The New York Red Bulls captain has had a trophy-laden career at some of the best clubs in Europe, and is now one of the leading ambassadors for the sport in the US. The Red Bulletin had the privilege of sitting down with the ex-Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal and Barcelona legend in the Santa Monica office, to discuss the state of football in America, the incredible players he’s lined up alongside, and whether Frank Lampard will be able to mix up the hierarchy in the MLS.
THE RED BULLETIN: The MLS has changed considerably since you came to America. What’s your impression of how the growth of the sport is taking hold in the U.S.?
THIERRY HENRY: The progression has been amazing. The league has changed a hell of a lot, nearly everybody has a stadium now. Everybody has wonderful training facilities. The fans all wear the kits. For me it’s changed day and night.
And now New York sees the introduction of a new club with the New York City Football Club in 2015. Will that potential rivalry help grow the sport even more?
Hopefully, yes. It’s always a plus to add another club, especially another in a city like New York. I just hope people realise it’s not always easy for people to go along to stadiums right now when you have a basketball team, an NHL team, NFL teams, MLB teams. It’s not easy to be a season ticket holder or buy all the products. It’s not an infinite resource to draw upon. Let’s say you have four kids, they all follow the Knicks but you follow the Giants and you follow the Yankees or the Islanders and you buy all the jerseys for the kids as well as tickets.
How do you feel the latest European import, Frank Lampard, will perform next season when he arrives from Manchester City?
Well, I don’t know. I mean, I need to know how the team itself is going look before I can form an opinion. It’s not just about bringing in one guy, or two or three, you need to bring about thirty guys to form a good organization to ensure he can then perform.
But we’re talking about Frank Lampard here. We’re talking about a guy that’s still scoring goals for Man City week in, week out, so I’m pretty sure he’s going to do well. I wish him all the best but again, you need to have a good squad around you to perform, and Lampard has had that all his career so far. At Chelsea, he always had great players around him to provide a strong support system that made sure he could perform as best he could. Also, those guys having HIM around meant they could perform too, and that’s the beauty of a team.
Do you feel like the Red Bulls represent New Jersey fairly? I know the Red Bull Arena has recently introduced banners bearing the club colors from the Metrostars era…
That’s why I asked our kit man, I think the year before last, to add some black stripes to my captain’s armband, to honor the old colors of the franchise. It’s vital to acknowledge the history of the club. It was called the Metrostars before and no disrespect to anyone, those fans obviously moved on to be Red Bull fans…it’s the same soccer club. We just need to let them know we didn’t forget about them. It happened in England too, as Arsenal used to be Woolwich Arsenal a century ago and moved to North London to become Arsenal but it’s still the same team. You have to know your history.
Who’s the best player you’ve ever played alongside?
If you hadn’t made it as a soccer player, what career path might you have chosen? Any big regrets?
No. Everything happens for a reason. Whatever happens to you, good or bad, shapes you into the person you are. So, for me, everything led to this life I live now. I never had anything else in my head, so I could sit here and pretend that I could be something else —but the truth is football is all I ever had in my head. I had a drive and still have it to this day. I still love it and I always will. Don’t get me wrong, I went to school, I had to study, I had to make sure that if I failed I had something else but in my mind I just was not going to let that happen.
Football has afforded you a well-traveled life. You’ve had the privilege of living in many fantastic countries around the world, France, Spain, Italy, the U.K. and now the U.S. Which makes you uniquely qualified to tell us….who has the best cuisine? Burgers? Fish & chips? Tapas or escargot?
My mother. West Indian food. I mean you have to go with your mom’s cooking. I know it’s an easy way out, but in my case it’s actually true.
You’re the record goalscorer for France. Record goalscorer for Arsenal. Record number of assists for the Red Bulls. What’s next when you finally hang up your playing boots? Are we going to see you coaching New York? Owning a potential franchise like David Beckham is doing in Miami?
You know, I don’t know what’s going to come next. Honestly, I don’t know. Someone asked me the other day, when I came into the game how did I imagine the end to be? What would the end look like and what would I want people to say about me…I just want people to remember, hopefully, me. Because of my work and that’s it.
I keep on reiterating to everybody, I didn’t save anyone’s life, I’m not a hero, I’m none of those things. I was just out there to play the game and while I understand I gave some people joy and I ended up loving the club I played for most of my career, I didn’t go to war to protect my country. That’s worthy of elevation to the status of ‘hero’, you know? I just want people to remember me for playing football and that’s all. Another player will come along and erase all those records but as long as people can recall me in some way it means that I’ve done something right.
There have been rumours, that you are going to be leaving New York at the end of the season.
I am not going to comment on that at the moment. I am going to wait until the end of the season to talk about my future.