La Liga Review believes Robert Pires' comments that Thierry Henry is unsettled at Barcelona should not be dismissed as idle speculation, but rather that they offer a genuine insight in to the frustrations felt by the former Arsenal star as greatness slips from his grasp…
The France international has been played in a number of unfamiliar positions by Frank Rijkaard since joining Barcelona Football Club from Arsenal for £16 million last summer.
Whilst at the peak of his formidable powers, Thierry Henry was deployed as a central striker by Arsene Wenger throughout his eight years with the London club. However, since joining Barcelona, the 30 year old has had to adapt to a new formation and perform in a variety of roles - on the right, left, and occasionally through the centre of a three pronged attack -and he has rarely looked comfortable.
Henry did not hide his dissatisfaction after being substituted during Barcelona's 2-1 home defeat against Villarreal last week, and former Arsenal team-mate Robert Pires, now at Villarreal, spoke out publically on his good friend's behalf. Pires said "If I were to say that Henry was happy, I would be called a liar.
"It is complicated because he is not playing in his best position. He is always on the left or on the right. I know him and I know he is not happy.
"He was angry because he is not used to being substituted. That was something that never happened to him at Arsenal."
These words should not be seen as a passing comment from an interested opponent or a spontaneous response to an awkward question that could not be dodged in the glare of the mixed zone. Rather, as La Liga Review will argue, they should be seen as a measured response to a fair amount of criticism in the Catalan press: delivered by one of Henry's closest confidantes and by someone with considerable media experience who knows precisely what he is saying and how it will be received.
In other words, this was Henry speaking.
The first and the last time he responded to his critics after just two months in Barcelona, the player was willing to accept responsibility for his performances. He told a press conference at the Camp Nou that "Barcelona are a different team, with a very different way of playing and I, too, have to play differently. Maybe I haven't been at my best level up to now."
La Liga Review was seated just a few metres away from the player, who was clearly hurting, when he said that "I have to adapt to the club and the team and not the other way round and that takes time. Barcelona have played this way for many years, it is their style and I have to adjust to it."
Yet it would seem, just a few months on, that Henry has not adjusted. Furthermore, as Marca claims and Pires insinuates, perhaps Henry now feels that the team should adjust to him.
Who is to blame?
Should Rijkaard change the team's tactics to accommodate a player who, after all, top-scored in four of the five Premier League seasons between 2001-06? It's hard to argue that Barcelona would not have been better off playing a more direct style in recent weeks, looking for the early ball that would exploit Henry's runs - rather than dominating possession but creating little, as they have been.
Rijkaard's trademark 4-3-3 is currently not working yet it is persisted with regardless. Somebody once wrote that it is a definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over again whilst expecting a different outcome.
Does that vindicate Henry?
Maybe not. The player joined a side overburdened with talent in attack: a side that already featured Eto'o, Ronaldinho and Lio Messi - a side that had always played 4-3-3 and had done so incredibly successfully. Did Henry think that the side would be disassembled to accommodate him? Of course not.
Instead, what we are witnessing, are the frustrations of a player who thought that he could adapt: a player who would set La Liga alight in the way he did the Premiership and be adored by the fans of Barcelona as he was at Arsenal.
That has not happened and, let's be honest, it was never going to. As the player himself admitted in that first press conference: "The Arsenal Henry was at Arsenal, now I'm at Barcelona and you won't see the Arsenal Henry any more," he said.
He forgot to mention that 'The Arsenal Henry' hadn't been seen at Arsenal for a couple of seasons either. Henry spent much of his final year at Arsenal on the sidelines with a persistent Achilles injury which saw him make just 10 appearances in 2007.
Even the most ardent of Henry supporters at Arsenal were conceding that, perhaps, they had seen the Henry of old for the last time. The Arsenal fans knew it and Arsene Wenger knew it as well.
It would seem that the only people who didn't know it, or wish to admit it, were Thierry Henry himself and the Barcelona media.
And as Henry becomes increasingly frustrated, his influence on the Barcelona dressing room must be called in to question as he seeks to blame all but himself for his waning powers. After all, his negative influence upon the dressing room at Arsenal during his final disappointing season there has been alluded to by Cesc Fabregas.
As Arsenal legend Ian Wright wrote in The Sun just after Henry departed, it was always someone else's fault: "Thierry had an influence in the dressing room which was becoming too stifling for a lot of people. When you read between the lines of what Arsene has said, you get the impression Thierry had lost a bit of patience with the youngsters. That showed in the way he played sometimes because he had his arms flailing and was upset with what they were doing. I think his departure was great for the club because a lot of players are coming out of their shells."
Does that lay the blame for the current situation at Barcelona squarely at Henry's door? Of course not.
He has not 'failed' at Barcelona. And rather than growing frustrated, and sharing the frustrations of the media, that things are not as they once were at Arsenal - Henry should point out that he has scored seven Liga goals in 21 appearances so far, and a total of 12 for the season: Not bad at all for a thirty year old adapting to a new club and a new system whilst struggling with persistent injury.
However, Henry cannot accept his diminishing role and his diminishing powers - nor can the local media - and that is the problem with greatness; for Thierry Henry was once a great player, able to bend reality and shape the outcome of events to conform to his own desires.
Henry never used to compromise because he never had to, perfection was always within his grasp.
Now Thierry Henry is a very good player, but that perfection eludes him. And it hurts. He has to compromise but, as yet, he hasn't learned how to. That is why we are hearing, through Pires, his frustrations that things are not as he wants them to be: as they once were.
As Simon Barnes puts it "Sport is cruel, not only to the losers, but also to the winners. Sport is cruel, even to the genuinely great. Sport gives such people everything, and then takes it away. Sport allows the great people to express their genuine greatness. Sport tells them there is no need for compromise, no need to deal with the real world, no need to grow up. And then sport takes it all away again. Leaving them with the shell of greatness, the memory of it, and the instruction to get a life…."
(The above quote shamelessly lifted from Simon Barnes excellent book 'The Meaning of Sport' : published by Short books. 2006)