The New York Red Bulls captain has had a trophy-laden career at some of the best soccer clubs in Europe, and is now one of the leading ambassadors for the sport in the U.S. 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 soccer in America, the incredible players he’s lined up alongside, but most of all—his mom’s cooking.
THE RED BULLETIN: The MLS has changed considerably since you landed on these shores. 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 jerseys. For me it’s changed day and night.
And now New York sees the introduction of a new soccer franchise 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 franchise, especially another in a city like New York. I just hope people realize 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.
I understand. I grew up in the northeast of England going to watch Sunderland play. A ticket cost about $2 at the time, yet even that was a stretch and it killed me when I had to miss games.
Indeed, all I’m saying is that the league is actually doing a remarkable job amongst such a crowded field.
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 the uniform guy, 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.
So what’s the best atmosphere you’ve experienced in the U.S.?
I have to say Portland. The Portland Timbers. I never played in Seattle but I went to watch a game there as a spectator and that’s also pretty amazing, but I really love playing away against the Timbers. They do something very particular when they play the national anthem that’s pretty special. When you watch a game between both the Timbers and the Sounders, the stadiums are usually packed out. It’s fantastic to see.
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 regret?
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 soccer 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.
Soccer 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 some soccer 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.