Henry goes global
Is the French icon coming to MLS? He says eventually
Posted: Monday November 26, 2007 11:42AM; Updated: Monday November 26, 2007 3:20PM
A couple of weeks ago, Pelé, still the greatest player ever to put on cleats, made a ridiculous exaggeration: The American public had supposedly been misled to believe David Beckham was a goal scorer.
Now, if Thierry Henry ever makes good on his claim that he'd like to follow Becks to Major League Soccer some day, there'd be no mistake for Pelé to make: The FC Barcelona forward is a scoring machine.
Henry is merely the all-time leading scorer in Arsenal history. Before departing London for Spain this past summer on a $32 million transfer that shocked Gunners nation to its core, the 30-year-old Frenchman scored 226 goals in all competitions during eight years with Arsenal and had built himself into one of the biggest stars in world soccer.
Now Henry is confronting a whole new set of challenges at Barcelona. Whereas he was the focal point of the Arsenal offense, he's now just one of countless scoring threats for the Blaugrana. And fittingly for a team whose ranks include two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, three-time African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto'o and Argentine megastar Lionel Messi, expectations are huge.
Barça is an enormous favorite to win back the Champions League and Spanish league titles it lost last season, and naturally, there are growing pains for a team with so many big names on its roster. Henry himself is struggling to adapt to a new offense and new league, but he's beginning to find his form as a key component of the most terrifying attack in the world.
Henry recently called me from Madrid and we discussed his adjustments to the Spanish game, what he thinks about his still-undefeated former mates at Arsenal, and his love for the NBA. Yes, Henry is an absolute hoops freak, and he cites America's sports culture as a major reason why he'd like to make the jump to the States before he calls it quits.
When? He won't say -- his contract with Barça doesn't expire until 2011, and there usually isn't much demand for a 34-year-old striker. But if he does end up suiting up in MLS, no one will be able to say the American public didn't know what it was getting: an offensive powerhouse, a proven winner (including a World Cup title) and, quite possibly, the biggest soccer celebrity in the world outside of Beckham.
SI.com: You're surrounded by some insane talent at Barcelona. Heading into this season, was this most excited you've ever been?
Henry: It's not like I was some kid just arriving at a big club. I've seen that look in young kids' eyes and I'm sure I was once like that, too. Don't get me wrong, arriving here was a huge satisfaction. But I've been in the game a long time and I've been fortunate to play with great players at Arsenal, the French national team and now here.
SI.com: With Arsenal, your role was very clear -- make a run on the goal and put it in. Here, with a more complicated offense, it's less so. Have you consciously had to change the way you play?
Henry: It is different. The game moves so much quicker in England. As a striker, you touch the ball more often. In Spain, the game is slower. At Barcelona, sometimes we have the ball the whole game. You pass the ball around from left to right, right to left. Sometimes I have to play on the left or change positions in the middle of the game. It depends on who we're playing and what [manager Frank Rijkaard] is asking. Here, I play with my back to the net much more, whereas at Arsenal I was always facing the defenders. It's a completely different type of game.