My room mate’s father has a game plan every time he attends a social gathering. He shows up, makes his presence known and leaves early. By not overstaying his welcome, he leaves everyone wanting more. I’ve coined this the MT theory.
One of my life long heroes Thierry Henry has mastered the MT theory. Back when he was at the peak of his powers, Henry left Arsenal FC to pursue a Champion’s League title.
Henry never accomplished what he left North London to do. In fact, he became a lesser player in his stint with Barcelona, the Spanish Giants. Then in a surprise move, Henry signed with the New York Red Bulls of the MLS two years ago. He deemed it to be a lifestyle choice, but knowing Thierry he wanted to be the epicenter of a squad again; with his skills and athleticism diminished he had nowhere to go but to a league full of misfits (apologies to anyone in the MLS who might come across this).
Through his five years of soccer purgatory, Henry’s reputation at Arsenal as an immortal legend. The Gooner faithful still loved Henry because the team hasn’t won a single trophy since he wore the captain’s armband.
Henry added to his legend by leading his squad of Red Bulls into the Emirates stadium in August and hoisting the Emirates cup. Three months later, a statue of Henry was erected outside the stadium. During both occasions, Henry appeared to be overcome with emotion for the club he voluntarily left behind five years ago.
With the MLS off-season coinciding with the African Cup of Nations leaving a gaping hole in Arsenal’s frontline, Arsene Wenger reached out to the King of Highbury to inquire if he was interested in returning to the club that made him famous for a brief one month cameo.
When I read the rumours, my initial giddiness converted to incredulity. I was concerned that Henry would tarnish his legacy by returning. What more did Henry have to accomplish at Arsenal? I mean, you just have to take a look at the mediocre team he abandoned to validate that his decision to transfer to Camp Nou was the right one. He won it all, FA Cups, Premier League titles, Golden Boots (to asses), leading his team to an undefeated campaign, why did he have to come back? Was Thierry unfamiliar with the MT theory?
But return he did. This time in the #12 shirt instead of the familiar #14 that made him famous.
This is where I felt a personal connection to Thierry’s return. I craved the same thing in terms of my academic career/life. When I left British Columbia for greener pastures in the East, I thought it’d be for the best. And similar to my hero, I faced a rude awakening. When you’ve accomplished everything there is to accomplish at one place, you naturally look for other challenges in another to keep things interesting. By leaving behind what feels comfortable to try to succeed elsewhere, you figure out the grass isn’t greener on the other side, the other side is actually a world full of obstacles you have no answers for. Without Arsene Wenger by his side, Henry became a shell of his former self, without my support network, I sunk to some unimaginable lows.
After I transferred to the Barcelona of schools (Ryerson), I constantly underperformed no matter what the circumstances. The only light at the end of the tunnel would be the two times a year that I’d fly home and be welcomed with open arms. Despite being urged to come back home for school by several people who are I’m close to, I was hesitant to. As I questioned if I came back permanently would I still be loved? I have this unconfirmed trepidation that coming home permanently would merely be a band-aid to my solutions. I didn’t want to become a stranger in my own home. A fair amount of my friends have also gone away for school, and the ones that stayed here have all moved on with their lives.
As they say you should never go back.
I’ll remember January 10th forever. In the fourth round of the FA cup, the score was tied 0-0 between Arsenal and Leeds United. In the 68th minute, Henry came on for a struggling Marouane Chamakh. From there he stuck to the script Hollywood wrote for him by finishing a delightful through ball from Alex Song in typical Henry fashion. The celebration of the goal was something we’ve never seen from Henry. Usually cool and collected, upon slotting the ball into the right corner of the net, Henry erupted into a whirlwind of emotion, celebrating like he was one of us, a fan of the club. I fell to my knees in disbelief, kissing the crest of the Arsenal shirt I was wearing. The King had not only come back to be a figurehead, but he’d come back to contribute.
He went on to score two more times in his second stint as a Gunner, upping his tally to 229 goals. Once in a 7-1 rout of Blackpool. And last weekend in another Hollywood moment, he put his famous right boot to the end of Andrei Arshavin’s cross securing a 2-1 victory for Arsenal in the game’s final moments.
Lest we forget though, the MT theory is inescapable, even for King Thierry. In Henry’s final game on loan, he was subbed on by Wenger to help dig Arsenal out of a 2-0 in Milan. Facing a formidable defence he was finally exposed as the player he no longer was, unable to create much of anything (to be fair neither did anyone else on the team).
But no one will blame Thierry for the fiasco against Milan, because just as quickly as he arrived to save Arsenal from finishing out of the top four, he’s back in New York…legacy intact.
This is where Thierry’s story differs from mine. His return home completed his story in fairy tale fashion. If I were to return home, I’m unsure what else there is for me here.
One thing’s for certain though: whether it’s the Emirates stadium or Richmond, British Columbia, there’s no substitution for the fuzzy feeling of returning home anywhere else in the world.