Manchester United's visit to play the MLS All-Stars generated impressive buzz (if an unimpressive match), but none of the Red Devils will be the most prominent soccer player who visits Houston this week.
Not with French striker Thierry Henry, newly signed with the New York Red Bulls, making his first MLS start against the Houston Dynamo Saturday night at 7:30.
Henry has had one of the great careers in recent soccer history. On the club level, he starred in the Italian league at Juventus. But he really made his name when he transferred to Arsenal in the English Premier League. He became Arsenal’s all-time leader scorer, and his 174 goals in EPL competition make him the league’s third all-time leading scorer. He played for Barcelona the last four years, where he failed to distinguish himself.
But of course, a footballer could be pretty damn good and still get lost in the crowd at Barcelona.
As a 20-year-old, Henry was France’s leading scorer at the 1998 World Cup, which they won, and he became the smiling face of les bleus, and the poster-guy for French multiculturalism. (The Jean Le Pen crowd had to stop complaining that the racially mixed French team “didn’t look like France” when they became world champions. That attack returned after France bombed out of the 2010 World Cup.)
Henry recently retired from the national team as France’s all-time leading scorer.
He did finish his international career under something of a cloud, as committing a notorious but unpunished handball that allowed France to squeeze into South Africa ahead of Ireland. (All in all, Henry probably wishes he’d kept his hand pinned to his side.)
But when French president Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to get to the bottom of the national team disaster, it was Henry he called to a “crisis meeting” at the Elysee palace. (I wonder what they really talked about? The glories and tribulations that go with being married to a model? (Henry is divorced from one model and engaged to another.)
How much does Henry have left the tank? That’s a good question. At 32, he’s well past his prime, but he should still have enough game to make an impact here. After all, West Ham of the EPL was also bidding on his services, and he may have taken less money to play in New York.
I’m pulling for him, within reason. Henry is one of the most elegant players to ever pull on a (soccer) boot, and I’m hoping to see some of his silky stylings at Robertson Stadium. I’m also looking forward to seeing the Dynamo win, and to chanting “hand ball” every time Henry gets anywhere near me.
When will the Dynamo get a fancy European of their own? If you hold your breath until that happens, then you’ll turn bleu too.