such as Messi, Henry or Ibrahimovic. Then he bangs in a goal.

    2. Interesting comparison. Though one difference that stands out for me is that pedro is a better finisher. But still, Giuly is a good reference, partly because of his pace and directness

    3. hahaha, thats putting it mildly. giuly couldn’t hit a fucken barn door! i hated that bastard (on the pitch – great guy though).

    4. yeah…Giuly also. He kind of fills the spot Giuly left vacant, although Giuly was slightly better with the ball. But I actually think that Pedro does pretty well coming in as a sub but Giuly, as you say, was great as a starter but not that great as a sub for the mentioned reasons.

      The last part of what you wrote is the reason I like to compare him with Mr. Big Shot. Can’t think of any other player in any sports who was like him.

  5. Yes, Isaiah really did write this post. 😀 But I agree fully.

    I will also repeat, if we are going to get on people for not playing up to the standard that they set last season, let’s make a list: Messi, Alves, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, Marquez, The Yaya, Busquets. There are many reasons for it, including having a lot of matches in their legs, national team committments and the naggling little niggles that come from having too many matches in their legs.

    So I don’t just want the Henry of last season, I want the Alves of last season, the Messi of last season, the Yaya of last season, the Iniesta of last season, the Busquets of last season, the Marquez of last season, the Xavi of last season. Almost everybody (save, thankfully, the defense) is underperforming compared to last year. Not just Henry. And yet, we’re winning. Not only are we winning, but we are off to the best start in the club’s history, and active with a chance to win six trophies, even with that crappy old guy on left wing. 😀

    1. One thing that has me optimistic that they’ll recover that form of last season was the intensity they played with at the start of this last match. I don’t know the last time I saw Barcelona attacking the ball like that. If they keep it up, good things will happen.

    2. And you’re not kidding with the Messi, Xavi, Alves, Iniesta, etc. Seriously, they were stupendous last year.

      I’ve felt particularly let down by Iniesta actually, though no one seems to mention him when critiquing the matches. Of all the players, I think he’s had the sharpest decline from last season’s high. Granted, that high was WAY up there and he’s been recovering from an injury, but I still feel like he is much sloppier than last year.

      And hurrah for mentioning our season so far!! Maybe the score lines aren’t a million to one, but we’ve maintained a good form that can hopefully be improved upon. I think some of the worry comes from the fact that we have less of a lead this year, so any decline we suffer from is going to hit us pretty hard. But no need to look for bad news where there isn’t any. 🙂

    3. The thing with Messi is that in the past 2 games or so he showed he was getting out of his run of bad form, so we’re not *as* concerned, I’m guessing.

      I’m also with Liza about Iniesta, he hasn’t been horrible or anything, but remember last year? There was a point where I got a sense from everyone here that he was rivalling messi as the best/biggest gamechanger in the squad (in the world?). That lasted about a month or so but still, feels like a dip from those highs. Not too worried about him though

  6. I tried to defend Henry in another post, not because he’s in great form but because I think he will get a fair bit of his effectiveness back over the next few games. There are a few reasons I would point to – none of which are about him not getting the ball as such but about when he gets the ball.
    First, Iniesta is only just getting his game back on the left mid whereas the right side is cooking. Also, Abidal, despite showing a bit of promise last night is never gonna be an effective offensive partner for him. Lastly, with a team of right footed players it sometimes just takes more time and effort to work the ball left. You automatically turn your body onto your right foot. Maybe he is needing possession a little quicker.

    Whatever, he needs to find his form soon as Pep won’t wait. Still gets my vote over Pedro at the moment though.

  7. Finally (or not so) this statistic from above is interesting:

    “If you’re down with numbers: when Henry has played in a league match, we have won that match. When Henry has not played in a league match, we have drawn that match half the time (3 of 6)–though one of those wins was the 6-1 mauling of Zaragoza.”

    1. how about these numbers:

      goals in all competitions:

      henry: 2

      pedro: 10

      i think the numbers speak clearly for themselves. unless you are going to seek out bizarre stats to try to make a point such as half the games he hasnt played in we have tied? weird.

    2. But what’s bizarre about that stat? The more pertinent part is that every time Henry has played, we’ve won. Is this coincidence, or a statement on his effectiveness, even when he isn’t scoring goals?

    1. Good question, Pyro. The squad is definitely too small, I think. Have to do some thinking on that one.

  8. I actually disagree, Isaiah. I think there’s no question that so far this season Pedro! has been more effective than Henry. He’s contributed more to the end result, scored goals regularly etc. Henry, on the other hand has been off his game.

    What I have a problem with is people arguing that Pedro! is better than Henry. I think he has a way to go before he gets to Henry’s level. (Maybe we just have opposite definitions of “effective” and “better”)

    And while yes, Messi should have passed to Henry earlier on that occasion, what about the countless times Henry was offside in the last couple of games? That HAS to factor into the decision making. The same thing with Ibra a few games back. If someone is always getting flagged for offsides, why WOULD you pass the ball to him?

    1. Like goals, an offside is rarely one player’s fault. If the forward makes a run and the pass doesn’t come, or a feint makes the playmaker delay the pass, voila. The modern game moves so quickly that it doesn’t take much.

      What I will take both Henry and Ibrahimovic to task for is slowness about getting back into an onside position. If you are off, you know where the defense is, so move your ass so that we can re-set the offense. When you’re offside and stop, you in effect make us play with one less attacker.

    2. That’s exactly right. I always try to explain in American football terms to my hubby the offside, using the DVR as a great teaching tool. It’s not a perfect example (nor the best I think), but it has worked with my husband beginning to understand the play up to an offside on certain occasions and why I yell not at the offside player. If one has played or grew up in pigskin land like I did and understands routes and why sometimes it seems a quarterback throws a pass to a defender, and you see the missed route, it makes sense. Sometimes the play is too fast that it doesn’t give the quarterback time to adjust. Other times there is enough time to adjust the pass and catch the receiver’s adjusted route (some quarterbacks are so boneheaded they can’t adjust and throw the pass to the original route and you get an interception).

      LIke a said not a great parallel but it has worked b/c it gets folks unfamiliar with footie to understand the execution and timing of plays building up in footie, trying to beat the back line. Another thing to add is when you have a great back line that can pause enough (i.e. read the build up well) to cause an offside, well we need to acknowledge that too.

      The slowness of getting onside again, that is where we can take players to task 🙂

    3. I definitely agree about the getting back onside thing. With regards to offsides not being one person’s fault, yes that’s true. But it will continue being an issue until the passer or the recipient makes an adjustment. I still think a striker of Henry’s class should be able to make the adjustment.

      But in a way that isn’t even the issue. Let’s just look at it from a psychological sense. If time after time attacks get halted because of a player constantly being offside, woudldn’t the players think to themselves “maybe I be better off keeping the ball or passing to someone else?”

      I’m not saying it’s acceptable. Just understandable. The same way that Kevin reasoned that Ibra might be thinking “Hell, Messi isn’t going to pass to me anyway”. Don’t discount frustration.

    4. watch the madrid game and henry just walks casually to get back onside, even when the play is developing towards him, snd then he gets angry when he is called offside.

  9. I really don’t have much intelligence to add to the conversation. I’m not good at analyzing tactics in football. But here’s my view: I know some people are dismissing the lack of service angle, but I think it’s critical. Ok, so some of Henry’s touches are heavy and awkward. Well, some of Messi’s are over ambitious and superfluous. This does not change the fact that Henry usually only has ONE person to pass to when he gets the ball. And passing is what Barcelona are all about.

    Look on the right: Messi’s best moves are when he, instead of running through 10,000 defenders, passes the ball off to Alves and repositions himself to receive it in a less-crowded spot. Now he’s out of the thicket of legs and can make a run. If he’s not, then Xavi is right there to take the ball back.

    Isaiah pointed this out: Henry has Abidal. No, I’m not advocating that Abidal run up á la Alves (what a disaster!), but Henry doesn’t have that get-out-of-jail card that Messi does. So when he gets the ball, he also gets two defenders and suddenly it’s like a wasteland over there. Where is everyone? He needs to make a pass to get out of it, but no one is there. Ok, that isn’t the case ALL the time, but it happens way more often than it should.

    SIGH. I don’t know. I’m not really sure what the solution is. I really do love Henry and I miss how integrated he felt last year. Maybe we just need to wait a bit longer for a partnership to develop between him and Ibra. By the end of last season, Henry and Eto’o had some really good runs. 🙂

    I just really hate the scape-goating. Henry’s not perfect, but to single him out as the black hole on the field is unfair when it’s the team’s fault for putting him in that situation. Everyone else gets decent service.

  10. Good points from both sides. I actually agree with Ramzi that Henry did not suffer from a lack of service, BUT I do feel his passing partners abandoned him once they delivered the pass. Often, I saw Henry v. 2 defenders and the nearest man not near at all. I could say the same with Ibra at times, although not as often it seems. So, Henry is not playing up to last year’s standards but neither is anyone else on offense. We need more, faster (thought-wise) passes and better finishing. All in all, I like where we are at.

  11. While I don’t think Henry has been playing well, I have faith that he will come good later in the season. After all, he’s going to want to be in good form for the World Cup.

    Speaking of the World Cup, Henry had arguably one of the most difficult qualifying experiences (except Messi in my view). Couple that with his age, and it’s going to take him a little while to get up to speed. Once he does I’m sure he’ll mesh with the team.

    You have to remember, while we are obsessive and need to discuss something after each match, Pep takes a longer view of things. He is concerned about the whole season, and he knows Henry will be a very valuable asset this year.

    The bigger question in my mind is… well how many of you think he will stay with us after this season? He’s given brilliantly to the club and won a Champions League for his resume as well. He’s aging, and it’s time to find a new name to fill in there. Not in the January window, but certainly next summer.

    1. He’s gone like yesterday’s La Vanguardia at the end of this season. He’s already commented on the fact that the Guardiola system places exceptional physical demands on its players, and he isn’t the man that he once was. It’s hard.

      And, frankly, couple that with the fact that he just isn’t wanted, which begins to wear on a player. All around me in the Camp Nou stands during the Inter match, people were calling for Krkic to replace Henry, which boggles my mind. But I do think that those kinds of things just wear on a player.

      I think he would stay if the club were willing to work out some sort of super sub role for him, but I can’t see us paying that much for a sub.


    Barca Atletic won their game today putting them in 2nd place in their Segunda B group. Its still early but they’ve won 7 games on the trot and have 33pts from 16 games.

    If they remain anything near consistent they could get a promotion play off. Which would be awesome for several reasons, most of all the ‘B’ team playing in Segunda A!

  13. I have only seen the first half. and i would say i agree with most of what isaiah said. messi should have gotten that pass there sooner, that was one of those ones where i started to get excited because i saw the run (i love through/leading balls and that’s basically all i do in fifa) and then it died because i saw that messi was gonna keep it, kinda surprised that he passed it when he did (still close). Anyways, one big thing i noticed was that henry wasn’t lacking service, he was lacking support. when he got the ball, he didn’t have very many options many of the times. abidal would be far away (or running into titi which he did once) and iniesta would almost be in the middle of the field. the lack of passing options meant that henry was left to beating his man with the ball. maybe he should start crossing it more to ibra, i don’t know, but lack of options leads to losing possesion more often. I definitely noticed that he is still lacking some match fitness as he was a bit slow at times chasing the ball.

  14. I also noticed that Henry was kind of left alone on the left a few times. I thought it was due to iniesta tracking back instead of moving forward to help. I think it’s no coincidence that when Henry is at his best (last year) iniesta was also tearing teams apart on the left.

    I think our left sided attack will start to cohesively attack when iniesta and Henry get back to their old form. Which I hope is soon!!!

  15. Hey, you have put your points correctly, but most of them are Debatable. Nevertheless your view point adds another another angle on the discussion of the “LF” position.

  16. come on …

    Pedro! 7 goals and some of them nice

    titi? 2 sitters scored with his head


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