|Welcome back to Thierry Henry whose arrival has revealed another side of football [GALLO/GETTY]
Anyone who finds themselves complaining about the hype surrounding Thierry Henry’s return to the English Premier League had better drag out last month’s papers.
There they will find the football news they had grown to love, one dominated by scandal, racist remarks and court cases.
Recent portrayals of the English game have focused on the ugly side of football, the side with a flawed, pitted complexion and a hint of distrust in the eye.
The Luis Suarez racism case, on the back of racist allegations involving England captain John Terry, made us turn to the back pages for all the wrong reasons.
While they weren’t cases the media should ignore, they were cases most of us wished never existed in the first place. They left us reflecting on whether it was possible to heal football’s many maladies.
But then along came the New Year and shortly after that Thierry Henry.
Few would have foreseen the return of Henry to the English Premier League.
Arsenal’s leading goalscorer and the man who was instrumental in guiding them to an unbeaten season in 2004 was back. It was a blessing for Arsenal, and the Premier League, as legends rarely retrace their steps.
In December, Henry fought back the tears as a bronze statue was erected of him outside the Emirates in his honour - few would have envisioned him playing inside the stadium just a month later.
Firing next shot
However, on a two-month loan from the New York Red Bulls, his enduring love for the Gunners dragged him back.
If the fairytale wasn’t yet complete, it soon would be.
On Monday, Henry popped on an Arsenal shirt, leapt off the bench and scored within ten minutes of his return in front of the Emirates crowd. The goal gave Arsenal a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup but it meant so much more than that.
Here was an amazing story that reminded us how beautiful football could be.
Surely even those who dislike Arsenal could not have suppressed a slight smile on seeing the jubilance of Henry as he scored on his return.
The occasion signified everything that is right with the game: long-lasting talent, nostalgia, passion, a player’s love for a club and a club’s love for a player. And let’s not forget those Arsenal fans.
Gooners (as they are known) can be an outspoken and arrogant bunch but they celebrated Henry’s goal simply because they love the man and the man loves them back.
It is as close to a love story as we get in football.
Paul Scholes did not manage to score on his return to Manchester United but his story is also one to celebrate.
With Man United struggling for midfielders due to an injury crisis, Scholes’ loyalty to his side and particularly to Alex Ferguson encouraged him back into the fold.
Neither Henry nor Scholes returned to the English Premier League with capes on their back or wearing a pair of blue tights but to Arsenal and United fans they are superheroes.
They are pure footballers who play for the love of the game, the love of their club and the love of the fans. Both players also have done their best to keep their head down and out of trouble in the past.
We welcome them back with open arms and over the top headlines because the ugly side of football was getting boring.
It is time to reflect on football’s more beautiful side.
The reaction to Henry’s goal is overblown, ridiculously romantic, and not quite worthy of a Hollywood script… yet.
But what would you prefer: A smiley Henry on the back page or another picture of a surly looking Suarez?
If it is Suarez you, my friend, are a spoil sport.
Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News, LBC Radio. Sportasylum.com, TNT Down Under and Wanderlust magazine. Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her blog, mythoughtonsport.
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Source: Al Jazeera