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August 7, 2014 at 9:00 AM

All-Star Week: Thierry Henry in winter

Wednesday night was the first time I’ve ever watched Thierry Henry play live, so I don’t have much of a basis for comparison.

I’ve seen the videos of his youth, his galloping at terrified defenders in a baggy Arsenal jersey, dropping hat tricks like it was nothing. Young Henry may have occupied a different universe than veteran Henry.

But there’s something about iconic soccer players nearing the end, the ones that manage to cling to enough of what they once had to stave off the looming specter of what they don’t any longer.

The first time I saw Andrea Pirlo play live, it was in the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine, versus England in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012.

Kickoff was late, serious-night-owl late, to accommodate for primetime in Western Europe. Scoring opportunities were rare at either end. That combination lowered the volume, even in the English section.

I remember it as a librarian hush, but that’s probably been exaggerated over time. A hush settling beneath the vaulted roof just feels appropriate.

The whole field tilted on Pirlo’s axis. Every meaningful play ran through him. He famously completed more passes than the entire English team that night, and it felt like he’d completed even more than that.

Pirlo’s penalty-shootout chip was the highlight, the YouTube clip everybody remembers. The preceding 120 minutes have stuck with me longer.

Wednesday night was different, obviously. It was in an exhibition game, for one, a friendly of questionable value. Henry didn’t dominate play nearly as thoroughly as Pirlo did against England. Henry was subbed out after barely half the match – he didn’t even win MVP, for goodness sake.

But it was the first time since that quarterfinal that I felt my attention being so commanded by a single player.

There were flashpoints – the curler from near midfield, the juggle-and-volley that made half the press box involuntarily cover their mouths with their hands in a collective gasp. There were also the run-of-the-mill plays that turned into something more at his aging feet.

“Even when he doesn’t run, he knows where to put the ball,” Obafemi Martins put it afterward.

An added flick here, a no-look pass there. The angles that few else in the stadium saw, even from the cheap(er) seats — an old master, reveling in his ability to still pull off some old tricks.

Henry has been coy about the possibility of this being his final season, but there was a sense of farewell in the ovation that greeted his second-half substitution Wednesday night.

“I’d hate to see it,” Maurice Edu said. “I’m an Arsenal fan. I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember. It was great to be on the same pitch is him, to have him on my team, a guy that I looked up to as a kid.”

Catch him live before it’s too late. If you’re lucky, it’ll be on a night like Wednesday, when that old magic transformed an exhibition into something more.

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