MONTREAL — Thierry Henry made it clear: The former Arsenal star chose both the Montreal Impact and their home city.
“If you take the best part of Europe and the best part of North America, you’re arriving in Montreal,” Henry said in his introductory press conference on Tuesday.
Henry and his representatives reached out to the Impact in the hopes of landing a return to coaching in a league he departed as a player five years earlier. In the end, Henry became the seventh coach in the Impact’s MLS era — but his relationship with the city dates back further.
Henry played at Stade Saputo even before the Impact joined MLS, visiting Montreal for a friendly as a member of the New York Red Bulls back in 2011.
“I fell in love with this city,” Henry said. “I also have a relationship with MLS so it was really quick for me. Also, like [sporting director] Olivier [Renard] said, his vision and his way of seeing the game was quick [to agree with].
“If you take the best of Europe and the best of the continent here, you get Montreal. It’s the perfect bridge. The city is so diverse, people come from everywhere, but first and foremost they’re from #Montreal. C’est une ville de cœur and you can feel it.” - @ThierryHenry #IMFC pic.twitter.com/ewJeHVrylA— Impact de Montréal (@impactmontreal) November 18, 2019
“This is an extraordinary city and a big market, not a lot of people are aware of that, but I am.”
Henry arrives in Montreal following a disappointing and short-lived spell at Ligue 1 side AS Monaco. The Frenchman was fired only three months into his first-ever experience as a head coach but insisted that he has learned from that experience and will grow from it.
“For me, the way I put it is always [either] you win or you learn, and I learned a lot there,” Henry said. “It’s about coming back, always. You have to get up and be in front of what happens. The only mistake that you can make is not learning from what happened.”
Renard, who took over as the Impact’s sporting director in September, said that he spoke with former head coach Wilmer Cabrera, out of respect for what he had done, but it didn’t end in a contract renewal. The Belgian then left for Europe, where he admitted that he received a few offers from agents and contacts as he searched for IMFC’s new coach.
Ultimately, Henry was the only interview he conducted before he ended up offering the former forward the position.
“A lot of people reached out to present their clients, there were also a lot of people that I knew and didn’t need to interview from either Belgium or Italy,” Renard said. “We had our first contacts [with Henry] around mid-October and we felt that this relationship would work out.”
Henry’s passion and motivation for both the city and the game of soccer was what caught Renard’s attention. Henry’s attacking philosophy and the fact that he started his coaching career at the Arsenal youth academy were other attractive aspects.
“For me, it’s about working with young players,” Renard said. “It’s a point that I mentioned early on and he already worked in that context.”
Henry’s appointment seems to have reignited Montreal’s passion for the club. The Impact lost ground attendance-wise in 2019 but president and CEO Kevin Gilmore said that the demand for season tickets has significantly improved in recent days.
“We ring a bell every time we sell a season ticket,” Gilmore said. “And the bell rings quite often since the [Henry] announcement.”