On Bastille Day the New York Red Bulls officially announced French legend Thierry Henry as their new Designated Player.
It may have been one of the worst kept secrets in world football leading up to the announcement, but now it’s official what can we expect from the biggest MLS signing since Mr. Beckham touched down in California in 2007?
Red Bull’s TV analyst Shep Messing stated that the minute Thierry set foot on the field he will instantly become the greatest player in the history of the MLS.
Will he be correct? What can be expected on and off
the field? What will his effect be on his teammates, the franchise, and the league and American soccer in general?
Here are 10 bold predictions for Henry’s first season in MLS.
Thierry, by his own admission is not match fit after having three weeks away from football since the World Cup, so those expecting to be dazzled by his performance against Spurs this week will likely be disappointed.
It is a friendly, which should give him the freedom to try some audacious tricks safe in the knowledge that the result doesn’t really matter.
He will however, probably only have two full training sessions leading up to the game (his first practice on Friday was not full intensity and he is due to spend Tuesday at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT) which will not be sufficient time to get into game shape for his projected 45 minutes.
This is just based on Henry—That number would be even higher if the Red Bulls announced a Hispanic player as it’s 3rd DP (the stadium in Harrison, NJ is in the middle of a huge Portuguese/Brazilian/Mexican community).
Henry himself should be capable of attracting members of New York City’s non-MLS loving soccer crowd to sample a game.
With the leagues constant improvement over the last few years, there is now a better chance than ever that these fans could be pleasantly surprised by the standard of MLS play and become returning patrons.
If there’s one man on the Red Bulls roster who will really benefit from Henry’s arrival, it will be his strike partner Angel.
Juan Pablo is already the 2nd leading scorer in the league and the franchises all time leader in goals, all that despite never really having an elite partner alongside him to shoulder the burden.
Thierry’s presence will no doubt occupy the minds of opposing defenders which could give Angel more space than he’s had during his 3 ½ years in the league so far.
A tendency of Angels' when the team is struggling to keep possession and mount attacks is to drop deep to get hold of the ball, and this of course means that the Red Bull’s best finisher is not in the box where he needs to be.
Henry’s roots as a winger makes him a more suitable player to link midfield and attack leaving Angel to be where he’s at his most dangerous—the opponents’ penalty area attacking service.
Technically he has already done this since moving to New York when he appeared on the Dan Patrick show on Friday.
If you read the Red Bulls Facebook page you will see there are still many Irish fans out there with distain towards Henry and his ‘Hand of Gaul’.
It’s only a matter of time before Thierry is confronted by a member of NYC’s substantial Irish community,or a banner or two gets put up in the stadium.
Then another make-the-peace apology will be needed to ensure certain fans that still hold a grudge are not deserting the team in protest.
Henry said at his welcoming press conference that he has spoken to numerous players who have expressed an interest in joining the MLS.
Now that Thierry is officially here, expect some of them to state it publicly.
Ryan Giggs spoke very positively of MLS last week which prompted several rumors, (Giggs will never leave Man United as a player so, calm down people).
There is also no doubt more will step forward with quotes like “It’s growing into a really good league and I could see myself moving there later in my career.”
Which players wind up making these quotes will be interesting to see.
Hugh Jackman, Jack Nicholson, Steve Nash, Reggie Bush and Lindsey Vonn are among the stars who have attended a Red Bull’s game so far this year.
By adding a star player that transcends the sport, you may see Red Bull Arena popping up in Page 6 quite often between now and the end of the season.
We all know Thierry is good friends with NBA stars Tony Parker and Steve Nash, so we could expect them to be regulars at the stadium (especially if Parkers rumored trade to the Knicks comes to fruition).
Henry’s list of endorsements will likely see him paired up with many other New York sports stars and celebrities who could let their curiosity take a hold of them and venture across the Hudson for a game.
It may not get to the same level as what Beckham attracted in LA, but Red Bulls fans should be prepared to get the zoom in button ready on their cameras in the upcoming weeks.
I’m not sure that this is a ‘bold’ prediction giving Henry’s track record.
There are times where you can see him playing in a game where things weren't going his way until, midway through the second half he picks up the ball beats 6 defenders then back heals it through the keepers legs from 30 yards.
Okay, maybe not that outrageous, but you get the point. And when it does happen, picture Don Garber sitting in his office rubbing his hands with a huge smile on his face.
We did see it with Beckham when he first arrived, no-name players looking to make a name for themselves without actually possessing the talent to do so.
So how else can that be achieved? Kick one of the most famous players in the world, and then people will notice you.
It will probably happen less with Henry than Beckham, but there will be a few occasions this season when we will see number 14 in a pile on the floor and Red Bull management with very worried looks on their faces.
There’s always been a media explosion whenever Becks heads over to NYC for a game. Now you’re combining the most recognizable soccer star in the world with the MLS’s newest global icon? This could get borderline uncomfortable.
You know everyone will want to hear Beckham’s thoughts on Henry, and that the response will be a long list of superlatives and compliments (to the extent of Beckham’s limited vocabulary anyway).
Then Henry will reminisce about their battles on the field in the Premier League, and how great David is and his impact on the sport in America and…..
You get the picture.
Is this really a prediction or just wishful thinking?
Nothing would be greater for the league and the sport in America in general, than this East and West coast match-up for the Championship.
Seeing Henry, Beckham, Angel and Donovan (plus maybe a couple of other stars by then), all on the same field preparing to do battle for the title would not only attract the interest of the national sports media in the States, but across the world as well.
Henry has stressed that he is here just for the football, and that helping his teammates win an MLS Cup is his priority.
The league doesn’t just need superstars, it needs it superstars to win championships. That’s what makes headlines.
That’s what the Red Bulls are hoping to achieve with a player whose whole career is associated with winning.