HARRISON, N.J. – Thierry Henry showed this past weekend that his aging legs are still more than capable of making an impact against high-level competition, but talk after his latest strong performance quickly shifted from his play towards how much longer he will be able to do so.
Red Bull head of global football Gerard Houllier sparked conversation when he told BigAppleSoccer.com following New York’s 1-0 win over Arsenal that he thinks Henry is leaning towards retirement at season’s end.
There was already a feeling among some that that would be the case given the Gunners’ rare US appearance to play Henry, a legend at Arsenal, and the Red Bulls, and the lack of public comments about an extension from the French forward and New York brass.
Henry, however, showed in the 2014 New York Cup that he can still perform against top-notch opponents and his old boss believes there is still plenty left in the tank.
“Thierry can be dangerous from everywhere,” said Arsenal head coach Arsene Wenger after seeing Henry help set up the winner. “He understands very quickly what he can take advantage from. He was sharp today as well in the one-on-ones and you could see why he was a great player because when he played in midfield, his passing was excellent and his as well. You could see that he can play everywhere.”
Playing against a shorthanded but still very talented Gunners side in the early stages of its preseason, Henry looked a class above the rest of the players by demonstrating all the qualities that have made him such a special player throughout his career.
His high soccer IQ, superb vision, impressive strength, incredible technique, pinpoint passing and explosive runs were all on display from the opening whistle, and he looked as energized, motivated and focused as he has at any point this year.
Henry might not be able to play like that game in and game out over the course of an entire season, but he demonstrated his superb ability of finding a way to make an impact when he hit a corner kick in the 32nd minute that Bradley Wright-Phillips ultimately pushed home for the game’s decisive play.
“I think it was a great afternoon for him,” Wenger said of Henry. “He played well and his teammates played very well as well. You could see that everybody was focused, ready for a fight. If they can maintain that kind of commitment and solidarity, and if they can keep Thierry Henry in this form, I think they have a good chance to come back in a strong position in [MLS].”
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On a day where all eyes were on the forward who’s been playing professionally since he was 17 and in which he was honored with a remarkable ceremonial tifo just before kickoff, it was not at all surprising to hear people like Wenger sing Henry’s praises. After all, this was essentially a tribute to the decorated striker – regardless of what was said publicly – in a game that he was more than up for.
“Absolutely,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke when asked if Henry can still compete at the highest of levels. “Do I think he can play for 90 minutes in the Premier League every week? I’m sure he would agree, probably not. But he is still 100 percent at that level, mentally and physically for large chunks of games, absolutely.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.