Say you had the opportunity to interview one of the best footballers of his generation. A guy who, this season, anyway, has become relatively reclusive. On top of that, he's making himself available to you in the middle of a playoff push with his talented-yet-underachieving team in their last opportunity to win their cup-starved club a title. How would you do it?
Well, in case you missed it, Jack Bell at the Times got that exact chance, sitting down with Thierry Henry at the W Hotel in Hoboken. And you'd think while Bell, an experienced journalist in his own right, would find a better way to spend it than trying to bait Henry into creating some controversy. Too bad that's exactly what he did.To his credit, Henry was a class act in this interview. And to Bell's credit, you never want to be intimidated or star-struck by your subject. Bell knew the questions he wanted to ask, knew they could create controversy, and asked them anyway. But he didn't have to harp on them.
Q. You're a student of the game. When you look around this league, what are your impressions of the skill level. [sic]
It's a fair question. Henry's played in some of the best leagues in the world. What does he think of MLS? Surely it isn't the EPL or La Liga.
A. For me, when I first arrived I said I did not know too much, I only knew some players. I was actually surprised, because when you look at a team like Real Salt Lake, they are well organized and they are playing, they are playing football. It’s difficult to break them down. And they can score,[Fabian] Espindola, [Alvaro] Saborio, [Kyle] Beckerman on the ball, [Andy] Williams. I’m not going to name the whole squad, but they can play. Dallas the same thing. Seattle. Then you have the likes of Houston, they’re a scrappy team. They don’t give you anything.
One of Bell's follow-ups, one question later:
Q. What I'm getting at, is that once get beyond top, even the midlevel players, the skills seem to drop off. The first touch isn't there, the ability to hit a consistent cross.
But, really, Thierry, MLS kind of sucks, right?
A. As I said, that’s you saying that. I don’t know. You can say maybe sometimes it’s about not understanding the game, but people can control the ball and cross the ball. I’ve also seen guys in Europe mis-control and mis-cross the ball. I don’t know about the youth here, but in France I can tell you at a young age it’s about learning about the basics of the game. That’s what you do. You live and breathe the basics of the game. We have an idea that it’s about style, about doing it the right way. And at the end of the day it’s about winning. If you can be fancy, be fancy, but if you can’t you gotta win. It starts with the youth. That’s it.
Next question from Bell:
Q. With the Red Bulls this season, has it been frustrating for you? The team is up and down, players in and out with national teams. Or is it just the way seasons go?
Another fair question, but when coupled with the last few, Bell's seems like he's trying to get a Marquez-esque rise out of Henry.
A. Sometimes. All I can say is that during the season if we had done better we would not have had to go on this difficult path. Playing at Dallas. If we win in L.A. we’d probably have to play at Salt Lake on Sunday. Then we can have maybe a break. It’s going to be a hell of a task. We’re up for it, don’t get me wrong, and we’ll fight until the end. But that’s why you want to have a decent season so you have that protection.
Having said that, we have protected nothing. Where did it go wrong? That’s kind of weird. It’s not the kind of season you want to have, but at the end of the day I always say the same thing, you are where you should be at the end and you deserve what you deserve. You can talk about it all you like. But bottom line, we are in the situation we are in and we have to go and win in L.A. and we all know it is going to be very, very, very difficult. We can sit here and talk about what went wrong, but at the end of the day we’re not here to cry, we’re not here to second-guess. We have to regroup. I’m the type of guy who knows that what is done is done. Good or bad.
The pattern is pretty much established at this point. Bell asks a few honest, probing, though questions before trying to get Henry to lay into his teammates and the league. Some of the more glaring ones:
Q. Is it frustrating, clearly every player on your team is not up to your level or even U.S. national team level. Is it frustrating to play with guys who are. ...
Especially great because Henry cuts him off before he's able to finish the question.
Q. Is there anything any individual could do to make the team play better?
"Please say you should've kept DeRo, please say you should've kept DeRo."
Q. Part of it is that, at least for me, is that so many of the players here don't seem to be real fans of the game. They don't watch every game they can. They don't seem to live the game the way some other people do.
Before this he was asked what he'd advise Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo to do about careers in Europe. Wouldn't it just be wonderful if Henry said Ream and Agudelo "just don't get it?"
Q. Many times at training, I see you staying late, trying to pull balls out of the air and get shots. I don't see a lot of your teammates.
And it isn't just Ream and Agudelo that don't get it, right? Major League Soccer guys just don't work as hard.
I think you get it.
The entire interview is well worth the read, if only to see Henry either expertly dodge controversy or to read up on his rather enlightening thoughts on the league. If Henry's quotes are to be taken as the truth and not just deflecting controversy, it's nice to see a great player take MLS for what it is.