Harrison, NJ - After months of rumor and speculation and just one day after the announcement was made official, the New York Red Bulls finally introduced their new Designated Player, Thierry Henry.
Media from around the world descended on the team’s recently opened state of the art stadium, Red Bull Arena, and saw him step out onto the pitch for the first time to receive his customary No. 14 shirt from Red Bull Global Soccer chief Dietmar Beiersdorfer, his new Sporting Director Erik Soler, head coach Hans Backe, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber. The five-some then headed inside to talk all things Henry.
Each one addressed the media with statements one-by-one and the general message remained the same; Henry loves New York, he is committed to winning trophies for the club, and it’s a great move for American soccer and the MLS.
Backe, speaking before Henry in the press conference, stressed that Thierry still has the hunger and desire to win. Henry used words like “commitment” and “competitiveness” to emphasize the fact that it is not an extended vacation for him, but merely the next chapter in a career that has been associated with excellence and winning.
But why New York? Couldn’t Thierry’s competitive juices be just as well served by staying in Europe?
Henry admitted that after Barcelona, he was always going to move to the MLS. He cited Claudio Reyna, Youri Djorkaeff, Freddy Ljungberg, and Steve Nash as those he confided in about moving to the Red Bulls, and all give him glowing reports (evidently power-player meetings in soccer work out better for New York than in the NBA). Eventually, it became clear to him that; “coming to New York was the only option for me."
So much so, he admitted telling his handlers; “If anyone else comes after me, I don’t even want to hear about it." To Henry, it had been in his mind for four or five months that he would join New York, which was presumably when Barcelona had begun to give the MLS club permission to begin negotiations with the player who was still under contract until 2011. Indeed, Barcelona received glowing praise from its ex-player, as well as the Red Bull top brass present, for their handling of the transfer.
So what does the future hold in store for the New York Red Bulls and their new superstar?
In the immediate future, Henry will meet his new teammates when he reports for training for the first time on Friday morning and will travel to Columbus this weekend, despite the fact that he is not scheduled to make his debut until next Thursday when New York plays Tottenham Hotspur (sweet, sweet irony) in the Barclays' New York Challenge. Henry admitted in a private interview that he has not yet discussed with Hans what his role on the field will be and how it fit’s into the team’s tactics, but coach Backe did insist that he sees Henry very much as a striker and that is how he will be utilized, presumably, alongside the Red Bulls’ captain and all-time leading scorer, Juan Pablo Angel.
And for the long term? The Red Bulls are currently within striking distance of first place in the East and adding the firepower of Henry will greatly aid their quest for a first MLS title. There are also tantalizing rumors of another star player joining the team.
In the press conference Henry admitted that the perception of the MLS is changing in Europe and many players (“I’m not going to name names” he teased) have expressed interest about joining him in the US. If one of those players were to join him in New York during the transfer window, MLS commissioner Don Garber would surely be rubbing his hands together at the prospect of a New York vs. Los Angeles star-studded championship.
For all the blessings that come with being a New York sports franchise, there is always the competition of nine other major sports franchises competing with you for the fans' entertainment dollar. There’s no denying that there are thousands upon thousands of soccer fans residing in the Metro area who have previously had little interest in attending a MLS game. Will the attraction of a certain frenchman attract them to jump on the PATH train to check one out in person? And will the experience be enough to keep them coming back?
If winning is the biggest reason to sign Thierry Henry, then increased attendance and further globalization of the team and it’s brand is obviously reason number two.
With the excitement surrounding the team right now and the conviction in Thierry’s words at the presser—the New York Red Bulls may very well get both.