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Thierry Henry’s state of the league: It’s better than you think, Europe

Thierry Henry has many opinions. However, for him, he is almost never having “a go”. That is another well known characteristic about the Frenchman – his love of British idioms.

In a recent interview with ESPN’s Dough Mcintyre, the New York Red Bulls player vocalized his support of Major League Soccer’s level of play and dared his cynical peers from Europe to either experience it first hand or stop talking.

“All I say to a lot of the players in Europe – the people that view the league, the MLS, that it’s an easy league, that you can come here and score goals,” Henry said in the ESPN interview. “[…] I keep on telling them, it’s not that easy.”

Regular soccer/football observers from around the world generally accept that Europe is the pinnacle of the “beautiful game.” South American, and in some quarters, Asian leagues, are viewed as better than MLS.

For Henry the major differences of playing in MLS compared to other leagues is the amount of travel and the number of cities known for high humidity and temperatures.

“One thing that was hard for me was the travel,” Henry said. “[…] playing through the summer, it was brutal.”

The statement came mere days before a football writer from one of England’s most prestigious news sources, the Guardian, made a passing remark, minimizing Henry’s decision to move stateside and the league’s quality in general.

“After effectively ending his career at the age of 33, moving to the New York Red Bulls when Barcelona had no use for him, Thierry Henry has watched his contemporaries continue to be of significance. And this cannot have sat at all right, such that he is now actively seeking to impose his irrelevance upon them, personally pursuing both Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole.”

The writer of the Football transfer rumor column, Daniel Harris, wrote the above comment, probably trying to appease his English Premier League audience. One could hastily make the connection that Henry was reacting to his ignorant opinion, but sadly, the time stamps of the video and article are conflicting to this theory.

The question begs to be asked then: who is Henry addressing in his defense of the league?

Professional athletes constantly go on record saying that they do not read or listen to what is said about them in television, online publications or social media. But Henry is different. He enjoys the spotlight the press holds over him.

Philippe Auclair, the author of “Henry: Lonely at the Top”, called his French subject one of “the most eloquent of interviewees” (Auclair 100). Likewise, Mike Prindiville of Prosoccertalk, said that he came away from his “first time meeting the French legend” with “nothing but good things to say” at the recent MLS media day.

In his biography (which should be known is unauthorized), Auclair gave personal anecdotes from his extended time covering Henry as a journalist for French and English newspapers. He recounted a story about the then Arsenal player phoning him about a negative article and musingly conversing in English despite both men being first-generational French speakers.

“Thierry was referring to a couple of grumpy paragraphs I had written about his performance in Arsenal’s last game, in which, shall we say, he had not been at his best. I hadn’t shied from the fact that Henry had been distinctly sparing in his efforts, and had suggested – as respectfully as I could – that he hadn’t quite earned the right to chide his teammates that night, as he had done on several occasions, striking a variety of familiar poses that hadn’t escaped those playing around him, or those watching him from the stands.” (Auclair 96)

The poses, according to Auclair, included “hands on hips, eyes turned up to the heavens, head shaking this way and back.” Does that sound familiar, Red Bull fans?

Auclair provides fascinating insight into the mind of one of the most visibly competitive players from his perspective as a professional colleague and not a friend. The journalist’s subsequent analysis of Henry’s potential thoughts is just as telling.

“Thierry hadn’t aimed to understand why I had written the words that infuriated him so; and at no point had I felt that he had attempted to ‘connect’ with me as a human being, as he would have if he had screamed abuse at me. He cared a great deal, to be sure. But about what?” (Auclair 96-97)

That is the question of the moment: who or what is he talking about? Is the statement directed at European players in general or only some close friends who belittle his move? The answer, like Henry himself, is a mystery.

The fact he is responding to criticism at all is not unusual, however. From his almost decade-long, intimate observations of a precocious, talented teenager transforming into one of the most feared strikers in the world, Auclair certainly has an expertise about Henry.

In the biography, an almost insatiable fascination with his French subject led the author to dissect, analyze and re-dissect every memory he possessed of Henry’s time on and off the pitch. He gave another insightful elaboration onto why Henry feels the need to defend himself to the media.

“What is certain is that at the heart of this superb player lay a feeling of insecurity that he often found it impossible to disguise, and which he tried to assuage by trying to exercise an ever-growing measure of control over what he said and what was said about him. He battled against it by writing himself into the history books with a single-mindedness, a ferociousness, even, unequaled among his contemporaries, as honors are, to him, incontrovertible proofs of success.” (Auclair 98)

Has he changed since his three (entering his fourth) years living in New York City? For a book to have the subtitle, “Lonely at the top”, clearly Auclair was setting a somber theme. He, himself, noted that Henry is apparently “very, very happy where he is now.”

In typical Henry fashion, the legendary striker denied any ill intentions and brushed off the notion that he is personally attacking anybody or “having a go.”

“I’m not having a go at anyone, but I’m just explaining the league can be hard on the body here,” Henry said. “If you don’t know about the league, don’t talk.”

On second note, maybe Henry hasn’t changed. With his retirement looming, fans in the US should enjoy his unique and feisty persona while they can. He creates a chasm in public-opinion, but he always conjures a quote or two that gets people talking.

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