Thierry Henry collected the 2011 Football Writers Association Tribute Award at a gala dinner at The Savoy Hotel in London on Sunday January 16.
The former Arsenal and Barcelona forward, 33, now enjoying life in the United States with Major League Soccer outfit New York Red Bulls, was guest of honour as the FWA returned to The Savoy for the first time since it’s multi-million pound refurbishment three years ago.
Once more, some of football’s leading names attended, including former England striker Gary Lineker, himself a former winner of this award in 1997, Howard Wilkinson, Sam Allardyce, West Ham manager Avram Grant and Aston Villa boss Gerard Houllier.
FWA Executive Secretary Paul Hetherington paid tribute to the late Ken Montgomery before the formal proceedings of the dinner, as well as sending best wishes to FWA members Dennis Signy and Danny Fullbrook who could not make the dinner because of ill health.
Actor, broadcaster, journalist and life-long Arsenal fan Tom Watt spoke of his personal memories of watching Henry in action, helping fire the Gunners to an unprecedented period of success, including their Invincibles campaign of 2003/2004
An impromptu speech from Houllier followed, as the former Liverpool boss recalled his time working with Henry while a youngster within the French national team set-up – and even quipped he would be happy to see the pair re-united at Villa Park this season!
FWA chairman Steve Bates, chief football writer of the People, felt Henry was a worthy winner of the 2011 Tribute Award to add to his three-time Footballer of the Year accolade.
He said: “Words like ‘great’ and ‘world class’ are often over-used in our industry, but tonight we are honouring a player for whom those superlatives are justified.
“Thierry brought style and grace to the Premier League, and a killer touch in front of goal.
“At three times during his eight years at Arsenal, Thierry was named FWA Footballer of the Year.
“We are not an easy bunch to please, and that is a unique feat which still to this day remains unbeaten, and may not be for some years to come.”
The BBC once again provided a DVD of Henry’s playing career, with comment from Jonathan Pearce.
In accepting his award, Henry looked back on his time at Arsenal with great fondness, remembering some of his former team-mates.
Henry said: “Seeing that video got me a bit emotional.
“Every time I hear the press talking about the guys who came across to play in the Premier League, it is always about the flare, but I would not have been the player I was here without guys like Tony Adams and Martin Keown.
“I would also like to thank the journalists. I was not always happy with what you were saying, but that always gave me extra power to give my best.
“I always tried to give my best, sometimes that was not enough. Maybe I was sometimes moody and not always smiling, but the intention was always there inside.”
Henry continued: “Nothing can ever top playing for Arsenal, the understanding I had with the fans, my team-mates and the boss – without him I would not be standing here right now.
“I know you guys all said it was a privilege to see me play, but I would also like to return that to you.
“Everything changed for me when I came to England. It was a real pleasure and privilege to play in this league at Arsenal.
“Thank you for everything.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had taken the time to give a personal tribute to his former captain to the FWA, and believes the Premier League may never have seen a player quite like Henry.
“During his career with Arsenal, Thierry won the FWA Footballer of the Year three times, and each was justly deserved because during those seasons, there was no better player in the Premier League,” Wenger said.
“Thierry was really special. During his best period with Arsenal, he could make the difference at any time, and score anywhere at any moment.
“When he really had decided ‘now I will do it’, he always did it. Nobody could stop him.”