Thierry Henry was born on August 17, 1977, in the small suburban Paris town of Les Ulis. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Antoine and Marylese, left the French Antilles one year earlier in search of a better life.
The state issued the family a subsidized two-bedroom apartment, which was buried amidst the tall, concrete, sixties-style buildings that served as Les Ulis' trademark. The high percentage of immigrants, combined with the narrow roadways and lack of public parks, made the town a ghetto in the eyes of many Parisians.
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, Antoine stressed the importance of athletics to Thierry, specifically soccer. Marylese worried that her son spent too much time on the pitch and not enough time studying. Thierry listened to both his parents and became a great student and an even better soccer player.
Antoine continually took Thierry to local soccer camps and matches, and it soon became evident that the youngster was an above-average player for his age. As Thierry reached his early teenage years, he started opening the eyes of local scouts. Thierry starred for both the junior team of Les Ulis and the neighboring town of Palaiseau.
It was Thierry Pret, a scout for the semi-pro team of Viry-Chatillon, who first spotted the young phenom. At the time, Viry-Chatillon had the reputation as the best club for developing the skills of young Parisians. Pret approached Antoine about 13-year-old Thierry.
Antoine was easily persuaded, and Thierry began playing for Viry-Chatillon's Under-15 team. Shortly after the youngster joined the club, his parents split up. Marylese moved to nearby Orsay in an effort to get her son into Alexander Fleming College. Thierry attended the school for a while, but his focus remained on the soccer field. In just 26 games for Viry-Chatillon, he had 77 goals.
Just before his 14th birthday, Thierry was one of the 25 boys selected for the French Football Federation's Clairefontaine Academy, located about 30 miles west of Paris. Like every teen who receives this prestigious honor, he lived at the school and concentrated almost exclusively on soccer. William Gallas, Louis Saha and Nicolas Anelka were among Thierry’s classmates at Clairefontaine.
Two years into his stint at Clairefontaine, Thierry was viewed by his coaches as a project player—still too raw to be considered a future star. They liked his speed and his intelligence but worried that his ball-handling, passing and scoring ability would not improve to an elite level.
Arsene Wenger, however, saw far greater potential in Thierry. The manager of Monaco at the time, Wenger didn't hesitate to sign the 16-year-old to an apprentice contract. Thierry made his first professional appearance on August 31, 1994, in a 2-0 loss to Nice. He played in eight games during his first season and scored three goals.
Thierry had a mediocre second season with Monaco, appearing in 18 games and tallying only three goals. Wenger struggled to find the right place on the field for the teenager. Conventional wisdom said that a player with Thierry’s speed and skill would be a natural fit on the wing. But Wenger suspected Thierry could one day become a great striker, even if he didn't have the deadly scoring touch of past stars like Pele, Maradona and Klinnsman.
Under Wenger's tutelage, Henry became France’s Young Player of the Year in 1996, leading the country’s Under-18 team to the European Championship. With many of Europe's biggest clubs interested in Thierry (his apprentice deal with Monaco was about to expire), Thierry hired a side-agent who was not registered with FIFA. When Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid negotiated a lucrative new contract with Thierry, Monaco cried foul, claiming they already had an agreement with a registered agent to retain their up-and-coming star. Thierry found himself on two different teams at the same time.
FIFA officials settled the debate by fining Thierry and Real Madrid. He continued to play with Monaco, agreeing on a multi-year extension in January of 1997.
ON THE RISE
Keeping Thierry was a stroke of genius by Monaco. He exploded in his third year, leading the club to the French First Division Championship. The anchor of the team’s offense, he scored nine goals in 36 games.
Next up for Thierry was the 1997 World Youth Championships in Malaysia for France’s Under-20 squad. He saw the tournament as an opportunity to showcase his skills to the soccer world, not to mention organizers of the French National Team. The World Cup was a year away, and with France hosting the event, Thierry was eager to represent his country. He performed well enough, but the Blue and White lost in the quarter-finals to Uruguay in a shoot-out. Later in the year, Thierry got his first international cap in a 2-1 friendly victory over South Africa.
Heading into the 1997-1998 season, Monaco had its sights set on a second-straight division championship and the UEFA Champions League title. The team looked to Thierry to achieve both goals, but the pressure to make France's World Cup squad affected his play. In 30 French First Division games, Thierry had only four goals. He stepped up his play in the Champions League, scoring seven goals—a French record —and guiding Monaco to the semi-finals, where they lost to Juventus on aggregate scoring.
It was obvious that Thierry was worried about the World Cup. Some French fans began to give up on him, focusing instead on teammate David Trezeguet, who many called the next Gabriel Batistuta. Thierry's struggles could also be attributed to the departure of Wenger prior to the season, who left to manage in the Japanese First Division (and shortly thereafter went on to Arsenal). Thierry was comfortable under Wenger and struggled to find that same level under new manager Jean Tigana.
Rumors were also swirling about Monaco's plans to transfer Thierry to another club. Barcelona, offering up to 12 million pounds for his services, was the frontrunner. Arsenal, Manchester United and Real Madrid were all in on the bidding, too. Thierry was actually bolstered by the speculation—at least the upper echelon teams were still interested in him.
As it turned out, Aime Jacquet, skipper of the French National team, was also interested. Figuring that Thierry was just scratching the surface of his talents, he couldn't leave him off the squad. Jacquet would not regret his decision.
The favorites heading into World Cup 1998 were Brazil and England, but the French were by no means not longshots. Still, their best chance wa to use the energy of their hometown fans to play near perfect matches every time out.
Jacquet's main concern was his squad's lack of a proven goal scorer. Trezeguet, Thierry's teammate at Monaco, seemed to be the future, but at 20-years-old, he was inexperienced. Stephane Guivarc'h was playing well for Auxerre, but he had just one international goal to his credit. Jacquet even tried youngsters Nicolas Anelka and Christophe Dugarry. For both, however, the international game was too much for them. In the one warm-up match the two played in, the French failed to score.
For sure, France would have to rely heavily on its proven star in the midfield, Zinedine Zidane, who was having an excellent season for Juventus. Jacquet would also need strong performances from Emmanuel Petit, Christian Karembeu, Dider Deschamps and Laurent Blanc. The French were in good shape at goalkeeper. Veteran Bernard Lama battled a young star, Fabien Barthez, for the starting position.
As for Thierry, many of the European publications never even mentioned his name in their World Cup previews.
Standing in France's way in group play were Denmark, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Winning their first two matches—against South Africa and Saudi Arabia—was crucial. Denmark had a very strong team, and playing them without the threat of elimination was a priority.
The French dominated
the slower, less-skilled South Africans in their opener. Dugarry headed
in a Zidane cross just before halftime, and France later benefitted from
an own-goal by its opponent. The third tally was perhaps the most surprising
of all. Searching for an offensive spark, Jacquet inserted Thierry to
start the contest, and he made the best of his opportunity. Sparking attack
after attack, Thierry finally finished one late in the second half. He
took a ball, dribbled his way through the entire enemy defense and sent
a perfect chip over the head of the South African goalkeeper.
In their second match, the French caught a couple of unlucky breaks. Dugarry tore his hamstring, thus taking him out of the remainder of the tournament. Then Zidane stomped on a Saudi Arabian player and was banned for the next two games. France needed a lift, and Thierry was right there to provide it.
He opened the scoring in the 36th minute by one-timing a cross from Bixente Lizarazu into the net. Trezeguet followed with a goal in the 68th minute. Thierry then struck again. He jumped on a bad pass by a Saudi Arabian defender and easily slipped the ball in on a breakaway. Lizarazu would add a goal of his own to make the final score 4-0.
With a bid into the next round secured, Jacquet elected to sit Thierry against Denmark. Fully rested, he began France's first elimination match against Paraguay at the wing, rather than striker. The move by Jacquet backfired, however, as Thierry couldn't find any rhythm. He was actually subbed out in the 64th minute.
Barely able to muster any offensive thrust, France stayed in the game with solid defense. In the 113th minute, Les Blues broke the deadlock on a golden goal by Blanc. With French fans delirious with celebration, the squad prepared for to meet Italy in the quarter-finals.
Even with Zidane back in the lineup, the French again struggled to produce any offense. But their defense was up to the task of stopping Italina striker Roberto Baggio, who did nothing of note during the match. Tied after regulation, the contest went into penalty kicks.
Zidane converted first for France, and Baggio followed suit for Italy. Both keepers saved the next two shots. Then Trezeguet made it 2-1 for France, and Italy countered to make it 2-2. Thierry was the next shooter for the French, and he calmly converted his opportunity. Italy tied it again at 3-3. Blanc then made it 4-3 in Franc's favor. When Luigi Di Biagio hit the crossbar, France earned a trip to the semi-finals.
Waiting for the French was Croatia, the other feel-good story of the tournament. The underdog Croatians proved they could play with France, and a rocket by Davor Suker actually put them ahead in the 46th minute. The lead didn't last long. France got two goals from the most unlikely of sources, defender Lilian Thuram, who had 35 caps and no goals entering the match. The French won 2-1 and entered the World Cup final for the first time ever. Thierry saw meaningful minutes against Croatia, but again in the midfield, where his offensive skills remained hidden.
France awaited Brazil in the final. The defending champions,the Brazilians werer heavy favorites. Their leader was Ronaldo, who was going for his first World Cup title. But Les Blues had emotion on their side. The French didn't just beat the Brazilians; they dominated them in every facet of the game. Zidane scored twice, becoming the first to do so in a final since Pele 40 years earlier. France prevailed 3-0.
Thierry watched all the action during the final from the sidelines, as Jacquet opted for his most experienced lineup. But once the match ended, Thierry celebrated like he had scored the game-winner.
After coming down from the emotional high of the World Cup, Thierry had to decide where he would play his club soccer. His first choice was Arsenal, where he would be reunited with Wenger. But Italy's Juventus had the deepest pockets.
Unfortuantely, Thierry's new team was in a state of turmoil. Used on the wing for Juventus, he felt overwhelming pressure from his hometown supporters. The atmosphere on the club was strikingly different from the more laid back Monaco, too. Thierry quickly learned that soccer could be life and death for Juventus fans, and if he didn't perform, he was going to hear about it. Out of position and lacking confidence, Thierry needed a change, and Wenger provided it.
The two had agreed there was a spot on Arsenal for Thierry if things didn't go well with Juventus. After his miserable season in Italy—he had three goals in 16 games—Arsenal paid 10 million pounds to secure Thierry's rights. The move caused great controversy, but Wenger was convinced Thierry would be rejuvenated with a switch back to striker.
Initially, it appeared he was dead wrong. Thierry went scoreless in his first eight matches with Arsenal. But he began to turn things around with the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Southampton. Thierry had a great March, scoring five times in eight matches for the Gunners. He finished the season with 17 Premiership goals in 31 appearances. Arsenl ended the year 18 points behind Manchester United and lost in the finals of the UEFA Champions League against Galatasaray.
Thierry immediately readied himself for Euro 2000, where France would be favored to win ots second major championship in a row. He had a lot to prove. Because of his poor play in Italy, Thierry had not appeared once for the Blue and White in the past year and a half.
Thierry's greatest challenge would by adjusting again to another position. New French manager Roger Lemerre still saw him as a winger, opting to use Trezeguet, along with Thierry's boyhood friend Nicolas Anelka, as his strikers to open up the field for everyone on the team. This strategy worked well in France's opening match against Denmark. Thierry contributed with a brilliant goal in a rousing victory.
In France's second match, against the Czech Republic, Thierry played even better, netting his second goal of the tournament with some nifty ball-handling. He also assisted on the game-winner by Youri Djorkaeff. The French won 2-1 and moved onto the quarter-finals.
Against Spain, Les Blues looked sluggish, which prompted Lemerre to move Thierry to striker. France then snapped out of its doldrums and eeked out a 2-1 win on goals by Zidane and Djorkaeff.
In the semis, the French took on the Portuguese. Portugal seized the lead early, but Thierry tied the game on a rocket shot in the 50th minute. It stayed that way until the 117th minute, when Portuguese defender Abel Xavier played the ball with his hand inside the penalty area. With Portugal furious over the call, Zidane slid the penalty kick into the net for the golden goal.
The final matched France against Italy. The contest's first few minutes were slow and plodding. Midway through the first half, however, the Italian defense gave Thierry room to maneuver. He ripped a shot, but it hit the post and the game went into halftime in a scoreless tie.
The Italians broke the game open in the 55th minute, and it appeared that they would go on to win the match. But French substitute Sylvain Wiltord scored the equalizer in the 90th minute to stun Italy. In the 103rd minute, Trezeguet spotted a hole in the Italian defense and delivered the goal that gave the French the Euro Cup Championship.
Thierry's strong showing in Euro 2000 earned him a new level of respect. With another title under his belt, he solidified himself as the co-leader of the French squad, along with Zidane. Real Madrid and Barcelona, meanwhile, were both gunning for his services, and the ensuing bidding war drove his price high, almost high enough to lure him out of England. But Thierry trusted Wenger, and he adored the Arsenal fans. In the past, some players of African descent had encountered problems in the Premiership. That wasn't the case with Arsenal.
MAKING HIS MARK
Thierry wanted to win championships with Arsenal. He frequently expressed his jealousy of Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira, who won titles with the Gunners and helped establish the club as a Premiership powerhouse. Thierry hoped to be part of that legacy.
Unfortunately, Arsenal had a disappointing 2000-2001 season, losing to Valencia in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and again finishing a distant second to Manchester in the Premiership. They could have salvaged the year by beating Liverpool in the final of the FA Cup, but that was not meant to be, either. Michael Owen and Liverpool turned the Gunners away, 2-1. Thierry finished the season with a respectable 22 goals in all, 17 of them coming in Premiership play.
The success Thierry craved came in the 2001-2002 season. Arsenal finished 26-9-3 to win the Premiership by seven points over Liverpool. The team next fought off a scrappy Chelsea team to win the FA Cup, posting a 2-0 victory in the final. Thierry spearheaded the offense, though he didn't cash in on any of his numerous chances. Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg tallied the goals. Still, Thierry ranked first in the Premiership in scoring for the first time in his career, netting 24 goals.
Things didn't go as smoothly in the Champions League. The Gunners failed to advance out of the second group stage, thanks to lackluster efforts against Leverkusen and Deportivo.
play brought more than just acclaim on the soccer pitch. He landed big
deals with powerful sponsors, most notably Nike, which paid him millions
to wear its boots. Thierry enjoyed his newfound riches. Among other things,
he built a huge home in England, which at the time was the largest, most
expensive house ever financed by a footballer in the country.
France fell to heavy underdogs Senegal in its opening match, 1-0. Thierry had his team's best chance to tie the match in the second half, but he missed on a header with a wide open net in front of him.
Disaster also struck in France's second match against Uruguay. In the 26th minute, Thierry went in for a hard, spikes-up tackle, and the referee showed him the red card. With Thierry out for the remainder of the match, plus the next game against Denmark, Les Blues were suddenly shorthanded. When the Uruguay match ended 0-0, the French needed a two-goal victory over Denmark to advance. But Thierry's absence robbed them of their top offensive weapon. The Danes dominated play and won 2-0, sending France home. It was the first time since 1966 that the defending champ failed to make it out of group play.
Heading into the 2002-2003 season with Arsenal, Thierry wanted nothing more than to put the World Cup behind him. Now a well-established star, he grew more comfortable with his celebrity. FIFA, however, wasn't.
Thierry had begun a unique celebration after scoring a goal, raising his jersey to reveal t-shirts with messages to friends and family. Others soon joined in on the fun. After a while, FIFA had seen enough and outlawed the display. (Thierry still celebrates this way now and then, and can afford the FIFA fines thanks to Nike.)
Shirtless or not, Thierry enjoyed another strong season for Arsenal. His best effort came in November in the Champions League against Roma. On the road and in need of a victory, the Gunners looked to their leader, who netted a hat-trick to give his club a come-from-behind 3-1 victory.
The win wasn't enough, however, as Arsenal struggled in their other second-group matches. The club wound up with four ties, two of them coming against Ajax and the other two against Valencia and Roma. For the second year in a row, the Gunners lost in second-group play in the Champions League.
In the Premiership, Thierry broke from the gate on fire, scoring six goals in the first ten games of the season. As the season rolled on, Manchester and Arsenal were locked in a two-horse race at the top of the standings, with Thierry and Ruud van Nistelrooy neck-and-neck at the top of the scoring list.
Manchester came out ahead in both categories. Van Nistelrooy edged Thierry for the scoring title by one goal, 25-24, and Arsenal fell short of Man U. in the Premiership standings by five points, 83-78. Despite his team's finish in the Premiership, Thierry was still named as the Player of the Year by his fellow players.
With disappointing results in the Champions League and the Premiership, the Gunners aimed to salvage their season with an FA Cup title. Standing in their way in the final was the surprise team from Southampton. Thierry was everywhere from the start, narrowly missing two chances in the first three minutes. Ultimately, he figured into the winning goal in Arsenal's 1-0 victory, with a brilliant ball to Dennis Bergkamp, who sent a cross to Freddie Ljungberg. He laid the ball off to Robert Pires, who nothced the game's only tally.
Entering the 2003-2004 season, Thierry and his Gunner teammates focused on reclaiming the Premiership title. Arsenal supporters were also beginning to whisper about what was once unthinkable: breaking Ian Wright's club scoring record. Thierry was in striking distance. In January of 2003, he had notched his 100th goal in just his 180th appearance. Wright's mark stood at 184 goals in 287 appearances. Many fans rooted for Thierry to surpass him.
Midway through the season, the Gunners were undefeated in 19 matches. Premiership fans wondered if Arsenal would ever lose. With eight goals, Thierry was a key to the team's great play.
Building on their momentum, the Gunners just kept chugging along. In a four-game span, Thierry scored six goals, and then netted another hat-trick in April, this time against Liverpool. He topped that performance a week later against Leeds, when he scored four times in a 5-0 victory. Thierry attributed his barrage to his growing knowledge of the central striker position under the guidance of Wenger.
With Leicester standing between Arsenal and an undefeated season, the Gunners won 2-1, becoming the first team to go through a Premiership season wihtout a loss since Preston North End in the 1888-1889. Thierry added a penalty kick in the match, his league-leading 30th goal of the season. Alan Shearer was next closest at 22.
But while the Gunners finished the Premiership without a blemish on their record, they failed to win the FA Cup and also lost to Chelsea in aggregate scoring in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Still, Thierry was a no-brainer for his second consecutive Premiership Player of the Year Award. The first player to be so honored in consecutive years, he was only the third to walk away with the hardware twice.
After the season, Barcelona again tried to grab Thierry from Arsenal, but he declined. The Gunners, in turn, signed him to an extension through the 2006-07 season.
Thierry next was off to Portugal for Euro 2004, where Les Blues hoped to repeat as European Champions. The tournament opened with the match-up everyone wanted to see: England vs. France, Wayne Rooney against Thierry. The Brits struck first in the 38th minute, but the ageless Zidane responded in the clutch—twice. His pair of goals, in the 91st and 93rd minutes, stunned the English and energized the French heading into their second match with Croatia.
France held a 1-0 lead against the Croatians until early in the second half, when two quick goals put them on thw wrong side of the score. Trezeguet then tied things up in the 61st minute, which is how the match ended. For the French to advance, they needed a win in their third game, against Switzerland. Thierry picked the perfect time to come up big.
With the game knotted 1-1 in the 76th minute, Luis Saha sent a header into the box, where Thierry cleaned it up to give the French a 2-1 lead. He then sealed the victory in the 84th minute with one of his patented breakaway goals.
In the quarters, France faced upstart Greece. Les Blues never knew what hit them, as the Cinderella Greeks won this match and went on to claim the championship in eye-opening fashion.
Thierry started the 2004-2005 season with a tender Achilles tendon, but he recovered sufficiently to score 31 times in 42 games. Thierry excelled while adjusting to a new formation devised by Wenger, which isolated him as the team's lone striker
Arsenal failed to repeat, however, finishing behind Chelsea. Still, the club captured the FA Cup. In the final against Manchester, Thierry was too sore to compete. The Gunners, outplayed from start to finish, managed to keep the match a scoreless tie through 120 minutes. They proceeded to win on penalty kicks.
Even without playing against ManU, Thierry was able to make his presence felt on the world stage. European soccer's "not-so-secret" dirty little secret was an increasingly vocal bias against black players in pockets all over the region. After Thierry experienced a racially charged incident of his own, he decided to rsie up against hated on the football pitch. Nike launched a campaign called "Stand Up Speak Up," and Thierry became its most noteworthy supporter. He appeared in TV commericials and print ads and wore a wristband designed as a display of solidarity among players. His willingness to get personally helped bring attention to the issue and opened the door to solving it.
As the 2005–06 season approached, Vieira left Arsenal, and Thierry was elevated to the club ’s captaincy. He thrived in his new role. In an October match, he scored twice against Sparta Prague to become Arsenal's all-time leading goal scorer. Later in the season, he established a new team record for league goals. On February 1, 2006, Thierry scored his 100th Premier League goal. The Premiership’s leading scorer for the fourth time in his career, he became the first player to net 20 or more goals in five consecutive campaigns.
The Gunners were a young club, and it showed in the standings, as they failed again to finish atop the league. However, they did well across the English Channel, reaching the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final, where they lost to FC Barcelona. With Thierry at the height of his powers, speculation began to swirl that he might be headed up the food chain. He responded by inking a four-year deal with Arsenal, claiming that he intended to stay with the club for his entire career
At World Cup 2006, Thierry spearheaded the French attack. He scored three times in the tournament, including one against defending-champion Brazil. France reached the final, and dreams of a repeat of their '98 title danced in the heads of Les Bleus. Unfortuantely, they lost to Italy on penalty kicks. Thierry was named the starting striker on the World Cup XI team
After this tantalizing near-miss for Thierry, the season that followed brought greater disappointment and frustration. He was chronically injured for the first time as a pro, appearing in just 17 games for Arsenal. Leg, stomach and back problems limited his effectiveness, particularly in the latter half of the season. Each time he tried to come back, he hurt something else.
After the season, Thierry began thinking it was time for a change of scenery. David Dein had left Arsenal, and Wenger’s future with the Gunners was uncertain. FC Barcelona swooped in and grabbed Thierry for 16.1 million pounds, signing him to a new contract that pays nearly million pounds per season.
Thierry was used on the wing most of the season. While this curtailed his goal-scoring somewhat, it utilized his reads and feeds to players like striker Lionel Messi. Thierry scored his first goal for Barcelona in a Champions League victory over Lyon in September of 2007. Ten days later. he netted a hat trick in a Spanish League match against Levante. Thierry was not thrilled about his new role, but he proved effective nonetheless, leading Barcelona with 19 goals and adding nine assists.
Meanwhile, playing for the French national team, Thierry surpassed Michel Platini as his country’s all-time goal-scorer when he found the net twice against Lithuania in October of 2007. French fans were hoping for a run at the championship in Euro 2008, but the team was upended in group play. Thierry scored France’s only goal in three matches. He recorded six in all for Les Bleus in 10 games.
The 2008–09 campaign with Barcelona found Thierry working in perfect rhythm with Messi and Samuel Eto’o. The trio combined to score an awe-inspiring 100 goals for the club, with Thierry accounting for 26 in 42 matches. Powered by this trio, Barcelona won the Spanish League regular season title, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish SuperCup, the Champions League title, the UEFA SuperCup and the FIFA World Club Cup. The “sextuple” was the first in pro soccer history.
From the highs of this incredible season came the lows of 2009–10. Approaching his mid 30s, Thierry was beginning to lose a little, and Barcelona decided it was time to move Pedro Rodriguez into the starting lineup. Becuase Thierry played the same position as Rodriguez, that meant he would be doing a lot of sitting. Thierry scored only four goals in 21 league games and did not find the net in any of Barcelona’s other matches.
Of course, by the spring of 2010, all thoughts were on France’s chances in the World Cup. In qualifying the previous fall, Thierry drew the ire of many soccer fans when he used his hands to control a ball before delivering a pass to William Gallas, who scored the winning goal against Ireland. Thierry was so taken aback by the reaction to his play that he actually thought about retiring.
Fortunately, as the World Cup began, the controversy had died down, but there was a lot of internal turmoil on the French squad. Nicolas Anelka berated coach Raymond Domenech and was sent home. His teammates protested the decision by refusing to practice. Not surprisingly, this discord affected France in group play, and the team team failed to advancey. Thierry barely played. After the team returned home, he announced his retirement from international soccer. He left with 51 goals in 123 games for France.
Still under contract to Barcelona for one more season—and unlikely to see quality minutes—Thierry and club president Joan Laporta agreed that a sale to another team made sense. In July, a four-year deal was announced that brought Thierry to Major League Soccer as a member of the New York Red Bulls. Thierry made his American debut against a familiar foe, English club Tottenham Hotspour, in the Barclays Challenge.
Midway through the first half, Thierry took a cross from Joel Lindpere and chipped the ball into the net with a sliding touch. He ran behind the goal and shouted to the fans, “I’m here! I’m here! And I’m happy to be here!”
American soccer fans should be happy, too. Thierry is a star of the first magnitude, a player who can still perform at a high level and who can make the players around him better. He may become a household name afterall in the U.S.
THIERRY THE PLAYER
Thierry may not be the best striker to ever step on a soccer pitch—most people leave that distinction to either Pele or Maradona—but he's still in good company. His primary strength is his lightning-quick speed. Watch him dribble through a defense and slide a ball past a diving goaltender, and it's not hard to understand why people call him the fastest player to ever touch a soccer ball.
The world's top strikers are usually known as pure scorers. That's not Thierry. The number of headers he has put in can be counted on one hand. A striker who can't head the ball is usually a striker without a job, and that was part of what prompted Barcelona to shift Thierry to the wing.
Thierry is at his best one-on-one, staring his man right in the eye. He is simply too fast with the ball at his feet for most opponents. Unlike other players, he shifts into another gear when he receives a pass. Thierry then combines that speed with an uncanny nose for the goal. If opposing teams squeeze him too tight, his superb passing usually makes them pay a heavy price.
Enemy defenders have openly confessed to having nightmares before playing against Thierry—and with good reason. He is a deadly scorer, but he's also a proven winner. Chances are he will always find a way to beat an opponent.
How will Thierry’s obvious talents and star power translate with American soccer fans? If his first game in a Red Bulls uniform is any indication, he will be a huge favorite. Thierry ingratiated himself to fans in the New York metropolitan area by taking the PATH train to his debut match. Red Bull Arena drew one of its largest crowds ever for the contest. MLS expects only David Beckham to outpace Thierry in terms of merchandise sales.
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