The waiting is over and he has arrived
And now, things will never be the same again.
It was the worst kept secret in the soccer world this past year, but now that the New York Red Bulls have officially announced Thierry Henry joining the team, things for this franchise and this league will never be the same. Henry adds a star quality, a certain cache that the New York franchise has never had. With all due respect to Juan Pablo Angel and players in the past such as Roberto Donadoni, Lothar Matthaus and Youri Djorkaeff – none can compare to Henry on and off the field. This goes for you too, Branco.
And David Beckham? You’re no Thierry Henry.
Henry comes in his prime, a player one year removed from being the catalyst for Barcelona’s dominant run through La Liga and the Champions League. The French international was still desired by a number of top clubs from around the world before making his decision to come to New York official. When he puts on the jersey of the Red Bulls on Thursday afternoon in front of what surely will be a packed media contingent, he will elevate the game in this town to a whole new level.
On the field certainly, but off the field as well.
He may be close to being a household name in this country, a telling sign for a sport that is still very much a niche in America’s sportscape. His endorsement deals have lined him up with sports stars in commercials and his play on the field has earned him the respect of millions. It was Henry, after all, who created a stir with followers of the English Premier League, selling tens of thousands of Arsenal jerseys in this country. His move to Barcelona and subsequent scoring form only elevated his status.
And how, Thierry Henry belongs to us. In his prime no less.
An ambassador of the game, Henry is not saddled with the hype and controversy of Beckham. He is not an enigma, a player who’s off the field antics and celebrity ever having overshadowed his play on the field. Henry has always been one to let his star shine brightest during 90 minutes of sublime play on the field. His signing by the Red Bulls is not just about selling seats – it is about winning this franchise its first ever MLS Cup. Something that Englishman in Los Angeles has never done.
Beckham, you see, has his detractors.
From his fashion to his hair to the shirtless posing, Beckham earned his critics for the business side of his brand. Henry comes with no such baggage. There surely must be a singular critic of him somewhere in the world, notwithstanding Raymond Domenech, but universally, Henry is praised as a teammate and a player. Yes, he is a name, but more importantly, he will score goals.
But the most telling part of his tenure here will be if Henry can lift that MLS Cup at season’s end.
He has a shot to win a title in New York and it won’t be an easy task. You have to go back to 1982 when Giorgio Chinaglia spearheaded the Cosmos to find a New York soccer team lifting a top-flight trophy. The Red Bulls made the MLS Cup in 2008 but played the role of bridesmaid, bowing out to Columbus. Henry’s career might be marked by increased attendance, plenty of media attention and hype and surely a goal or two. But for New York fans, getting that first ever trophy will define his legacy.
The stars are now aligned in New York for that trophy to be brought home.
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs. He can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012