Henry is a world famous face
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New York’s sizeable Irish population may vehemently disagree, but Wednesday’s news that Thierry Henry will be playing for the Red Bulls next season is quite a coup for the club, and potentially for MLS as a whole.
While the claim on the club’s official website that “Henry comes in his prime” is patently false - his peak coming seven years ago when Arsenal went the 2003-04 season unbeaten - the Frenchman, at 32, still has much to offer as he begins his career in the USA.
A phenomenon on the pitch, albeit one whose powers have noticeably waned, Henry is a marketing man’s dream off it. Articulate, intelligent and handsome, he is a perfect poster boy for MLS, a definitive signing very much in the David Beckham mould.
But unlike Beckham, you suspect Henry will not be distracted from the task at hand. Given France’s implosion at the World Cup it is possible that Henry’s international cycle has come to an end. There may not be sporadic loan moves back to Europe, interfering with MLS priorities, in an attempt to add to his 51 international goals.
Neither is Henry as committed to the celebrity lifestyle as his new MLS rival. Yes, he is acutely aware of his earning potential and boasts famous friends like San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker, but he has never been subject to accusations that a thirst for fame has got in the way of his football.
If Red Bulls have recruited a fully focused and committed Henry, then they have a formidable asset indeed, even if he is no longer good enough to command a place in the Barca squad.
That much was made painfully evident when, on April 28, Barca were heading out of the Champions League and Pep Guardiola left Henry on the bench against Inter Milan, instead placing his trust in rookie forward Jeffren. It was clear then that Henry had no future in Catalunya.
With Pedro in such promising form across the 2009-10 season, Henry made only 15 league starts for Barcelona, scoring four goals, as he struggled to retain a place in the side. Which player wouldn’t? This was, after all, a team that smashed the previous record when amassing 99 points in La Liga.
But only 12 months ago, Henry was an integral member of the side that won Barca’s first Treble, playing a full part in a formidable three-man attack alongside Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi. That is not so long ago as to be rendered irrelevant.
Yes his “prime” has come and gone, and he may have lost a degree of that electric pace that saw him tear Premier League defences asunder on a regular basis, but Henry remains an accomplished footballer.
Unlike Beckham, he has the capability to conjure up magic of his own accord and does not require talented players around him. A fact that surely means he will be capable of impressive feats in his new league.
A country that once hosted the likes of George Best and Pele, through Carlos Valderrama and Hristo Stoichkov, deserved a modern day superstar worthy of the tag. Beckham was not that man, but Henry may well be.