Thierry Henry: My pre-match rituals

The legendary Arsenal and France striker on the important role music plays in his pre-match preparation

How do you get yourself in the zone before a game?
I try not to think about the game. My only pre-match ritual is listening to music. Music always brings you to a certain moment of your life, so I always listen to zouk music on the coach because it brings me back to my family on the islands. This helped redirect my thinking away from the game. When I arrive in the dressing I put on some DMX or Bone Crusher or Biggie (Notorious BIG) or Tupac to set me off. Music has always been a big part of my pre-match game plan.

How has the use of music in pre-match preparation evolved since you’ve been a pro?

Music was not allowed in the dressing room when I was younger so my only way out was having headphones. We couldn’t play hip-hop music in the dressing room because the senior players would have not been too happy about it. I needed to listen to music so I had to bring my headphones. Music wasn’t even allowed on the coach. We weren’t allowed to talk, smile or laugh because the coach would say, “You won’t play well if you talk.” You had to do your own thing and listen to your own music, to make sure you got in the right mind set.

Off the pitch players are spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, sons, daughters – how does music help transform them into a competitive beast when they’re on the pitch?
It works differently for me because music is always on in my life – whatever I’m doing. When I’m in my house, in the car, out and about. Music takes me back to different places. If I want to go back to when I was young and see myself playing with my dad I know exactly what music to listen to. And I know what music to play to put me in the mood for a game. Music doesn’t dictate whether I’m going to play well, but it puts me into a certain mood – whether that’s to play or to relax. You always remember where you were when you heard a great song or you saw an amazing sporting spectacle. They’re the two things in life that can do that. A song can remind you of an experience you had at school or the day your daughter was born. You will always remember the music. For me I will always remember when France won the European Championships in 1984. I can remember where I was, I can see it clearly in my head. Sport and music have that sensation in common – they always make you go back into the past.

More after the break

Are there any songs you connect to football?
It’s kind of boring and cliché, but I always used to listen to Queen’s song, We Are The Champions. I used to listen to it and think, ‘I’m not’, so the song didn’t talk to me. But then we (France) won the World Cup in 1998 at home and it came on in the stadium I felt I could put my hand up and say, “I am now.” It’s kind of weird, but true. I finally felt like a champion. I’ll always remember winning the World Cup and listening to that song – they’re connected for me.

Can you remember any strange pre-match rituals your team-mates have had over the years?
Music is my way to escape before a game. I respect other players’ rituals, but some of them really believe they’re not going to play well if they don’t do them. They will have performed these rituals before previous matches and had a bad game, but they still stick to them. If you’re always playing well and you’ve never had a bad game then I can understand it, but if you’ve had a bad game – and everyone has them – then why do you think they help you?

If you ever have a bad game do you change your pre-match playlist?

No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change my music because of a bad game. My performance depends on how I feel that day. I put on Bone Crusher to get fired up for the game, but l don’t know if I’m going to play well or not. I know that my mood before a game is, “I’m not scared,” and Bone Crusher helps me get in that mind frame. What I listen to before a game depends on my mood that day.

Why is music so important to you?
It creates a unique togetherness. What else creates that kind of feeling? Concerts and big tournaments, right? Sport and music again. Sometimes you don’t know the guy by your side, but you just hug him because a song was amazing or your team just scored a goal.

Thierry Henry was speaking at the Beats ‘The Game Before The Game’ premiere in London. Get a new pair of Solo2 headphones at

Also see:
Thierry Henry: Finishing at speed
The soundtrack to your season
Rooney: Big match preparation
Micah Richards: My pre-match playlist
Rio: My pre-match playlist
Ben Foster: My pre-match playlist
Music to improve your performance

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