Thierry Henry speaks on Indian football, Arsenal and his role as a coach on his recent tour to India
284 goals for 5 clubs- Frenchman, Thierry Henry’s resume is as good as it gets. Currently working as the second assistant manager for the Belgium national team under Roberto Martinez- the former Arsenal and Barcelona striker has displayed his tactical acumen on numerous occasions as a pundit on T.V
As part of a Puma campaign, Henry is in India and spoke to a select group of journalists in Mumbai on a wide range of topics. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
So, Henry, what do you make of your short time in India?
A lot of stuff has been happening. I arrived from England, had some rest and went to the mall to meet the fans there. It was a great experience. I also met Robin Singh, one of the young talents of Indian football. The Indian Super League match which I saw was a different type of atmosphere.
I know some of the stadiums are not available because you’ll are going to host the U-17 World Cup. Which is amazing for you guys. It’s going to create a good buzz for the youngsters. But everything went a bit quick.
What was the pre-match preparations like in Barcelona before playing the El Clasico against Real Madrid?
It’s one of those games where you don’t need any special type of preparation. Because everybody lets you know that it’s a Clasico. Those games defy logic. I don’t care what you’re doing, you know that the Clasico is on. We were aware that if you win those games you might end up winning the title. Because it was a question of who will stop whose momentum. The magnitude of the game overshadowed everything.
Your thoughts on the Indian Super League and focusing on grass roots?
This is very important. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to get international players and coaches. The youngsters get to learn alongside those players and coaches. But I think the future of this country and football is grassroots and the youth. Simple as that.
You need big players to create awareness so that people talk about the league. But what’s going to make the league successful and maintaining it is having a lot of youngsters coming through and learning the game the right way.
Some say you’ve got good fashion sense?
I actually didn’t know this but thank you. I wear what I like to wear. I have to thank my dad because I try to emulate what he did. Who decides what’s stylish or not? I never understood that. What I like maybe you wouldn’t like and vice versa. I don’t know what’s the norm. I like what I wear and that’s all I know. I don’t know who decides this. I don’t wear anything to impress people. No one is equipped that yourself to know what you’re supposed to wear.
What separates a great striker from a good striker?
A lot of stuff. A lot of strikers can finish a certain way. The difference is what do you envision and how do you execute it and how calm can you be. I think about how I can analyse what’s in front of me really quickly. When the ball is traveling, can you picture the goal that you’re trying to score?
Most of the times, when I am looking at the ball, I am trying to see who’s moving where to make sure I can plan my goal. Sometimes it’s instinct. You see many strikers in a 1v1 situation losing their way while trying something. Because they’re thinking about it while doing it. You have to think about it before you do it. It’s about how quick your brain can react.
Do you think there are fewer poachers in world football today?
I think the role of the number 9 has changed. If you go back in the 80’s and early 90’s where the striker wasn’t really getting involved in the build up. Now the build up involves trying to reach your striker first and then playing off the striker. Then the wingers come into play. Now you have the number 10 scoring goals instead of assisting a bit more.
The game always evolves and it’s good because it keeps us on our toes. Managers find different tactics. But yes, strikers are different now. Back in the days, the strikers never came short. Now they want to. Apart from a few like Lewandowski and Aguero who like running behind the defender. Ultimately it depends on what the coaches are trying. Lewandowski is the closest thing to a proper striker in today’s time.
What do you think about Theo Walcott and his form this season?
In his first season, he didn’t play with us. I was around with him for a year before I left. He’s been at the club for 10 seasons now. I think it’s time for him to deliver a complete season. He was stopped because of injuries a couple of times. It’s time for him to have a good 37 odd games where he can be efficient for the club and that will be amazing for Arsenal.
Right now, the way they’re playing is about creating more movement up front. I think Sanchez in the middle opens up a lot of space for everybody. That’s why you see Mesut Ozil as well scoring more goals. Sanchez goes wherever he wants to go from the central position. I think I’ve lost count about how many times Walcott wanted to play in different positions. Sometimes on the right, sometimes in the middle now back on the right. The way you move will create space for you. Their combo is working well.
Why did you want to become a coach? Did you call Arsene or Pep before making the decision?
Not really. It’s something that I always had in mind. I am still not a coach just a second assistant (for Belgium national team) When I meet Arsene and other players I’ve played with that are coaches right now, I ask them for them tips.
I met Claude Puel the other day (manager of Premier League club Southampton). Believe it or not, I’ve played with him (laughs). We talked about coaching. I asked him some questions. I also remember what my coaches used to do when I was under them. But yeah you always ask around.
Your thoughts on the growth of football in India?
I know that Bengaluru is in the finals of the AFC Cup. You need to get successful somehow for the youth to take interest. That’s why I talked about 84 in France when we won. That’s when I wanted to play the game. If the kids, see that they can be successful at it then it’s positive.
Every game is on Indian TV now. I know its late or early morning but it’s important for the kids to be able to dream and to see what they can achieve. That’s the first step. The population of Holland is less than Mumbai I think. They’re known as the guys that invented total football. If you put your mind into something, it can happen.