By completing the signing of French international and former Arsenal and Barcelona star Thierry Henry, Major League Soccer is hoping to boost its fanbase and cash in on a buzz caused by the recent 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. After USA’s run to the final of last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, and its performance at South Africa 2010 reaching the Round of 16, it is hoped MLS – which continued its season during the FIFA World Cup – can generate similar levels of interest in the typically non-football nation.
"This marks an exciting new chapter in my career," said Henry, who signed a multi-year deal for an undisclosed fee with Red Bull New York, where he will partner former Aston Villa man and Colombian international Juan Pablo Angel. "It is an honour to play for the New York Red Bulls. My sole goal during my time here is to help win the club its first championship. Some people might think I am going to go there [to New York] for vacation - I do actually go there for vacation - but not this time," the forward added. "I'm a competitor, and I don't like to lose." The Frenchman has played in four FIFA World Cups™ for France, including in their recent disastrous appearance in South Africa.
The Red Bulls have moved into a brand-new 25,000-seat stadium in Harrison, New Jersey and currently sit second in the league’s Eastern Conference. David Beckham - the league’s other mega-signing in 2007- is set to return from the Achilles injury that forced him to miss out on an England place at South Africa 2010, and rejoin LA Galaxy, the clear leaders out West, to set up a coastal battle for league supremacy.
No side from New York has won an American top-flight since the star-studded New York Cosmos grabbed the now defunct North American Soccer League’s Bowl in 1982. The Red Bulls – previously known as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars – have only reached the title-deciding MLS Cup once since coming into existence in the league’s first year in 1996.
Concerns among some fans that the American top -light is becoming an elephants’ graveyard, where aging stars go to finish out their careers, are not shared by the Red Bulls’ back office directors. "It is without question that Thierry Henry is one of the most successful and recognisable players over the past 15 years," said Dietmar Beiersdorfer, head of Red Bull Global Soccer. Dan Courtemanche, MLS’ marketing chief, added: "To have a player of his stature come to play in Major League Soccer and compete with the Red Bulls is only going to further elevate the profile of the game in our country.”
Henry, 32, arrives in New York with much to prove. He played little for Barcelona last season and was used a substitute during France’s three games in South Africa. His Red Bull strike partner, Angel, though is not concerned about his new mate’s quality, labeling Henry “one of the greatest players of his generation.”
The Frenchman will begin his playing journey stateside next week in a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur, old enemies from his glory days at Arsenal. With the injection of his craft and experience, the Red Bulls are now expected to challenge Beckham and Landon Donovan’s LA Galaxy for top honours in Major League Soccer. With demanding New York fans expecting the Henry of old, the pressure will be on France and Arsenal’s all-time top scorer to come up with the goods.