Thierry Henry to Red Bulls Rumors Resurface
Red Bull Arena, located in Harrison, N.J., has dominated everything from Fox Soccer Channel's hour-long league preview show, to ESPN's telecast of the league curtain-raiser Thursday night between the Seattle Sounders and expansion Philadelphia Union.
The new arena has drawn rave reviews and even attracted some of Gotham's mainstream media types -- an event about as rare as a Bigfoot sighting during the club's previous 14 residing inside Giants Stadium -- for last Saturday night's stadium opener against Brazilian club Santos.
Despite the fact last year's version of the Red Bulls were one of the worst to ever grace an MLS surface, all signs point toward the league's would-be marquee franchise finally becoming relevant in the world's largest media market.
Thursday news out of England's Telegraph surfaced again that the long-rumored move where French legend Thierry Henry would come to the States -- specifically New York. The report mentions that Henry has been to New York earlier this year to discuss the move and could be playing at Red Bull Arena as soon as this summer after the World Cup, or by the start of the 2011 MLS season. (Most of these rumors began due to Henry's long-stated appreciation of New York, where he can walk down a busy street without everyone knowing who he is.)
Somehow convincing the 32-year-old Barcelona forward to come across the Atlantic would be nothing short of a major coup for the Red Bulls and MLS itself, even if it would turn off any Irish fans in the short term. It's the kind of move that would make what is already a home run -- the new stadium -- into a grand slam.
Despite getting up there in age, Henry is still a border-line elite caliber player and should feature prominently for France at this summer's World Cup. Is he as lethal as he was during his Arsenal heyday? Probably not, but he's also not at the end of his career and totally washed up like some other fading European stars who've come to MLS, namely ex-German international Lothar Matthäus.
Unlike the Los Angeles Galaxy's mega-move for David Beckham in 2007, which was about marketing as much as it was actual soccer, which was met with skepticism by hardcore fans, Henry to New York would a soccer-first move. (It wouldn't hurt either, that he's got some mainstream familiarity from those Gillette ads a few years ago with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. The whole hand-ball vs. Ireland, too, increased his profile Stateside, if not his notoriety.)
If Red Bull could convince Henry to show up in 2010, it would give the club the marquee star which would allow the club to appeal beyond the hardcore soccer fan. (And it would give them one heck of a strike force, too.)
The club's management has done a commendable job transforming last season's last-place roster. Swedish manager Hans Backe appears to have taken to the complex management system that is a product of MLS's single-entity structure, too. However outside of Tallin, Estonia, the team's biggest signing is Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere isn't causing too many ripples.
This isn't overlooking Colombian scoring ace Juan Pablo Angel, arguably the league's best striker since he signed from Aston Villa in 2007. As good a player as Angel is -- sacrificing his body the last three years on the turf at Giants Stadium is a testament to that -- he's not exactly a big enough name to appeal to the casual sports fan who hasn't given MLS much of his or her interest.
Henry, of course, is that kind of player.
That's why Red Bull would be wise to pursue the talented Frenchman to the best of its abilities. A sparkling new stadium -- perhaps the best soccer specific venue in America -- is a huge step forward.
Inking a true international star that can still produce moments of magic like Henry would signal the club isn't content to lurk anonymously in the Jersey swampland anymore.
New York opens its 2010 MLS season Saturday night against the Chicago Fire at 6:55 p.m. on ESPN.