HARRISON, N.J. — And now, things will never be the same again.
It was the worst-kept secret in the soccer world this past year, but now that the New York Red Bulls have officially announced Thierry Henry’s signing, things for this franchise will never be the same.
WATCH: Interview with Thierry Henry
Henry adds a star quality, a certain cache that the New York franchise has never had. With all due respect to Juan Pablo Angel and such past luminaries as Roberto Donadoni, Lothar Matthäus and Youri Djorkaeff—none compares to Henry.
Henry comes in his prime, a player one year removed from being the catalyst for Barcelona’s dominant run through La Liga and the Champions League. The French international was still desired by a number of top clubs from around the world before deciding on New York. When he puts on the Red Bulls jersey at his presentation on Thursday afternoon in front of a packed media contingent, he will elevate the game in this town to a whole new level.
On the field certainly, but off the field as well.
WATCH: HENRY PHOTOSHOOT
Thierry Henry is a household name, even in this country, a telling sign for a sport that is still the underdog in America’s sportscape. His endorsement deals have lined him up with sports stars in commercials and his play on the field has earned him the respect of millions. It was Henry, after all, who created the EPL buzz earlier this decade that had soccer fans around the world, including many here in the USA, sporting Arsenal jerseys. His move to Barcelona only elevated his status from superstar to megastar.
And now, that megastar belongs to us. To all of us.
An ambassador of the game, Henry is not saddled with the hype and controversy of David Beckham. He is not an enigma, not someone whose off-the-field antics and celebrity ever overshadowed his play on the field. Henry has always been one to let his star shine brightest between the lines for 90 minutes. His signing by the Red Bulls is not just about selling tickets—it is about winning this franchise its first-ever MLS Cup. Something Donadoni, Matthäus and Djorkaeff never managed.
And Beckham hasn’t done it in LA yet, either. Beckham, you see, has his detractors.
From his fashion to his hair to the shirtless posing, Beckham has always been as much about his brand as his play. Henry comes with no such reputation. There surely must be a singular critic of him somewhere in the world, notwithstanding Raymond Domenech, but universally, Henry is praised as a teammate and a player. Yes, he is a bold-faced name, but more importantly, he will score goals, something this edition of the Red Bulls could use.
But the most telling part of his tenure here will be if Henry can lift the MLS Cup at season’s end.
Winning a title with New York is not an easy task. You have to go back to the 1982 New York Cosmos to find a Big Apple soccer club that lifted a top-flight trophy. The Red Bulls made the MLS Cup in 2008 but played the role of bridesmaid, bowing out to Columbus. Henry’s career might be marked by increased attendance, plenty of media attention and hype and surely a goal or two. But for New York fans, hardware will define his legacy.
Things will never be the same. How much they change depends on one man: Thierry Henry.
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. He can be emailed at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed on Twitter.com @kdyer1012.