He abused me in French! – Lehmann reveals how his goading of Henry improved Arsenal
Jens Lehmann says his attempt to get Thierry Henry chasing lost causes in training was not initially well received, but ended up helping his Arsenal team-mates.
Goalkeeper Lehmann joined the Gunners in 2003 and played every match as Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ side made history by winning the Premier League title without losing a single fixture.
In his new autobiography, the former Germany international details how he almost got on the wrong side of Arsenal’s star striker in one of his first training sessions at the club.
Lehmann wrote in an extract exclusive released to Omnisport: “In one of my first training games, I was on a team with Henry, and when he lost the ball once, I did what I still do to this day: get players moving. ‘Hey, Thierry! Go on, pursue the ball, go and get it!’
“Henry, whose extraordinary abilities meant he was already considered England’s real king, lifted his head another few inches and abused me in French. Evidently, I had committed lese-majesty. We Germans ousted the nobility more than eighty years ago, I thought to myself, so now, everyone had better run the same length.
“Subsequently, after each loss of possession, I goaded him further, until even the others took notice and Henry could no longer simply come to a standstill, wondering what sort of idiot was standing in that goal. Eventually, he ran after lost balls – nothing special to me, but apparently a huge step for our colleagues.
“I had not meant to show him up; I merely considered myself a player of a certain status who was in some charge when it came to his team-mates. I was, after all, the only player besides Dennis Bergkamp who had won the UEFA Cup.
“I was ahead of even Thierry in that respect, although, of course, he had won the World Cup and the European Championship, just like Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord. Over time, we developed a very, very good relationship based on mutual appreciation.”
13 years ago today, we signed Jens Lehmannhttps://t.co/HiorDwjTyo
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) July 25, 2016
Lehmann found it difficult when Henry left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2007, claiming there was no one better than the Frenchman during his time in north London.
“I was very upset when he left for Spain, and I was not the only one: really, all of English football was mourning, because he had become a kind of common property. His playing ability, his pace, his goal-scoring abilities and his effectiveness had ennobled the entire league,” Lehmann added.
“At the height of his fame, no one quite dared attack him properly any more – which made him even more dangerous and, it goes without saying, more royal.
“When it came to assessing quality, colleagues were of one mind most of the time. You had the ruthlessly overrated, whom I nicknamed ‘Ball too hard, sun too bright, pitch too dry’, as those were their standard excuses whenever things had not gone well again. Some were even capped by their countries: Thomas Brdaric, for example – master of excuses but no shots, no dribbling, no passing.
“Over the years, I have been lucky to have had the pleasure of playing with a lot of very good footballers, from Olaf Thon to Andi Moller and Lothar Matthaus. In the end, however, it was Henry who impressed me most.
“Not only with his speed and the spectacle he would create on the pitch but with that so very different, intelligent personality of his. To me, Thierry Henry during his Arsenal years was the best player in the world.”
— deCoubertin Books (@deCoubertin) November 9, 2017
Jens Lehmann’s autobiography ‘The Madness is on the Pitch’, published by deCoubertin, is released on November 14. Visit www.decoubertin.co.uk/Lehmann for details.