Despite having no top-flight coaching experience, Thierry Henry could be the right man to stop the dramatic slide of Monaco as the French legend returns home
It was a choice between Monaco and Birmingham. He chose Monaco.
After days of speculation linking him to the vacant Aston Villa manager’s position, Thierry Henry instead opted for the French Riviera.
For anyone other than Thierry Henry this would have been a no-brainer. Quite aside from the competing attractions of the industrial West Midlands and Monte Carlo, Villa are one of English football’s faded giants, a former European Champion now 15th in the second tier after years of neglect and mismanagement.
Villa’s previous owners bet the farm on a promotion bid last season in the hope that returning to the Premier League would pay off their debts. Instead they lost the play-off final to Fulham and after a 2-2 draw with Preston at the start of this month, their malaise was symbolised by a cabbage thrown at departing manager Steve Bruce.
There is, however, a possibly apocryphal story about Henry, during his peak years at Arsenal. During a conversation with the club’s programme editor, Henry, then one of the top three players in the world, started talking about a game he’d seen involving English third-tier club Gillingham that had been televised the night before. The editor was surprised Henry had been watching. Henry was surprised the editor hadn’t.
Thierry Henry – a student of the game
When, in September 2006, Henry was asked who his role models were, he cited the journeyman English forward Kevin Davies for the way he “annoyed” his rivals and a similarly prosaic Scottish centre-forward, Paul Dickov, for his movement.
This was widely seen as a joke. It wasn’t. Even then Henry was studying his opponents and competitors, compiling the mental database of players all managers need. His knowledge of English football would have helped him in the bear pit of the English second tier, but the lure of starting his managerial career in the same place he began as a player was decisive.
He takes charge of a side that hasn’t won since the opening day of the season and lies third from bottom in Ligue 1, yet under Leonardo Jardim, Monaco beat PSG to the title just 18-months-ago. That side was dismantled, with only five players from the squad still with the club.
#HesComingHome #ForeverMonaco pic.twitter.com/IitvqaMbJo
— AS Monaco EN (@AS_Monaco_EN) October 14, 2018
Going back to his roots
This, however, isn’t anything new for Monaco. When Henry broke through in 1994 (scoring this spectacular goal) they were building an outstanding squad, including future World Cup Winners Fabian Barthez, David Trezeguet, and Emmanuel Petit.
They won the title in 1996-97 but as with Jardim’s side 20 years later, the team disintegrated within 18 months. Petit was the first to go. He announced he was leaving during a live television broadcast of their title celebrations, without even having told the club’s president, who was sitting next to him when he broke the news.
Henry stayed for a season-and-a-half before he was sold to Juventus. Barthez went to Manchester United and Trezeguet hung around until 2000 before he too went to Juve.
Henry’s first task is to get Monaco out of the relegation zone. His brief is to finish in the top 10. Given the relative weakness of the teams in the bottom half of Ligue 1 that should be achievable, but beyond that his success will hinge on how much the owners are prepared to invest and how long he can keep hold of his best players.
Great players don’t stay in Monaco for long and sadly, as Jardim found out, nor do very good managers.
The bad news for Henry is that even if he wins Ligue 1 next season he’ll probably be gone within a year. The good news is that by then he’ll be even more attractive to whichever fading English giant happens to be treading water in the second tier.