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A role model for any youngster

One hundred goals already for Thierry Henry, and it seems as though he has just arrived at Arsenal. I was genuinely surprised when I heard he was nearing the landmark, but there was an inevitability about it once he settled in as Arsenal’s No. 1 hitman.

When Dennis Bergkamp reached the century mark in the last FA Cup game against Oxford, it seemed fitting. Dennis has been at the club for some time, and is a regular goal-scorer. But it is not going to be too long before Thierry sails past Ian Wright, the club’s leading goal-scorer, with 185 goals.

When Wrighty overtook Cliff Bastin’s record of 178 goals, I thought it would stand for a long time. But now, within the space of three years, Thierry could rewrite history. In Wright’s defence, he played in a team who won 1-0 every week; Thierry is part of an all-conquering, goal-scoring machine.

Thierry’s rise is remarkable, and credit once again goes to Arsene Wenger. Henry arrived from Juventus as a failed left winger with a reputation for not quite being able to cut it in the top league. Wenger, though, obviously saw something from day one, and knew he could turn him into a top striker.

That’s what makes him such a good manager. He has the ability to spot a player and turn him into what Thierry is now: a focused, determined individual, who loves scoring goals — even in training.

Let us not forget that Thierry arrived under considerable pressure, having been given free rein to take over from Nicolas Anelka. He took it all in his stride, and has made the natural progression in the face of a lot of stick from the media when he did not put the ball in the net to start with.

The players certainly were not worried that he missed so many chances in the early days at the club, because in training you could see what a great athlete he was. These days, you almost expect him to get a couple of goals in most games. I believe he is on the way to becoming one of the greatest all-time players for Arsenal, not just a goal-scorer. His all round game is phenomenal: he provides, creates, and scores goals. The only thing he doesn’t do is kick it off his own line. One area of weakness for Thierry is scoring with his head. It is a mystery that he does not score more in the air because he has a great leap.

If you put the physical side of his game into that context, he is a pure-bred athlete. He has the body of a thoroughbred sprinter and I reckon the game, at times, is too easy for him. Hence his penchant, at times, for missing the easiest of tap-ins.

In pre-season training, where the runs are designed by the manager to get the players to a certain level of fitness, and are incredibly tough, he is way ahead of the others, standing at the cones waiting for the rest to catch up. And, while we are all falling asleep at the wheel of our cars because we are so tired, Thierry will come along and ask the manager for more runs. It is just not fair.

I used to have a laugh with him in training on a Friday with 8 v 8, quite a light-hearted warm-up before Saturday games. He always played left wing against me and because I was so slow, I very rarely caught him. If he kicks it past you, you are dead, so I used to have to resort to telling him I would kick him, pull him or trip him if he tried to get past me. He loves that kind of thing.

Looking on from the outside this season, I now realise he is genuinely a superstar, both as a sportsman, and a person. He has all the right qualities for stardom. He is loved in the dressing room and is one of the jokers who likes a laugh. He is a nice bloke and, in a similar vein to Patrick Vieira, takes his responsibility fully in representing himself and the club in a cultured way. Sometimes he gets in trouble on the pitch, but he is very expressive, very visual, and you know what mood he is in.

He is very similar in that way to Wrighty. I spoke to Ian about Thierry yesterday and he is full of admiration for the young Frenchman. I wanted to talk to him to see if there was any feelings he had about the possibility of his record going. Wrighty told me: “Dicko, it is no disgrace whatsoever to be second to such a great world-class player as Thierry Henry.

No one can take my goals away, but to be behind a player who won the World Cup and the European Championship for France by the age of 23, would only be an honour. When he overtakes me, I won’t be crying in my soup.”

Thierry will only break the record if he stays — and I believe he will because, like Vieira, he has a love for the club. He has also brought a certain cool chic to the club. He wears all the right clothes, is totally at ease with himself, is the perfect role model for any young player, and has brought nothing but credit to himself and Arsenal.

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