HAVING BEEN ONE OF THE GREATS OF HIS ERA AND WORKED AS ROBERTO MARTINEZ’S ASSISTANT WITH BELGIUM, THIERRY HENRY IS NOW IN CHARGE OF MONACO. BILLY WILKINSON LOOKS AT THE DIFFICULT START HE’S ENDURED…
Areturn to his boyhood club to begin his coaching career was meant to be a football romantic’s dream. However, it hasn’t worked out that way for Monaco’s new Coach, Thierry Henry, as he finds managerial life tougher than he possibly imagined.
It’s easy to envision great players becoming great Coaches. After all, an extensive knowledge and feel for the game is surely transferable whether you’re playing on the pitch or watching it all unfold before you. But that’s not always the case, and some of the most celebrated players in the sport’s history have struggled when taking to the dugout.
Former Coach Leonardo Jardim had left Monaco languishing in 18th place, before Henry, who played in the Principality between 1994 and 1999, took over in MIDOCTOBER. After his arrival, Monaco dipped down to 19th and crashed out of the Champions League. Along the way they lost seven of his first 10 games, drew two and won only one in the League. And some of those losses were eye-watering, including a 4-0 home drubbing to Club Bruges and defeats to Paris Saint-Germain in back-toback games.
To understand how Henry got to this point, it’s important to take a look back at his overall career. There are not many players who have a better footballing CV than the three-time Premier League winner, and that’s not even including the managers he played under.
Henry came through the club’s youth academy, and made 105 appearances before leaving for Juventus. He was initially blooded by Arsene Wenger after a spell at the national academy, the much-vaunted
Clairefontaine. Having impressed in Ligue 1, largely on the left wing, the Old Lady made their move and Henry found himself playing under Carlo Ancelotti next.
The torrid time Henry experienced in Turin has been well-documented. He lasted only six months in Serie A, and it wasn’t due to a lack of playing time that he was so unhappy. Henry featured 16 times for the Turin club, but only scored three goals. Juve paid £11m for Henry and were eager to recoup their outlay, allowing Henry to head to Arsenal for a reunion with Wenger.
Despite struggling to adjust to the English game and a dip in his confidence from his days in Turin, Henry still finished the 199900 season with a mightily impressive 17 goals in 31 games. After being separated for five seasons, Wenger had clearly decided it was time to transform his young winger into the striker he’d always envisioned him to be. Rather famously, the transition from winger to striker proved to be a masterclass for both parties. During his time with the Gunners, Henry scored 174 goals in 254 goals to become the club’s all-time leading goalscorer. Particular highlights include scoring 24 goals and assisting a further 20
during the 2002-03 Premier League season, while the following season he scored 30 goals in 37 games to help the club to an undefeated Premier League campaign. However, whilst paying off the debts that had been accumulated by building the Emirates Stadium, Wenger had adopted a policy of selling his key players once they reached the age of 30, or just before if he was sensing they were beginning to decline. Despite his record, Henry was no exception. After the 2006-07 campaign, in which he only featured in 17 games, Arsenal’s best ever player was snapped up by Catalan giants Barcelona to help the Pep Guardiola revolution. Under Guardiola, Henry became part of arguably the greatest club side ever, Total Football reincarnated, as Guardiola’s Barcelona dazzled and blew away everyone before them.
The trophies continued. After two Premier League titles at Arsenal, as well as two FA Cups and a Champions League runnersup medal, Henry won two La Liga titles, the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, proving to be a crucial part of Barca’s global domination, and being exposed to the brilliant ideas and methods of Guardiola.
Henry wound down at New York Red Bulls, scoring more than 50 goals in fewer than 150 appearances, before hanging up his boots in December 2014. Almost four years later, after working briefly with the Arsenal youth team, appearing as a television pundit and assisting Roberto Martinez with Belgium, he was ready to take the plunge into management.
Few players have had the schooling of Henry, working under Wenger, Ancelotti and Guardiola. In his opening Press conference, Henry insisted he wouldn’t follow the exact path of any of his managers, instead aiming to merge a combination of their ideas into the Thierry Henry way. Perhaps that’s where he’s gone wrong. Each of his teachers ploughed their own furrow — borrowing from one or all of them is likely to lead to a confused approach.
There’s still time for Henry to turn things around at Monaco. It’s not all doom and gloom, either. A playing career spent at the top level is also a shortcut to managing at the top level. If it doesn’t work out at Monaco, Henry’s reputation and his easy charm will ensure he gets further
opportunities, for better or worse.
It’s also easy to forget that Henry’s only
41. When he was announced as Jardim’s successor there were a number of onlookers who felt it was too early for Henry — that maybe he should have cut his teeth elsewhere first — and with hindsight, it’s hard to disagree with them. But maybe Henry’s competitiveness and confidence came into play. He backed himself to succeed, and still might, but it’s been a nightmare start.
Henry can take solace from the fact that some of the game’s greatest managers have had their share of rocky patches. Ancelotti, one of the most decorated Coaches in history, was sacked by Juventus two years after Henry left the club, while Wenger was hounded out of Arsenal. If Henry doesn’t last the course at Monaco, it won’t be the end for him. It would be step back, for sure, but if he learns from the experience then in the long run, it’d be two steps forward.
His big name might have played a part in getting the Monaco job but Henry can’t be accused of taking an easy first post. Jardim won the title ahead of the financial might of PSG in 2016-17, at the helm of a thrilling young side that also reached the last four of the Champions League. Since then, though, the squad has been gutted, Monaco unable to replace the talent lost at nearly the same rate.
Kylian Mbappe, Tiemoue Bakayoko,
Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho and Joao Moutinho were all sold after the 2017 success. Jardim didn’t even get a chance to develop the replacements, sacked after winning only one of Monaco’s first nine Ligue 1 fixtures in 2018-19. From title winners little more than a year ago, Monaco are firmly in a relegation battle.
So Henry finds himself having to fight fires in his first position as a Coach. It may prove to be too big a job, even if it’s easy to see why he took it — a return to his first club, with the emotional capital that brings, in the top flight of a major European League. It’s also clear why Monaco made the appointment — a big name to revitalise the club, inspire the players who, to a man, would have looked up to Henry as he was winning titles at major clubs. It could still prove to be a match made in heaven, but there’s a lot of work still to do.
‘Thierry Henry lost seven of his first 10 games, drew two and won only one in the League’ ABOVE:Thierry Henry started his playing career at Monaco and returned to begin life as a CoachBOTTOM LEFT:What will a rough start at Monaco mean for Henry’s future on the bench?
ABOVE:Henry's time at Belgium was a great prelude.BOTTOM:President Vadim Vasilyev with Henry
‘Few players have had the schooling of Henry, working under Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola’ ABOVE & BOTTOM: Arsene Wenger gave Henry his debut and moulded him into one of the world’s greatest forwardsTOP (OPPOSITE PAGE):Henry also played under Pep Guardiola, part of the all-conquering Barcelona sideBOTTOM RIGHT: Henry isn’t the only great of the past decade to enter coaching — Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have done the same
No one can forget the Henry's time at New York.