The last time France staged the elder of the junior UEFA European Championships – in 1996, when it was an Under-18 event – they ended the tournament with the trophy. Their match-winner in the final against Spain, Thierry Henry, has gone on to enjoy a glittering career yet that initial success still holds a special place in his heart, as UEFA.com discovers.
UEFA.com: What are your memories of that tournament?
Thierry Henry: Mainly the good rapport within the team. Those were great times, because afterwards it gets a lot harder. You enjoy it to the full, because it's between a bunch of friends. You want everyone to succeed and to go as far as possible. The members of that squad often look back on that tournament; we were so close. We always talk about those years and always want to relive them. Obviously we won something, but it was more than that – we were a real family.
UEFA.com: Is there anything in particular that sticks out?
Henry: Honestly, with that generation there are so many stories, on and off the pitch. We were talented on the pitch and had a real cohesion off it, but above all it was about being and playing together. We really enjoyed seeing each other and we were sad to leave each other.
UEFA.com: Was that unity the secret of your success?
Henry: You have to have good players, but the squad needs to grow together and not be split because one is playing and another is not. It's very important that there is a real cohesion, and most of all, we were happy to be together. We were genuinely delighted when any individual did well, there was no jealousy. That never created a problem in our generation and that's why we were able to go forward.
UEFA.com: France won the U19 title in Northern Ireland in 2005. How was that squad different from your team?
Henry: We became European champions in France – being at home added that little extra something. People were expecting us to win, they talked a lot about our generation, saying that it was a good one – but as I often say, a good generation is only good if it wins. Of course, we enjoyed being together – it was a wonderful squad and an atmosphere that you can't even imagine. We were at home and we knew we had to win, so there was this little something extra.
UEFA.com: What was it like to experience that as a young player?
Henry: It was the best competition you could take part in for a player our age. We played to qualify for the [FIFA U-20] World Cup and to be European champions. You're playing in France, your family is in the stands, people want to talk to you, and on top of that you go and win the thing. [The whole atmosphere] changes all of a sudden; it was extraordinary for me.
UEFA.com: What importance does a tournament like this play in the development of a young player?
Henry: It's the highest level you can compete at when you are 18 or 19. There's nothing better. You are representing your country and your club. To win it, even to participate, is something extraordinary. It is a great platform for the future.
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