Henri Lansbury is one of football’s shape-shifters. Lauded as a teenager by Arsenal and England fans alike, a frustrating period on the road saw him morph from Gunner to Iron, Hornet, Canary and Hammer in the space of just four seasons. Now, though, the 24-year-old is making a home for himself in the East Midlands. And in this, the club’s 150th year, Nottingham Forest’s talismanic playmaker is ready to help the Reds launch a new assault on the Premier League.
By Josh Wilson
Photography Iain Anderson
This article is taken from Issue 8 of The Green Soccer Journal, Winter 2015. Now available to pre-order from our online store.
In a way, I feel like you should be sat where I am; one of the last videos I saw of you was the interview you did with Frankie Fielding [as part of the FA’s video blog from the 2011 Under-21 European Championship]. It wasn’t bad at all.
I didn’t know it was that hard to interview someone! I had all my questions ready and then when it came to ask a question I was like… [Pauses, wide-eyed]. The pressure was on.
You were also in charge of the written blog from the championships that summer as well. How was that?
It was interesting to see how the other side works, if you know what I mean; what people are thinking, what people want. […] It was just a way to pass a bit of time as well while I was away.
How was that tournament for you as a whole?
Well, it’s just one of those things [England were knocked out in the group stages after losing one and drawing two of their three matches]. We had a great team but couldn’t win enough games – it’s up-and-down, but it’s partly our fault because we haven’t turned up… But the England team as a whole is a great bunch of lads, which always helps. […] We had Danny Welbeck, [Jordan] Henderson, Studger [Daniel Sturridge], [Kieran] Gibbs, and we should have done better.
Do you still keep in touch with a lot of those guys?
A few of them, yeah: Welbz, and Gibbo I’m quite good mates with.
I’ve seen a few pictures of you and Kieran’s brother, actually.
Yeah, me and his brother… We used to be trouble, wingmen for each other, that type of thing [laughing]. He’s a good player, he’s doing well at Aldershot now and enjoying himself. It’s a shame, actually, because if they hadn’t lost to Rochdale [on 16th December, 2014] we’d have been playing them in the FA Cup – I would’ve quite liked to lay one on him.
Do you see him quite a lot then?
Yeah, well, I see him just about every week, really, when I go home. I stay at their [the Gibbs’] house when I go back. […] It’s always nice to go back to London; there’s so much to do.
“Forest and Derby is a massive derby […] The game goes at a hundred miles per hour, and if you don’t kick someone, they’ll be on you.”
Do you feel like if you hadn’t been out causing trouble, things might have worked out at Arsenal?
Possibly, yeah, but I think you’ve got to enjoy your life. You always need a release from your work, but you never know – it might have, it might not have. But I’m here now, and I’m happy at Forest. There’s a great set-up here.
[Sighs] I don’t know, it’s been a bit of an adventure, really: going out on loan so many times; getting a couple of promotions. It’s not a bad career to have at 24.
How are you feeling now, then? It’s the longest spell you’ve had in any one place, I suppose.
Yeah, I had a chat with Arsène [Wenger] and said, ‘Look, I want to be able to go somewhere and settle down, rather than going out on loan’, and he did say, ‘I want you around’, but also that he couldn’t guarantee that I’d be playing every week. When I was out on loan, I was playing every week, and I think, for a young lad playing football, you have to be playing every week and you’ve got to want to play. It was just the right chance to move away, to come here and play – it’s like a home now here for me.
So no regrets from your time at Arsenal?
No, not at all. I can’t complain, really; when I played, I did well for him [Wenger]. I scored on my debut, but if you look at how many good players are there, for me, to even be able to train with them is an honour. But you’ve got to take a different route in life; this is my path now, so I look forward to this one.
And how are you finding Nottingham?
I like it, to be fair. I live out in the countryside with my dogs, and it’s quite nice to get away from everyone back down south. It’s nice to break it up a bit and head down now and again, but up here it’s good. It’s got everything you want – nice restaurants, a great city – so, yeah, I like it.
And the people?
They’re brilliant up here. They’re friendly; it’s a good place to come. My mates love coming up here; they’d rather come up here than go out in London, so I think that says quite a lot.
How much of a sense do you get of the history of the club?
Obviously the club’s got a great reputation, but even the town has a great history, too, with Robin Hood and his Merry Men. I actually had a friend over from America and he was telling me about these trips and pubs to go to – we went to one of the oldest pubs in Nottingham, which I didn’t have a clue about. We went on a little tour round Nottingham to all the pubs – it was nice, and I think it’s good when you can come up with other things to do. Nobody likes to just train and go home, which is why I like to take the dogs out – I should’ve brought them down today, actually!
You should have. How many have you got?
I’ve got two; a Doberman and a Presa Canario [smiling]. I’ve had them for about two years, now – they’re like my little kids. I didn’t realise how much work it’d be! […] Eight o’ clock, I have to get up, because they’re scratching at the door. But it’s perfect, where I live. I live on a farm, so I’m just surrounded by fields, which is perfect.
[Pauses] Actually, maybe I shouldn’t have brought them in – they might have left a little something on the pitch [laughing].
You’ve been reunited with [former England under-21s Assistant Coach] Steve Wigley since his move to join Stuart Pearce. How’s that been?
He’s a great coach, and I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s helped me out a lot, going through England and now, being here, it’s nice to meet up with him again. A few of the lads have had him at Southampton, and yeah, he’s a top coach.
And how about Stuart Pearce?
Well, like Steve, I know him well from the under-21s. Obviously he’s a legend here, and we’re having a bit of a tough time at the minute, but that’s the way football goes. We’ve just got to try and grind out a result and hope for the best.
“My mates love coming up here; they’d rather come up here than go out in London, so I think that says quite a lot.”
You’ve played in some pretty big derby matches in your time, but how does the rivalry between Forest and Derby County compare?
Yeah, well I scored in the North London derby on my debut – you can drop that in there if you want [laughing]. At White Hart Lane, as well…
That’s right. Wasn’t it a tap-in?
Yeah, something like that! I think you’ll find it was after a 40-yard run… No, that was a great feeling. All my cousins are Spurs fans – the whole other side of my family are, as well as most of my mates – and the goal that I scored, my cousin was sat right behind the goal. He said on the day that he knew I was going to score, so it was quite lucky.
Forest and Derby is a massive derby, to be fair. The fans, home and away, are crazy, and the atmosphere is unbelievable; the game goes at a hundred miles per hour, and if you don’t kick someone, they’ll be on you. It’s really physical – someone always ends up getting sent off. For me, though, I get on alright with the referees.
By ‘get on alright’, do you mean that you’re in their ear for the full 90 minutes?
I just think that, where a lot of the referees haven’t actually played the game, some of the players get frustrated. Not necessarily at the referee, but at themselves, and they end up having a go at somebody else.
How about you? Are you particularly hard on yourself?
Yeah, definitely. At the moment I’m going through a bit of a tough time; I’m not playing very well and the team haven’t been playing very well, so it’s about getting some confidence. You’ve just got to keep going and say, ‘Whatever’.
I’ve always been that way, though. I set goals for myself at the beginning of the season now – how many goals you want to score, things like that – and I think that’s the way it’s got to be if you want to play at the highest level. […] It’s horrible losing, I hate it, but on the other side you still have to live your life; you can’t go away and beat yourself up, because that’ll go into next week. You’ve just got to let it go.
Is the mental side of your game something you work on a lot?
I’ve started to, yeah, but I think that’s why I’ve been struggling for form, because I’ve been talking to a mentalist [laughing]. Overthinking is a massive thing, so you’ve just got to let it go and enjoy yourself.
It seems strange to be saying it, but, at 24, your experience to this point means that, in some respects, you’re already a seasoned pro. Do you find that the guys are looking to you in the dressing room?
[Almost spits out his tea] No way! Not a chance! […] I do think, though, that we’re quite naive at the moment when it comes to some sides of our game. I’ve played with quite a few experienced players; people like [Kevin] Nolan, who are always round the referee. He’ll get the referee to give him a penalty, when it’s not a penalty. I just think we’re very nice as a team.
And what about you? Do you find there’s often things that you’d like to say, but can’t?
Honestly, if I had freedom of speech on Twitter, I would be a nightmare; I have to delete the app if I have a bad game because I just can’t go on it!