Henry another sign Red Bull is getting it right

By Ridge Mahoney

In the next few days there will be all manner of comparisons regarding the signing of French striker Thierry Henry, whose tenure with MLS and New York Red Bull officially began Wednesday.

Henry is the most recognizable player signed by MLS since David Beckham came aboard in 2007, and for all the camera time and Web traffic and chat-show appearances and jersey sales generated by Beckham's arrival, his soccer impact has been only slight more than squat.

Henry turns 33 next month and if not too enamored of New York hot spots and visits to the Garden for NBA games, he will be a key contributor, if not a dominant superstar, for a team and a franchise that may finally be getting it right not only with using the Designated Player option, but in simply running a viable operation.

While members of a large Irish-American community may only trek out to Red Bull Arena to taunt and abuse the man whose handball-created goal knocked Ireland out of World Cup contention, Henry can draw fans on name recognition and impressive accomplishments. Premier League titles with Arsenal, Champions League and La Liga crowns with Barcelona, and a 1998 World Cup win with France are among his credentials.

He speaks Spanish as well as French and English, and has been an outspoken critic of racism in sports.

Think of all the big names unable to take a bite out of the Big Apple. From Lothar Matthaeus and Sasa Curcic and Sergio Galvan Rey and Youri Djorkaeff to Carlos Alberto Parreira and Bora Milutinovic and Carlos Queiroz and Eddie Firmani and Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley (whew!), there’s seldom, if ever, been the right mix of leadership, structure, direction, and chutzpah. If there was too much, at times, of the latter – we’re talking to you, Marc De Grandpre – there wasn’t nearly enough of the other elements.

Not all of those men failed, per se, but their operations didn’t operate, dysfunction overrode function, and after months or years of blindly blundering about, the franchise usually wound up more or less in the same place: mediocre on the field, and royally messed up everywhere else.

In the last eight months, Red Bull seems to have reversed direction. Last December, it hired managing director Erik Soler, and he snapped up Swede Hans Backe to coach the team a month later. Aided by assistant coach Richie Williams and the staff, Red Bull picked one of the league’s top rookies, defender Tim Ream, in the SuperDraft, and has assembled a team that is proving hard to beat.

After winning just five games last year, the Red Bulls are 8-5-2. They are still in pursuit of a third Designated Player, supposedly Mexican international Rafael Marquez, who – like Henry – would arrive from Barcelona. Whether or not that deal comes to fruition, by signing Henry New York has broken through a post-World Cup media malaise that should pay off in many ways.

The poaching, penalty-area presence of Juan Pablo Angel melded with Henry’s savvy and mobility should form a partnership among the most potent in MLS. As New York’s second DP, he will cost the team $335,000 against the per-team salary cap of $2.55 million. (Angel, as first DP, is a $415,000 salary-budget charge, in league parlance.)

In MLS terms, that’s a lot of money for a front line. Yet it will be money very wisely spent if Henry can produce even a good dose of his top game.

“He will play as the highest striker,” Backe said to “And we know he’s very, very mobile. That means he would probably be on both the left- and right-hand sides. That’s one of his favorite positions to start the attacking game, but he will definitely play as a striker.”

Henry will do a press conference and various chat shows on Thursday, the day the domestic registration period opens and he is officially eligible to play. He isn’t expected to see the field when New York plays at Columbus Saturday in a matchup of the top two Eastern Conference teams. His debut is projected for next week, when Red Bull hosts the New York Football Challenge.

Next Thursday the Red Bulls face touring English club Tottenham Hotspur – a fierce rival of Arsenal – and three days later they play another foe of Henry’s Premier League days, Manchester City.

8 comments about "Henry another sign Red Bull is getting it right".
  1. Christopher Holden, July 14, 2010 at 6:30 p.m.

    As much as I feel the signing of Thierry Henry is a publicity stunt bring him on -- for $335,000 that's a steal in today's marketplace. Perhaps he will reveal what really happened in the World Cup with team France and how they managed to implode right in front of the world wide press. Good luck Mr Henry.

  2. Karl Schreiber, July 14, 2010 at 7:08 p.m.

    All this (hiring of Thierry Henry), just like the Beckham thing with L.A., is reminiscent of the hiring of big-name over-the-hill players by the NY Cosmos years ago. That eventually led to more hirings by other clubs without any substantial benefits and the eventual sinking of the NASL, in my opinion. Is anybody in MLS and perhaps USSF revisiting the lessons learned???

  3. James Williams, July 14, 2010 at 9:08 p.m.

    still not sure how getting the on-his-last-legs King of Cheat is a sign of "getting it right". While other leagues invest in young players and groom them, the MLS is proud of getting players in the twilight of their careers to come play---as if it's flattering that those players would condescend to the MLS. Backham's spent more time and energy in Milan for a reason....what could that reason be????

  4. Terence Chu, July 14, 2010 at 9:19 p.m.

    Agree with Ric. The NASL days are over and it would be naive to think that MLS heads are in position to bankrupt the league by bringing over aging superstars. Most of the salaries of these big names are paid by the corporations that own the teams (in this case, Red Bull), and are in no danger of being in the red by paying for a few million a year. Thats why MLS teams who cant afford these big names arent bringing them in.

    This is an awesome move in my opinion and I cannot wait to see Henry play in person.

  5. Karl Schreiber, July 14, 2010 at 10:05 p.m.

    I dislike being labeled naive or as living in the past (Ric, Terence). I am occasionally re-visiting the past, our struggles and joyful energy spent on the development of youth soccer. I am enjoying the present - with so many youth playing and playing well, with coaching courses and educational material readily available etc and many of our pro level player establishing themselves in our leagues and abroad. I still believe it is good and well-established practice in any BUSINESS reviewing lessons learned, what worked and what did not - even or especially in soccer.
    And: I truly believe some of the soccer players who came to the U.S. integrated well in society and in our soccer communities and they deserve our gratitude.

  6. Par Isacson, July 15, 2010 at 2:57 a.m.

    Backe is Swedish mind you, not Norwegian. Backe in Swedish means hill. He got off to a good start when he coached my team AIK in Stockholm, Sweden, in the mid-90s, but then things turned to the worse why the expression "Backe upp och Backe ner" was coined -- "up the hill down the hill".

  7. Terence Chu, July 15, 2010 at 2:34 p.m.

    Karl, I didnt mean to label you anything or offend you, but regarding that particular comment you made I still stand by my opinion. Its well documented that Don Garber and the owners of the leagues teams have researched the downfall of the NASL (hence the single entity league structure and the way player contracts are managed) and are working to avoid a repeat of that. As I said, Red Bull Corporation are the ones making the investment in all these high-salary players, not RBNY itself. Just like AEG footed Beckhams salary, not the Galaxy.
    I 100% agree with the fact that we need to focus on developing players in the US through team academies (which is slowly happening right now), but the teams themselves are paying for these and they need the revenue increases to help sustain the academies. This is where the big name players like Henry come in.
    Any well-run business can also learn from the mistakes of the past and avoiding those mistakes yet still reaching high. I think MLS is doing very well with what theyre trying to acheive.

  8. ibrahim shuriye, October 15, 2010 at 11:40 a.m.

    signing thiery henry is good, because new york red bulls needed such good striker like henry.

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