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Why Arsene Wenger was right to give Thierry Henry an ultimatum on Arsenal coaching role

Henry is no longer part of the Arsenal staff after he refused to give up his job as a TV pundit

Thierry Henry Arsene Wenger Arsenal coach
Thierry Henry will not be part of the Arsenal coaching setup after Arsene Wenger made a decision

It doesn’t matter if you have won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, retired as the club’s record goalscorer and got yourself cast in bronze outside the stadium. If you do not conform to Arsene Wenger’s stringent rules, you do not have a role at Arsenal Football Club.

Thierry Henry has found out the hard way. But it needs to be said that Henry made it hard for himself and not the other way around.

The Gunners legend has been retired for two years now but he has been actively pursuing his coaching badges. And Wenger was more than happy to let his fellow Frenchman earn his UEFA A Licence at London Colney with the Arsenal academy youngsters learning from the best of the best; 228 goals and four Premier Leauge Golden Boot awards will attest to that.

Henry no longer part of Arsenal setup

However, News broke today that even though Henry was offered a coaching role with the Arsenal U18s by the academy head, Wenger stepped in and gave him an ultimatum. Eventually, Henry decided not to take up the role so he could continue with his media duties at Sky Sports

Nobody is denying that Henry enthusiastic about coaching and is absolutely committed to that next phase in his career in football. Far from it. In fact, even Andries Jonker, the head of the Arsenal academy, had praised Henry’s attitude to earning his coaching badge when he spoke to The Guardian last year.

“Thierry’s own wish is to be at Arsenal five, six, seven days a week,” Jonker had said. “It’s his own ambition to invest in his own future as a coach.

“What I am recognising is a guy who had a brilliant career as a player that is able to transfer his knowledge and experience to the boys. He is doing much more than he is supposed to do in order to get his coaching badge.”

Why Wenger was right to let Henry go

So why has Wenger declined to offer a coaching role to Henry? Two reasons; because Henry couldn’t commit to a full-time role and because there could be a conflict of interest. 

Henry has been working as a football pundit on Sky Sports for a while now and while he isn’t exactly one of the best on television or well-known for his articulate analysis of the game, he is still a former football star and Premier League legend who will command an audience. It is no wonder then that he earns a reported £4m per year with Sky. Of course, he is not ready to give up such a huge paycheck.

Thierry Henry Gary Neville Jamie Carragher Sky Sports
Thierry Henry’s role as a TV pundit represented a conflict of interest

Therein lies the problem. While Wenger will always be fine with world class players and club legends visiting the club’s training sessions to pass on some words of wisdom to the players now and then, the coaching role needs a more hands-on approach with a lot of time put into responsibly carrying out that role and justifying its position. 

Reports suggested that Henry would even work in a part-time role for free even if for just one day a week but Wenger was not having any of it. That could be borne more out of professionalism and respect for the man he signed from Monaco in 1999 and not to do with standing in his way as Henry tries to procure his Pro Licence. As much as he is derided for not spending money in the transfer market, Wenger would not stoop so low to hire someone for free.

Secondly, Wenger obviously does not want two different Henrys – one working at Sky and the other at Arsenal. In the studio, he would be faced with tough questions that could lead to Henry criticising the current Arsenal squad and the manager himself. Henry took his time to voice his thoughts as a pundit and now has some strong opinions on various subjects, perhaps at the behest of the higher-ups to be more vociferous with his views.

One cannot expect him to turn up at the training ground the next day where an uncomfortable atmosphere would prevail. His views on Olivier Giroud not being good enough for Arsenal are well known and even the French striker, who won the Bronze Boot at Euro 2016, was aware of his opinions and brushed it off although he did claim that it “hurt his pride”. 

The last thing Wenger wants in a carefully structured system is someone forced to give it his all in two different spheres which are inter-connected and mutually inclusive. It is simply not right to have someone working as a coach and pundit in the same arena. 

People have pointed at Wenger working as a pundit during the Euros but that is a foolish comparison. He only works as a pundit at summer tournaments – during the club’s off-season. And he gives his thoughts on international football, not club football. 

No place for club legends at Arsenal?

This has also been bandied about in the media that Wenger is reluctant to give coaching roles to former players and the examples of Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta keep coming up. Both players may have moved to Manchester City (and its affiliated clubs) but that does not mean Wenger drove them away.

To put things in perspective, Henry’s role may have now gone to Kuame Ampadu but he will be assisted by Tony Adams – Mr. Arsenal himself. The 49-year-old is back at work following a heart surgery in 2015 and has managed clubs such as Wycombe Wanderers and Portsmouth.

Thierry Henry statue
Thierry Henry will always have a place at Arsenal – but not at the cost of the club’s ethos

He last took up a role as a Sporting Director at Azerbaijani club Gabala FC. While his contract at Arsenal is yet to be signed, it is understood that he will be leaving his role in the Azerbaijan Premier League club and will move back to London.

Another player from the 2003/04 Invincibles has an active role at the club. Freddie Ljungberg, who was earlier in an ambassadorial role, is now set to coach the Arsenal U16 side. 

While a majority of the fans may not agree with most of Wenger’s ideas and decisions (including yours truly), there is a method to the way he runs the club. Ultimately, it is all about what is good for the club itself.

And the ‘Professor’ is in no mood to change the rules to accommodate the whims and fancies of those who may use their place in the club’s history books to further their own agenda. 

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