A year of anticipation has ended for fans of the New York Red Bulls and Major League Soccer, with news that former-Barcelona forward and France international Thierry Henry has signed with New York and MLS. New York Red Bulls have announced the signing on their web site and will unveil their latest acquisition on Thursday.
The acquisition of Henry has been rumored for over a year but appeared to still be a season away, with the former Arsenal star previously having one more year left on his contract with Spanish champions Barcelona. The Catalan club, however, announced at the end of their season (May) that Henry would be allowed to leave the club, should he choose.
Speculation abound during the World Cup that and agreement between league and player was in place, but only after the tournament ended has the acquisition been confirmed.
According to the team, Henry has signed a multi-year contract and will join Juan Pablo Angel as Red Bull Designated Players. He is expected to make his debut on July 22 when the club hosts English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur at Red Bull Arena.
The New York Red Bull organization was understandably excited to have the long-rumored deal confirmed:
"It is without question that Thierry Henry is one of the most successful and recognizable soccer players over the past 15 years," said Dietmar Beiersdorfer, Head of Red Bull Global Soccer. "We are thrilled that Thierry has decided to come to New York to help the Red Bulls compete for championships this year and for years to come. His international pedigree is second to none and he is a proven winner."
Henry marks the league's biggest acquisition since the Los Angeles Galaxy acquired David Beckham three seasons ago; however, whereas Beckham was coming-off a strong finish to his career in Spain with Real Madrid, Henry has just finished the worst year of his professional career. In 32 all-competition appearances with the eventual Spanish champions, Henry scored four goals, assisting on three others, losing his starting position on the left of Barcelona's three-forward attack to Pedro Rodríguez. By season's end, Henry had lost his status as preferred substitute to Bojan Krkic. Through April and May, Henry appeared in only five of Barcelona's 12 matches.
Thus, Henry's move to the U.S. represents a new opportunity for the French forward:
"This marks an exciting new chapter in my career and life," Henry said. "It is an honor to play for the New York Red Bulls. I am fully aware of the team’s history and my sole goal during my time here is to help win the club its first championship. Knowing Red Bull’s significant commitment to soccer locally and internationally, I am confident that my teammates and I will succeed."
New York currently sits second in MLS's Eastern Conference, two points behind the Columbus Crew. With coach Hans Backe employing a 4-4-2 formation, Henry is expected to partner at forward with Angel, the team's leading scorer with nine goals in 15 matches.
Red Bull General Manager Erik Soler spoke to what Henry's addition is expected to do for the team:
"Thierry is not only a world class player who will undoubtedly improve our squad, but he has shown most importantly throughout his career that he is a winner," said Erik Soler, Red Bull New York General Manager and Sporting Director. "He has made it clear to us that he is committed in the short and long term to help in our vision of making our organization the premium franchise in Major League Soccer."
Henry is a product of France's famed Clairfontaine academy, where he trained before joining his future Arsenal coach, Arsène Wenger, at AS Monaco. It was there, in 1994, that Henry started his professional career playing predominantly left wing, eventually earning a move to storied Italian side Juventus. Henry spent only six months in Turin before rejoining Wenger at Arsenal, set to enjoy the best years of his career in London.
While with the Gunners, Henry would win three Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year honors, two Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year awards while being named to the PFA Team of the Year each season between 2001 and 2006. He won the league's scoring title four times and, in 2008, was named to the English Football Hall of Fame. When Henry left for Barcelona in the summer of 2007, he did so as Arsenal's all-time leading scorer: 226 goals in 369 appearances.
For France, Henry has scored a record 51 times, his 123 appearances ranking second all-time. He was a member of French teams that won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships. Henry was also a member of this summer's team that earned only one point at World Cup 2010.
In addition to leaving Barcelona, Henry rejected a move back to England in favor of joining New York, with London-based West Ham United having courted the newest Red Bull.