Can Thierry Henry make a Montreal Impact?
Background image: Gates of Ale, CC BY-SA 3.0
Thierry Henry’s time in Monaco did not go well. Over the course of four months, the Frenchman led his side to a paltry four wins from 20 games. It was inevitable that the Arsenal legend would lose his job, and when the hammer fell just over a year ago, it seemed Henry’s fledgling managerial career may have ground to an abrupt halt.
Now, Henry re-emerges in the perfect place for any player struggling to do a job in Europe; the MLS. Henry signed a two-year contract with Quebec outfit, Montreal Impact.
Critics will scoff and Twitter pundits will jab. But Henry has, by all accounts, a lot in his locker from a managerial perspective. Highly rated as a coach with both Arsenal’s academy and Belgium’ national team, Henry failed to do a job at Monaco, but the task he was faced with was by no means an easy one. When he took charge at the Stade Louis II, the club were struggling, lying in 18th place. True, Henry was unable to improve Monaco’s form. But he did no worse than Leanardo Jardim, a vastly experienced coach, before him. In fact, Jardim returned to the club after Henry’s departure, and they are still languishing in mid-table. Evidently, Monaco’s issues were deep-rooted.
MLS could be the perfect place for Henry to thrive. With its labyrinthine systems of wage caps, designated players and drafts, North America’s premier soccer league is an entirely different animal to Ligue 1. Henry won’t be expected to throw around millions to bring in high-profile, game-changing signings. Instead, his coaching ability will come to the fore. He can use the knowledge passed down over the years from the likes of Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola to put together a solid squad of youngsters, making good use of the draft systems to build a solid cohort of youth players from the college leagues and other goldmines.
That said, many an MLS team owes previous successes to the acquisition of a marquee signing. LA Galaxy with David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, DC United with Wayne Rooney and indeed, New York Red Bulls with Henry himself. The new Montreal boss has the contacts and the reputation to bring in such a signing, something that could be crucial to the club’s success in the coming years.
Montreal are a club in a less than stellar position. They finished in ninth last season, four points off the play-offs, their third consecutive season without making it into the MLS post season. They did, however, win the Canadian domestic cup last season. No great feat, when the opposition largely consisted of newly formed CPL outfits, but it means Montreal will be competing in continental competition next season when they take to the field in the CONCACAF Champions League. A run in that competition could allow Henry the chance to experiment with line ups, bring through second-stringers and potentially bring some additional revenue to the club.
While Henry was given a baptism of fire at Monaco, he’s got a core of decent players at Montreal. Despite underwhelming performances in recent seasons, Henry’s new club isn’t entirely bereft of quality. Former Barcelona starlet Bojan Krcik and Argentinian veteran Ignacio Piatti provide some serious attacking talent which Henry can make the best of. Montreal are also strongly linked to Serie A outfit Bologna, they share an owner, and Henry will be able to bolster his squad with Italian loanees.
Monaco was Henry’s first job as club number one. No doubting he was thrown in at the deep end; that was a job that’d give sleepless nights to any coach. A fresh start at Montreal will do wonders both for the club and their new manager. if Henry can demonstrate his coaching chops by leading them back into the play-offs, he’ll be ready for another crack at the whip in Europe. He’s now got the time to build his skills, contacts and reputation to the point where he can return to the big leagues with his head held high, and show that, for managers at least, the MLS isn’t just a retirement league.