There’s still a trophy for legendary striker Thierry Henry to win in soccer – one for his ‘favourite place’. That’s why he’s gunning for glory with New York Red Bulls, as he explains in the new issue of The Red Bulletin.
It’s a week after France were eliminated from the World Cup in South Africa, and a couple of days after Henry, the French squad’s most experienced player, met with his country’s President to discuss the team’s failure. “I will never tell anyone what we said. It’s between me and him,” says Henry of his time with Nicolas Sarkozy. Here is the footballer who can acquit himself equally at the high table of politics and a crowded studio in UK capital London.
Henry is in front of the camera in London to be photographed for the first time in the kit of his new team, the New York Red Bulls. A red-and-white strip is an Henry motif: he cut his professional teeth wearing one at Monaco, and then spent eight seasons in another at Arsenal, just a short trip through north London from today’s studio set.
'I always said to myself that when it was time for me in Europe, I would go to the MLS, and New York was always my first choice' – Thierry Henry
“It’s nice to be playing in it again. My new kit is a bit more white than red,” he says, with a grin, “but it will do.” He is not a player with superstitions – his only concession to a pre-match routine is a music player stocked with zouk, the upbeat music that originates from the French overseas regions of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies, where, respectively, his father and mother were born – but he has performed especially well in rouge et blanc, and there isn’t a football fan on Earth who doesn’t like a good omen.
Nor is there a football fan on Earth unfamiliar with Henry, long before his mishandling of an assist while playing for France against the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup play-off game last November, an instinctive act for which he apologised with some humility and no less remorse. He has been a multiple champion of the top leagues in England, France and Spain, won the European Cup with Barcelona during their incredible six- trophy season of 2008-09, and won the World Cup and European Championship with France. All told, for clubs and country, he has scored 357 goals in 774 games, with the best part of 200 assists. It is his ability to create as well as score prolifically, and do so at pace against the best defences of the past 15 years, that has made him one of the greatest players of his generation.
Away from the pitch, there is endorsement and charity work typical of a leading sportsman, but there aren’t many of his ilk who helped a word into the Oxford English Dictionary, as Henry did in 2004. ‘Va-va-voom’, said to have originated in the US in the 1950s in describing a revving car engine, became common parlance after Henry used it in a series of TV commercials for the Renault Clio. To mark the car’s 20th anniversary this year, an advert was shown featuring a model of the latest Clio, motionless in a studio, accompanied by a simple voiceover of “’Appy birthday Clio” spoken in soft, Frenchified English. New words, but the recognition was immediate.
Now, about to turn 33 and with nothing to prove, Henry’s move to the Red Bulls and Major League Soccer could be seen by some as a nice and steady way to see out the last couple of years of a glittering career. There would be few people (outside Dublin) who would begrudge him that, but second best isn’t something he’s about to make first choice.
“I want to win,” says the Frenchman. “Representing New York is something I have always had in the back of my mind. Obviously, I’m not skilful enough to play basketball for the Knicks, so I’ll stick to what I know and play football. I always said to myself that when it was time for me in Europe, I would go to the MLS, and New York was always my first choice, definitely.”
Read more of this interview with Henry in the latest issue of The Red Bulletin, which you can download here
You can also juggle the stats of Henry’s remarkable career in this Lucky Numbers feature