By Milos Kosic
When Thierry Henry officially announced that he will be joining New York Red Bulls, media in the U.S. described the news as the most significant thing that has happened to M.L.S. since David Beckham signed for the Los Angeles Galaxy three years ago. The expectations from the French striker go much further than just playing well for his team – he is supposed to be the breaking point that will mark the new ear for soccer in the U.S.
But is it realistic to expect that Henry will succeed in attracting millions of people to start following soccer, a task that his predecessors like Pele and Beckham failed to accomplish? The answer is very simply: NO. Anyone who watches European soccer on a regular basis knows that Henry is yesterday’s story. Three, four, five years ago, he was one of the best strikers in the world, a super fast player for whom it was harder to miss than to score, a guy who knocked out Brazil in the 2006 World Cup, and led his club Arsenal to the Champions League final. But that’s not the Henry that we will have a chance to see.
The Henry that we will see is a 32 year old striker who spent last season playing as a substitute for Barcelona and who lost his captaincy and his place in the first eleven of the France national team. The Henry that we will see is a player who disgraced himself when he cheated in order to take France to the World Cup (type “Henry handball” on YouTube and you’ll know what I mean). The Henry that we will see is a player who didn’t start a single game in South Africa. The Henry that we will see is not what M.L.S. needs right now.
New York Red Bulls are making the same mistake that the L.A. Galaxy made three years ago when they brought David Beckham. They rely on Henry’s celebrity status to attract people to come to stadiums. That might work for a first few games, but once the hype is over, the U.S. soccer fans will be left with another old, overrated player. What M.L.S. needs are stars like Asamoh Gyan, Luis Suarez or Giovanni dos Santos, young (and still relatively cheap) guys eager to perform who can bring so much energy on the pitch that their sole presence can make the whole team play better.
Stop relying on old players to develop soccer in the U.S. Let the young ones write the future.