Henry's chance to fire dreams in Monaco
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“My old man started taking me down the Arsenal when I was a lad,” said the 50-something London cab driver. “And in all the years I’ve been going … no one’s come close to Thierry Henry … He was …. The things he could do …”
The silences and the search for superlatives revealed the ineffable admiration for one of Arsene Wenger’s most successful signings.
Sure, Wenger has proffered other splendours. Nicolas Anelka; Dennis Bergkamp; Robert Pires; Patrick Vieira; Emmanuel Petit to name but a few.
But none of them quickened the pulse quite like Henry. He joined the Gunners for 12.5 million euros from Juventus in 1999 and over eight seasons went on to score 226 times in 370 games.
Another two goals came from seven outings in 2012 while he was on loan from New York Red Bulls. There were a few thunderbolts in the array of wonder goals. But often the ball went past a goalkeeper who looked as if he should have been able to stop it. Of course, the poor sap really didn’t have a chance.
And then the post-strike nonchalance: a nod of the head or a simple trot along the sidelines with the arms open.
During Henry’s second stint in north London, he would have been welcomed at the Emirates Stadium by a bronze statue of his ‘knee slide’ celebration. It was erected in December 2011 in his honour.
Will a statue ever go up for Henry the manager? Monaco, the club where he started his path to glory back in 1994 as a player, offered him the top job on 13 October following the dismissal of Leonardo Jardim.
The 44-year-old Portuguese was shown the door after nine games of a campaign which has yielded only six points. Last season’s runners-up are already 21 points behind pacesetters Paris Saint-Germain.
After landing the title in 2017 and reaching the Uefa Champions League semi-final, Monaco’s business model appeared to be: sell off the top stars and blood promising talents while remaining competitive enough to finish in the Ligue 1 slots for the following season’s Champions League.
It worked a treat for the 2017/2018 season despite the departures of inter alia Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Kylian Mbappé and Bernardo Silva.
But with the sales of Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and Joao Moutinho in the summer of 2018, the plan is in tatters despite 600 million euros in the club coffers from the glut of transfers.
Where Jardim floundered, 41-year-old Henry will have the chance to flourish and create his own vision following two years as assistant to Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez.
“His knowledge of football, his passion for the game, his high standards and his commitment to our colours make his nomination a reality," said Monaco chief executive Vadim Vasilyev.
"Thierry is both aware of the task ahead and eager to start his new job. He can count on our trust and all our support to bring a new dynamic to the team and carry out its mission."
Steering the side away from the relegation zone will be Henry’s first target. Strasbourg, on 20 October, will provide the initial scrutiny of his managerial skills. That will be followed by a game against FC Bruges in the Champions League.
“Thierry Henry has everything needed to become a good manager,” France coach Didier Deschamps told French TV station TF1.
"He's throwing himself into an exciting, exhilarating project where he'll have to take responsibility."
Deschamps, who was skipper of the France sides featuring Henry, also started his managerial career at Monaco. "The first season was very complicated," he recalled of his debut in 2001. “I wish him lots of courage and big success."
The choice of a tyro such as Henry could effectively be the last roll of the dice for Monaco’s executives. There were more experienced coaches on offer and the one who steered them to their recent highs accomplished the feats when the side was packed with talent. Shorn of the treasures, the team has struggled.
Mid table may be best Monaco finds without injections of cash into the squad to compete with the likes of Marseille, Lyon and PSG.
And will an untested Henry be enough of a lure when the glamour and buzz in France is up north? It was a similar scenario in England when Wenger brought Henry to London.
After his arrival though, his was the stuff of legend.