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Football: Interview - Thierry Henry: I'M A REAL GOONER!; EXCLUSIVE: THIERRY HENRY ON HIS ARSENAL PASSION.

THIERRY HENRY last night revealed that he turned down multi-million pound moves to Real Madrid and Barcelona as he pledged his long-term future to Highbury.

While Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit both quit the Gunners this summer, Henry has no intention of leaving Arsenal in the lurch.

The reason is simple: he wants to repay the loyalty boss Arsene Wenger and the fans showed when he could not score for toffee.

Henry has come a long way in the last 12 months from misfiring striker to Euro 2000 hot-shot. And he still remembers the Highbury faithful for sticking by him during his dark days.

"I could have gone just like that," said Henry, clicking his fingers. "But I am very loyal to the people who stand by me.

"I know there were offers. The newspapers were full of rumours every day. Barcelona, Real Madrid...

"But I was not interested. I have a real feeling for my team and my team is Arsenal. I had a lot of approaches in the summer, but I'm a true Gooner and I want to stay.

"It's important when you play for a team that you have a feeling in your heart for them. When you lose that feeling you have to leave because you will not give 100 per cent on the pitch.

"We have lost two quality players in Manu and Marc. Maybe their heart had gone and you have to accept that.

"But we must put that behind us and move on. We've signed good new players and they will be great for us."

It really has been an incredible 12 months for Henry. A year ago, the glory of winning the World Cup seemed a distant memory.

Henry arrived at Highbury short of confidence after a disastrous spell at Juventus and then struggled to switch from being a winger to an out-and-out striker.

But he could reflect yesterday on what a difference a year makes as he celebrated his 23rd birthday by helping to launch the Premiership's new official football, the Nike Geo Merlin.

Henry finished the season with 26 goals for Arsenal, a Euro 2000 hero and one of the most sought after strikers in Europe. However, Henry is far too humble to forget the bad times. He said: "The truth is I still can't believe everything that happened in the last year.

"I was missing chance after chance, including some real easy ones. But I kept going even though secretly I was really doubting myself.

"All the time I was being forgotten about by France and it looked like I had no chance of going to Euro 2000. But it was the thought of Euro 2000 and showing the English fans the real me, that kept me going.

"It turned out to be a good year. But this season will be even harder because the expectations will be higher.

I used to speak all of the time to the boss and he would cheer me up when I was down because I was not scoring.

"But it's to the fans I owe the greatest debt. They stuck with me and cheered for me and that was the one thing that kept me going.

"Football is all about confidence, especially when you are a striker. That's why I want to say thanks to all of the Arsenal fans and I want to repay them.

"I've taken to them, not only cheering me on at football, but as friends. I think it's important to have English friends and get used to the culture.

"You need that to settle and be a success in a foreign country. You need to speak English and feel at home."

But despite now being one of the most feared goal machines in the Premiership, it still hurts Henry that he has yet to lift any silverware with Arsenal.

World Cup and European Championship medals do not seem important as he talks passionately about achieving success with Arsenal.

Henry says: "The pressure is on, I know that. All of the Arsenal fans will be expecting just as many goals and maybe even more. But that's fine. I prefer to be in that situation than a year ago when very few had even heard of me.

"Last season I scored a lot of goals, but we didn't win anything. This season I want that to change.

"I'm jealous of Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira who have won things with Arsenal. I want that more than anything else.

"It's not about me, it's about what I can help the team achieve. And I do that through scoring goals.

"Being seen as the best striker in Europe doesn't spur me on - it's helping my team to success. That's my only aim."

HENRY FACTfile

BORN: 17 August 1977

BIRTHPLACE: Paris

PREVIOUS CLUBS: Monaco (1990-99) Juventus (1999)

HONOURS: CLUB: French Championship 1997; COUNTRY: World Cup 1998; European Championship 2000

INTERNATIONAL RECORD: 21 apps, 8 goals

ARSENAL RECORD: 48 apps, 26 goals

1990: Joins Monaco at the age of 13 after being spotted playing for the French under-17 side by the club's manager, Arsene Wenger.

1994: Henry makes his Monaco debut at 17.

1996: Wins French Young Footballer of the Year award.

1997: Fires Monaco to the French league title. Makes France debut in a 2-1 win against South Africa.

1999: Signs for Juventus in a pounds 8m deal. Scores three goals in 18 matches, then Arsenal pay pounds 10.5m to bring Henry to Highbury.

2000: Scores in ten consecutive games, finishing with 26 for Arsenal. Helps France to Euro 2000 triumph, scoring three goals.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Cross, John
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 18, 2000
Words:933
Previous Article:Football: Gin and tonic; ONLY 26 FANS WANT THEIR MONEY BACK.
Next Article:Football: WENGER: I DIDN'T WANT JIMMY.



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