brings out the best in France's Henry
Once known for his blinding pace and little else, France's Thierry Henry arrives at Euro 2004 next month as probably the best all-round striker in world football.
Now considered by FIFA as one of the top three players in the beautiful game, Henry's transformation from a bit-part player on Juventus's left wing to a centre-stage role with Arsenal has more than a touch of the fairytale about it.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's decision to end Henry's unhappy spell in Turin and convert him into a central striker has been spectacularly successful for both player and club.
Henry has still got the pace, but Wenger has brought out the 26-year-old's superb dribbling skills and encouraged him to both run at defenders and to shoot on sight.
It is a potent combination.
But what really sets Henry apart from other top strikers such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy or Christian Vieri is that the Frenchman makes nearly as many goals as he scores.
As Vieri discovered at first hand, when Henry created two and scored two more in Arsenal's 5-1 Champions League demolition of Inter Milan at San Siro last November, Henry's true value lies in what he brings to a team's entire attacking manoeuvre.
Though that contribution has been reaching new levels for the past three years, Henry had long been marked out as a future international.
Born into the new-town suburbs of Paris and detected by the radar of France's prestigious national football academy at the age of 13, he signed professional forms for Wenger at Monaco three years later and made his debut two weeks after his 17th birthday.
He signalled his arrival on the European stage in Monaco's fine run to the Champions League semi-finals in 1997-98 and then reached a global audience a few months later as France's top scorer in their World Cup-winning side.
His reward was a move in January 1999 to Italian greats, Juventus, though his Serie A career never really took off.
Months later, Henry made a welcome return to Wenger's orders, this time under the grey skies of north London, and the man from Les Ulis has not looked back since.
A Euro 2000 winner with France, and a league and FA Cup double winner with Arsenal in 2002, the only setback has been his share of the blame for France's collective debacle at the 2002 World Cup, notably his 25th-minute red card in their second game against Uruguay.
Henry has since kept his temper in check, with Arsenal being the biggest beneficiary.
Performances such as the one at San Siro have helped him to become his country's top scorer in European club competition, eclipsing Jean-Pierre Papin's 38-goal record and propelling Arsenal into the latter stages of the competition.
Yet despite all the accolades which include England's Footballer of the Year Award in 2003, Henry remains unfazed by the media attention, most of which he shuns by dividing a quiet and very private life in London's highbrow Hampstead with commuting up to Arsenal's Hertfordshire training centre.
Though 'Titi' remains totally devoted to France, he revels in London being a cosmopolitan city where the public acknowledge one of the world's top sportsmen, but leave him well alone.
One thing is for certain, defenders at Euro 2004 will not be so understanding. - Reuters