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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Red Bulls Sign Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry, the outstanding French soccer player has joined Red Bulls of MLS. With his signing the league now has its first legitimate European soccer superstar. Henry may be "over the hill" at 33, but he possessed ball skill and scoring abilities unmatched by all but a few players in history. As a World Cup champion, a European champion, and the most prolific scorer in the history of Arsenal, of England's Premiere Division, he brings credibility and ballet-like moves to a league whose players have less in common with world class soccer than donkeys on ice skates.

As the Red Bulls sit today, they don't have the caliber of players who can complement Henry's grace, precision and creativity on a soccer field. It will take two or three more signings to put Henry in an environment where he won't be expected to single-handedly deliver victories. The LA Galaxy proved that pairing a former world class name with the best player in America, Landon Donovan wasn't sufficient to win games.

As I wrote extensively prior to his LA Galaxy signing, Beckham, while a competent player - like Henry, also past his prime, would not create the groundswell the league was desperate to create. He merely bolstered his own celebrity and that of his Hollywood craving wife. Days before it was revealed that she was resurrecting the Spice Girls for a failed "world tour," I facetiously wrote that his presence would have the same effect on American soccer as hers would on the music scene if she announced the rebirth of the Spice Girls. That prophesy has proven to be more than accurate. The Beckham's presence in America has sold a lot #23 jerseys, but not as many as before he abandoned his LA commitment for a European team where he could face stiffer competition in his attempt to win a spot on England's disastrously performing World Cup team. As I predicted, Beckham drew massive numbers of curiosity seekers when he first toured MLS cities, but that quickly faded. Even his return to England's team for the World Cup went bust due to an injury that kept him in street clothes on the bench.

Moreover, I questioned the sense of plopping one world-class player on the field among a team of second rate players. Beckham may be one of the greatest passers who ever played, but if you have players around him who don't know where to be, and lack the skills to receive his perfectly placed passes, and can't finish with a shot on goal, his brilliance is for naught. The LA Galaxy's woeful record during the Beckham years proves my point.

Make no mistake, Henry can still play circles around many of the best players in the world, but even the great Pele, who is better comparison to Henry's coming to America than Beckham, had to have a supporting cast his equal. The fabled New York Cosmos surrounded Pele with some of the best players of his era. Henry will dazzle crowds, and bewilder opposing defenders and goalkeepers. At some point, without other great players around him to help carry the load, he will be contained by heavy-footed donkeys going "roller derby" on him throughout a game.
Like the Statue of Liberty, Henry is gift from France that serves as a symbol of what this country can be, at least from a soccer perspective. Fittingly, he will wear a jersey that promotes the energy drink Red Bull. Henry may well be the elixir to energize that franchise, but like Beckham, he cannot carry the league. He will however, take over the merchandising crown worn by Beckham. Moms and Dads everywhere will be pestered to buy a Henry/Red Bull Jersey to replace that relic Beckham jersey, much like the player which is now irrelevant.