Assessing Who the Better Player Was



Both look as baffled as we are. | GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

In the era of social media fandom, point scoring is as important as actual points. If you can find an avenue to place ‘my striker’ ahead of ‘your striker’ in whatever way feasible, then get those fingers ready, because furious typing will commence.

Football tribalism runs through our veins. It’s unavoidable. Some know how to temper it, others less so, but one can’t distance themselves from the adoration they have for their beloved football club. The same applies to their players.

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The most recent instalment of ‘my dad would beat up your dad’ comes in the form of two legendary Premier League strikers. A pair who, for their own respective clubs, sewed themselves into the very fabric of their institutions, and won a place in the hearts of their beloved fans forever.

We have Arsenal’s Thierry Henry and Chelsea’s Didier Drogba next up on the conveyor belt of controversy, with both sides of this debate posing their arguments as to why one is/was better than the other.

Since no conclusion has been made, it’s fallen on 90min’s shoulders to settle matters once and for all. Well, partially, anyway.

Henry is Arsenal's all-time record goalscorerHenry is Arsenal’s all-time record goalscorer | Ben Radford/Getty Images

We can look at this from a few angles (the outcome is the same regardless), but let us start with the overall figures. Throughout their entire club careers, Drogba scored 297 goals in 679 outings; Henry hit 360 in 792. Overall, that leaves the Ivorian with 0.43 goals every game, with Henry slightly ahead on 0.45.

Pretty close, right? No doubt. Moving onto the Premier League alone, however (which is all we really care about) it’s the Frenchman who leads the way considerably with 0.61 goals every game compared to the Ivorian’s 0.46.

In Henry’s eight seasons with Arsenal, he only netted fewer than 22 in all competitions on one occasion, his final campaign with the club where he was partially sidelined through injury. Still, he netted ten in 17 matches. Drogba, on the other hand, scored more than 16 goals in all competitions in only three of his eight seasons (discounting his second spell). Henry’s four Premier League Golden Boot awards double Drogba’s tally, too.

It’s fair to say, this is Thierry Henry’s victory.

Chelsea's Ivorian forward Didier Drogba Drogba’s header in the Champions League final is worthy of winning this category alone | ODD ANDERSEN/Getty Images

This one falls kindly into the lap (forehead) of one of these strikers, who was a fierce competitor in the air, in both boxes.

For Drogba, heading was second nature. His aggressive style of play transferred into his aerial prowess, where he was just as capable of a well placed flick as he was spring-like bullet into the top corner. His total of 50 headed goals more than doubles Henry’s 22.

It really passes by without any debate that Didier Drogba was better in the air. 1-1.

Arsenal's Captain Frecnh Thierry Henry (Henry’s 20 assists in a single Premier League season still remains unbeaten | JOHN D MCHUGH/Getty Images

One of these two was an out-and-out centre forward, the other content with drifting out wide and running the channels where his blistering pace could come to the fore. For Drogba, his creative style centered around his hold-up play, boasting the more imposing frame compared to his French counterpart.

He could bring others into play, bide his time with the ball and push the rest his team forward. He wasn’t, however, on Henry’s level. That is not disputing Drogba’s creativity. At all. The Ivorian amassed 124 assists throughout his career, 63 of which coming in his 254 Premier League outings.

Henry offered more variation in his play, though. His 166 career assists saw 77 come in English football, just ahead of Drogba, but he had the potential to score from anywhere on the pitch, unlock the tightest of defences or feed a teammate with a pass few saw coming.

The Frenchman still holds the record for the most assists in a single English top flight season (20), a feat he shares with Kevin De Bruyne as of last season.

Both exceptional team players, but Thierry Henry takes this one.

Bayern Munich's German goalkeeper ManuelHe fancied cup finals, did Drogba. | JOHN MACDOUGALL/Getty Images

This is what sparks the entire debate.

Drogba, makes no bones about it, was a man for the BIG occasion. FA Cup final, huge league clash, Carabao Cup final, Champions League final, you name it, he scored in it.

Henry, did not. He didn’t score in a cup final, and the doubters of this world get on his back for missing that chance against Barcelona in 2006. Was he influential in such matches? Yes he was, but he didn’t do the all important job of sticking the ball in the back of the net. Which is obviously all that matters.

There is no shying away from how many vital goals Drogba scored. It’s fact. Does that make Henry a bad footballer? Of course not. Does that make Drogba a good footballer? It sure helps.

Didier Drogba all day long.

Both players were quite spectacular footballers. Drogba won 15 trophies for his troubles, Henry 16. The least they deserve for what they brought to the sport as a whole.

Thierry HenryThierry Henry. The best player ever to grace the Premier League | Clive Mason/Getty Images

Comparing two greats of the game is just an unfortunate way of praising one of your own. There is no need to belittle someone else so you can flex your own muscles in support of a former, or current, player.

Of course, holding the belief that my player is better than your player doesn’t have to mean the other isn’t good, it’s just the way these things tend to turn out anyway. It’s antagonising for the sake of it.

In this case, everyone is fully aware of what Henry brought to English football when he arrived. No player has ever (foreign or otherwise) left their mark on the Premier League quite like the Frenchman. He’s the greatest player ever to play in the division, which isn’t even mentioning his successes with Barcelona and the French national side.

Then you have Drogba. A thorn in the backsides of everyone he faced, won countless titles for Chelsea almost single-handedly, and struck fear into every single opposition side. No exceptions.

He just wasn’t Thierry Henry. Nobody will be.



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