It’s cut to the chase, Thierry. Can you ever envisage a day when human beings will play robots at football?
I don’t think we’ll ever play robots, but right now some of us feel like robots. There are so many games to play these days that sometimes you don’t know where you are, or who you’re playing. You’ll come back from an international and you have to go to play away in Moscow. You come home from that then you have to go to Reading. Sometimes you do feel like a robot, honestly.
You live in London and have done for eight years. What’s your favourite thing about living in the big smoke?
The way people leave you alone. The press doesn’t, but I love the fact that people respect the fact that you have a life. I can go out in London and do what I want. I can go to the zoo and see the animals, I can go to Selfridges, I can do my shopping. People sometimes stop and look at me, but they’re not trying to touch me. I think that’s a Latin thing, we have that in France and in Italy where they literally want to touch you. I don’t like that.
Have you picked up any cockney traits?
No. Acting like a cockney is a really special thing reserved for people raised and born here. When Ray Parlour was at Arsenal he used to tell me these expressions, he’d have me saying [does dreadful cockney accent], “You need your bins on if you can’t see the goal from there, geezah!” But he’s gone now, and so has another Londoner, Sol Campbell, so there’s less cockney in the club these days.
Ever ridden on the tube?
Once we played Middlesbrough and I was on the bench all game. Afterwards I didn’t want to disturb anybody to get me home as I didn’t have my car, so I just took the tube, then the Thameslink train to St Albans.
Didn’t you get hassle?
People didn’t know me at the time because I wasn’t scoring that much. ?I was actually wearing the Arsenal tracksuit so I blended in with all the fans on their way home and I was left alone through the entire journey. They just thought I was another fan.
When you first came, did people pronounce your name “Terry Henry”?
Oh, all the time. At one point I just gave up because half my teammates were calling me Tel or Telboy.
Why do you think Arsenal is the perfect club for you ahead of, say, Juventus?
It’s not about comparing one club to another. When you have found what you want in a club, I don’t think there is a reason why you’d leave. I’ve built a relationship with the fans and with the club. It’s difficult to walk away from that relationship, and you don’t know if you’re going to be successful somewhere else. I love the fact that in England when you’re done playing for a club, they will always remember you and when you come back and they announce your name and you walk out on the pitch, they know you’ve done something for the club and they let you know with a standing ovation. It’s powerful. In France it’s nothing like that.
When the press were asking you every week if you’re going or staying at Arsenal, did you know all along you weren’t leaving?
I won’t lie to you – I was thinking about leaving. But at the time I said I will make up my mind when I’m ready and that was true. It wasn’t an easy decision and I wanted to be sure. My aim at the time was to get our results back on track, not sort out my future. What amazed me was that every two days newspapers had a story and they were all, apparently, true. But they never had the actual story – that I was staying at Arsenal. One paper even reported that I was spotted house-buying in Barcelona. Total rubbish.
Who is the best player you’ve ever played with?
Dennis Bergkamp. As simple as that. He wasn’t maybe as skilful as Zidane, or Ronaldinho, but in one pass he would pass a ball round five players, rather than exhaust himself trying to run round them.
Are there any defenders you fear?
No. No disrespect to anyone, but there’s no one I fear when I go on the pitch. I’ve had bad games but that’s not down to them being great but rather me playing poorly. There are some great defenders out there. Gallas was one of the best that I had to deal with, alongside John Terry. Man Utd have always had good defenders; Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand for example. But fear? No. Definitely not.
If you weren’t a footballer what would you be?
But if you weren’t a footballer?
Brilliant! Do you ever catch yourself whistling the tunes that the fans sing about you over brekkie?
Sometimes we sing the songs to each other in the tunnels after a game – on our way back to the dressing room. But never at breakfast.
So what actually is the French for “va va voom”?
Well, there is a definition for “va va voom” now, so you can look it up in the dictionary! But it was just meant to be catchy. And it works because so many people ask me that question.
You’re very calm in your goal celebrations. Aren’t you ever tempted to rattle out ten back flips?
If I could do it I would have done it. But the rules on goal celebrations are ridiculous nowadays. We can’t go and jump with our own fans and show our happiness when we score. You get sent off straight away. Now footballers are scared of doing something that might upset people. Sometimes if the opposition fans are having a go at you all game and you score you want to look at them and go, “Ha.” Nothing bad, you simply can’t any more – they come down on you so hard. Shevchenko, for example, when he scored his first goal for Chelsea, he wanted to celebrate with his fans. Yellow card. Did he hurt anybody? No. Did he kill anybody? No. People should focus on getting rid of the ugly side to football, not the fun, joyful things.
What’s your favourite goal?
[Shrugs casually] They’re all good. But if I had to pick one, perhaps last season’s goals against Real Madrid or Tottenham Hotspur.
Level with us Tel, did you find it slightly funny when Tottenham all got diarrhoea?
No, you don’t wish that on anybody.
Honestly. But sometimes that’s how the game is if there’s a bug going round. We’ve all had to play ill and it’s very unpleasant, so that many people getting ill is a disaster.
Will you be buying one of the flats they’re building at Highbury?
I can’t do that because Highbury was a special place for me. I wanted them to make it into our training ground. That place should never have died.
Can you come down to Regent’s Park and play for FHM?
I wish I could. But I can’t play against strangers because often they want to show off in front of their mates by whacking Henry, getting up and saying, “Look what I did.” But as soon as I’m on holiday I play with my friends. We play on the beach.
Sexy football! We like it. Why did you move from Nike to Reebok?
It’s pretty simple. I feel like with Reebok we have an understanding, they listen to you, it’s not only about the brand, it’s about the athlete and the brand getting together and designing something, like a football boot, that we’re both happy with. I want to get involved in what I play with, I want to get involved with what I wear. Reebok allow that.
Okay, finally, Joe Cole told us that when he nutmegs someone he feels like he takes a bit of their soul. You?
It is very special.
Do you shout, “Megs!” whenever you do it? Even in the Premiership?
No. When I play with my friends I do. When I’m with my friends I’ll nutmeg one then stop and laugh, then play on. But I’m not one of these players who goes looking for megs in actual games. [Laughs] But it is special.
Original interview by Tom Cullen in the March 2007 issue of FHM UK magazine