Thierry Henry signs for Barcelona
Thierry Henry's long-term flirtation with Barcelona was last night consummated as he packed his bags at Arsenal before completing a €24m (£16m) deal, the Guardian online reported Saturday.
Arsène Wenger agreed the fee on Wednesday after personal talks with Barcelona's vice-president, Ferrán Soriano, before Arsenal's directors approved the sale at a board meeting on Thursday. The transfer, which takes Henry to Camp Nou for the next four seasons on a £6.8m-a-year salary, will be finalised this weekend, after which he will be pictured with Barcelona's No14 shirt, once worn by Johan Cruyff.
The speed at which agreement was reached on personal terms reflects the fact that Henry's contract is that which had been negotiated during Barcelona's abortive pursuit of the Arsenal captain last year. Internazionale attempted to hijack the deal yesterday, but the player could not be tempted to San Siro.
Although injury problems reduced the 29-year-old Henry to 17 Premiership appearances and 10 league goals last season, fears about his fitness did not influence the deal. It was driven by the France international's desire to quit a club that is increasingly in turmoil.
Wenger will honour the remaining 12 months of his contract but he is likely to feel under strain with the burden that has been placed on his shoulders. The uncertainty surrounding his own future is likely to hamper attempts to purchase the "super-class" signings he is seeking to attract to the Emirates.
Central to the Henry transaction was Darren Dein, the son of Arsenal's departed vice-chairman David Dein and Henry's commercial lawyer, who was best man at the striker's wedding. Henry had repeatedly stated his frustration at the enforced exit of Dein Sr, which has left Wenger without his strongest strategic ally in the boardroom.
That will be a concern to Arsenal fans, whose club have now been left with only two senior strikers. Henry joins Jérémie Aliadière and Julio Baptista in departing north London this summer. Though the sales of the two Frenchmen and the likely departure of José Antonio Reyes will pull in around £25m, the Gunners are not in a strong recruitment position.
With the Champions League winners Milan, the runners-up Liverpool and the Premiership title-holders Manchester United looking for strikers, Arsenal will now also be vying for two star names.
Though the Arsenal manager had sought to negotiate for Barcelona's forward Samuel Eto'o to swap clubs with Henry, the Cameroon international's latest position is that he would prefer to remain in Catalonia. He is known to vacillate, but the apparent finality of yesterday's cash deal suggests Eto'o will not be seen in an Arsenal shirt during the coming season.
Sources point instead to some of Arsenal's transfer funds being directed towards Newcastle, where the contracts of both Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins have release clauses. The England striker's is for £9m whereas that in Martins's contract is for £13m.
Wenger will also seek to secure more experience for his team, but the effect that Henry's departure will ultimately have on team spirit in north London cannot currently be evaluated.
Cesc Fábregas has previously suggested that he could be destabilised by the Arsenal captain moving away, meaning Wenger faces a battle in keeping even his current team together.
Wenger will honour the remaining 12 months of his contract but he, too, is likely to feel under strain with the burden that has been placed on his shoulders. The uncertainty surrounding his own future is likely to hamper attempts to persuade the "super-class" signings he is seeking to attract to the Emirates.
Last night's development not only muddies the European transfer market, but also robs the Premiership of one of its greats. Henry had a seven-year reign as England's most effective striker.
As the European Golden Boot winner in three successive seasons from 2003-04, a double footballer of the year and players' player of the year, a two-times world-player-of-the-year nominee and a World Cup and European Championship winner, Henry's departure means Arsenal are losing by far their most decorated player.