Monday, May 17, 2010

Thierry Henry and all the Problems That Arise

Reactions are coming in swiftly from all over the soccer commentating world as reports from Spain have Thierry Henry coming to the MLS.  Sports Illustrated is covering the story as if they know it is gospel truth, even while Henry himself is still (kind of) denying any agreement has been reached.

There is a question about whether this potential move is even worth discussing at the moment.  Let's assume that their is something to the rumors--Henry has made no secret that he loves New York City, and has for a long time.  The rumors make it clear that he'd be going to the Red Bulls.  

There have been people waiting for this to happen for awhile now--Martin Rogers of Yahoo Sports has been breathlessly predicting this move for almost two years.  I've been against these type of Big Splash moves for the MLS since the Beckham deal.  It doesn't usually have much to do with the players in question--I just don't like the model--there is no way to replicate this thing league-wide (unless, as I joked previously, you can lure out of shape players to Kansas City on the promise of kick-ass BBQ).  The big time players from Europe are always going to want to go to NYC, or somewhat less likely, Los Angeles.  That's great for them, but for Kansas City or Denver or Dallas or Houston--forget it.  No 32-year old striker used to the temperate weather of Spain in the winter is going to want to get burnt to a crisp in a Houston summer, or for that matter, have to live in Kansas City, even for just a few months.

People can pretend all they want that getting guys like Beckham or Henry is going to help legitimize the MLS--but it hasn't worked so far, and I don't see Henry, who has never looked older than he did this past season, change this simple fact.  I quoted the London Guardian when the rumors first started to fly about Juan Pablo Angel, and they nastily described that move as "yet another washed-up Premiership has-been...heading Stateside in a bid to play out his twilight years in the sedate surroundings of the MLS rest home."

Is there anything about the career arc of Thierry Henry that suggests this would be any different? Of course, it has to be noted that Angel came over and revitalized New York--for about a year.  Since then, he's struggled with injuries.  Beckham has struggled with injuries.  Henry has already struggled with injuries, and what certainly appeared to be a declining interest is soccer.  

If (when) Henry ends up in the MLS, I'm sure he'll have his fair share of impressive goals--I won't be surprised if he leads the league in scoring for a year or even two.  But again, that will say more about the talent and ability of the average MLS defender then it will about the savvy veteran signings of the MLS.  And in the end, a shit-ton of money will be thrown at an old, temporary stop-gap celebrity, as opposed to doing the hard work of finding and recruiting young, exciting talent.  

I wrote about this back when Beckham was first coming over, and the risk of sounding like Chet, I'm going to paraphrase myself.  Heck, I'm going to quote myself.  It should be noted that the MLS has altered the so-called Beckham Rule a bit in the past month--expanding the number of players allowed over the salary cap.

But my original point stands, was originally written here, and explains why I hate this model of bringing big name guys here to ply their old, beaten-down wares in the MLS.  "Yes, Beckham is a special personality, if not player (I happen to think he could be a special player, which is why I say the problem isn't him). But for every team that has $40 million dollars to spend on one player, there is another team that has $5 million dollars to recruit 10 young and talented players that no one has ever heard of. I'll tell you what--if I have a choice to watch an MLS team made up of the most talented youngsters the World over, playing for one year, and $500,000, and a chance to make the Premiership, or a team with one guy who is famous, I'll take the fun, attacking, young team every time. And that team would beat David Beckham's Galaxy almost every time. The MLS, in its infinite wisdom, has made sure that team could never exist."


Greg Allbright said...

What I don't understand is why MLS thinks that bringing in an Henry type will be good for PR, meaning bring in more fans.

Soccer types already know who he is and are going to watch MLS based on the quality of play. If that's not good they'll just watch the EPL, or some other top league via cable/internet where there are dozens of Henry types at the top of their game.

I watch MLS to follow local, US players mature and flow into the USMNT. I bet most other MLS fans do too.

Big Blue Monkey 2: The Quickening said...

Of course, part of that problem is that either the lower European leagues are still considered more prestigious, or are simply closer to the big Europeans leagues--so you have the best young American players playing in the Belgian or Swedish leagues (or getting to big Europe, only to be transferred to teams in Greece)

A lot of the players who end up on the US National team will be strangers to folks who follow the MLS.