clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Opinion: Criticizing Henry's turf absence is clueless and dumb

Seriously. What more could the captain have done since joining RBNY to prove the wisdom of his no-turf policy?

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

I don't get the fascination with Thierry Henry playing on turf. Or rather, not playing.

Since signing for the New York Red Bulls, there have been two constants about the captain: his Achilles tendons aren't great, and he doesn't play on artificial turf surfaces - with the exception of the Portland Timbers' field.

The turf aggravates a reoccurring injury that he has. It's old news -Mike Petke (nydailynews.com)

The exception would seem to prove the rule: Henry isn't avoiding these pitches out of snobbery or laziness, he (and RBNY, one assumes) is trying to manage the latter years of his career to ensure he gives the best of himself to this club.

Portland has a good enough surface for Henry to play on without fear of aggravating an injury that could cause him to miss who-knows-how-much time: Henry plays on that surface. New England, Seattle, Vancouver, and Montreal's Olympic Stadium: sorry, not worth the risk.

This approach has paid dividends for Henry and the Red Bulls: four and half seasons together, 52 goals, 48 assists, and one Supporters' Shield.

Only nine players in the history of this club have made more competitive appearances for the team than Henry. Only seven have ever logged more minutes on the field. Only one has scored more goals. No one has created as many assists. And, of course, he is the only player to ever captain RBNY to a major trophy.

And the trade-off is that in order to extend his career - so successfully that it will feel premature if he does retire at the end of this season - he stays away from certain types of turf fields: the bad ones.

The decision would appear vindicated by the man's record.

Whether he likes it or not, Thierry Henry's 37-year-old knees and Achilles tendons will need to bounce, cut and push on artificial turf next Saturday -Filip Bondy (nydailynews.com)

Not for some.

Despite the fact it has long been obvious why he doesn't play on particular surfaces, and despite the fact he has been one of - perhaps even the most - consistently productive attacking player this club has ever had on its roster, a curious tone gets adopted in media reports on the subject. Recently, Alexi Lalas even went so far as to suggest the league should have unleashed Don Garber on TH14 to force him to reverse his policy.

Lalas, of course, is a man paid to indulge in hyperbole. But at least he came out and plainly stated what a number of observers will only address obliquely. Entire articles get written on the subject of Henry's turf embargo without mentioning the reason for it.

The reason is nothing more than a professional athlete doing his best to extend his career. It shouldn't be controversial - unless you are a commercial representative of the manufacturer of the field turf in New England, Vancouver, Seattle or Montreal.

Nonetheless, Henry's extraordinarily successful management of his frailties to continue playing at an age well past that at which most footballers are retired is characterized repeatedly as an "allergy", or a whim.

It is perhaps serendipitous that Henry has made it to (potentially) the last game of the last year of his contract with RBNY before being forced to address the question of whether there were circumstances that might cause him to risk his Achilles and playing future by chancing 90 minutes on the type of surface he once compared to the Montclair State University running track.

There simply has never previously been a game of this significance for RBNY to be played on a surface as potentially detrimental to Henry's playing health as the upcoming Eastern Conference final second leg match in New England.

I'm playing. You happy? -Thierry Henry (empireofsoccer.com)

Unsurprisingly, Henry will play.

He confirmed the decision as soon as the first leg was over: "The only thing is we go through or we don't go through."

But he also made reference to his concerns: "I'm sure guys wouldn't care if I can walk or not after that. That's just the way it is."

We won't know how badly the New England turf will aggravate Henry's heels until the game is underway on Saturday. Given the importance of the match and the nature of the player, we may not know until the final whistle: he will surely drive himself to play through as much pain as possible in the name of keeping RBNY's playoff run alive.

It is not coincidence that the first time Henry plays on sub-optimal field is potentially the last game of RBNY's season, and potentially the last game of his RBNY contract. He may not be able to play for a while after this match.

Whether he plays well or not, and whether the turf hobbles him or doesn't, let us hope the first occasion Henry has risked his livelihood for this club is not also the last.

Framing his decision to stay off the worst playing surfaces in MLS as an act of petulance, fussiness, or baseless anxiety may be a smart way to drum up pageviews, but it shows extraordinary lack of empathy for a player who has done little other than be really, really good during his time in this league.

The question to be answered on Saturday is not whether Henry cares to perform on New England's shabby carpet, but whether he is able. His presence on that approximation of a soccer field is testament to his commitment to RBNY, just as his absence from it for the last few years was evidence of the same.

He came here to play, not sit around in physiotherapy. And he did everything he could to maximize his playing time. The result: more than 11,000 minutes, more than 50 goals, and one Supporters' Shield.

That's good career management, and we should thank him for it.

Hopefully, he won't be on crutches when we get around to offering that thanks.