High-profile international players coming to MLS have a certain stereotype associated with them. The thought is he’s advanced in his career and looking for one final pay day before hanging up the cleats.
Such has not been the case with Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry who, despite battling injuries, is tied for fourth in MLS with nine goals this season.
“I’ve been involved 33, 34 years with high profile players before but that guy knows everything — the other players, the other teams — everything. He cares,” Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said. “It is very unusual to have a player at that level that has won everything and still cares and knows everything [and] is hungry to win. It is not common.”
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Henry came to MLS with a pedigree unlike any ever seen in the league. He won a World Cup in 1998 and was France’s Player of the Year five times. When he came to MLS in summer 2010, he eschewed offers from top European clubs to come to New York, a city he had long been fascinated with.
It would’ve been easy for the 34-year-old striker to rest on his laurels and still likely succeed in MLS, but ask any of his teammates and they will be happy to talk about his work ethic.
“It was more difficult for me in the very beginning when I didn’t know the teams. Now let’s be honest, I have been here for two years; you don’t have to tell me how some teams play and how good the players are and what they do,” Henry said. “By now, you should know how most of the teams should play.”
In fact, he might know more than most of the coaches in MLS.
He watches games when he’s at home, analyzing the other teams and watching for tendencies. When he’s on the field with his teammates, he brings that same eye for detail in their training sessions.
Henry has a memory that is sharp and long, something that is an advantage in his second full season in MLS.
Nothing gets by Henry. Just ask Red Bulls midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli, who played Henry’s Arsenal in the Champions League several years ago. Solli played right back that game and Henry remembered it in detail.
“Thierry, he challenged me in the second half and I went into his body and he dropped down a little bit and he went into my elbow. We had a little bit of a fight — a verbal fight. I quickly apologized because of the respect I have for him,” Solli says.
“I then got the ball played to me from our goalkeeper and I look up and there was Thierry, coming at me and I was sure he was going to kill me, but I played the ball back so fast to my defenders to get rid of it.”
Solli laughs for a minute before continuing.
“When I came to the team last year, he said he remembered that and he remembers the elbow too.”
Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for much more on the team, including live coverage from practices.