Saturday, July 16, 2011

Editorial: Time for Henry to Surrender Captaincy

Henry: Cut Out to Be a Captain?
Perusing Twitter yesterday I came across an article by Alex Labidou on in which Thierry Henry expressed frustration with a number of different aspects of Major League Soccer, including travel and the continued presence of Field Turf in several markets. I can sympathize with Henry on both points.

Travel during the long, hot North American summer can be draining, especially when a club has two to three games over the span of a week. it's an issue the league will need to address when teams 19 and 20 join in the next few years. And turf, which once seemed to be on its way out for good, has somehow managed to make a roaring comeback in the Pacific Northwest, much to the annoyance of many fans and players, especially those of us who remember Giants Stadium, Arrowhead and Rice-Eccles.

One of Henry's complaints, however, rankled me. Labidou reported that:
[Henry] is getting agitated with the amount of media that he is required to talk to after every game and practice.
Henry continued:
"I don't have anything much to say any more. We do speak a lot every time. I've spoken more here than in my entire career. I don't speak to the press the way I speak here. So I don't know what else you want me to say."
In a way, I can understand Henry's frustration. Expectations for the Red Bulls were sky high at the start of the season. Hans Backe famously set his primary goal as the Supporters' Shield, a trophy that is now out of touch for New York, barring some sort of miracle. Just when RBNY seemed to find their feet with a resounding 5-0 win over Toronto, they capitulated meekly at home days later against their arch rival, DC United. Defensive errors and goalkeeping blunders have cost the Red Bulls valuable points that they now must scramble to make up.

None of these factors, however, should excuse Henry from his duty as club captain. As the face of the franchise and team leader one of his obligations, whether he likes it or not, is to address the press and answer questions, however frustrating they may seem. Brian Straus of the Sporting News correctly flagged this as an issue earlier in the season, but it has now come to a head.

It's time for the Red Bulls to either politely suggest to Henry that he accept his leadership responsibility or ask him to hand the captain's armband over to another player. This has nothing to do with Henry's production or the quality of his play - his nine goals have been crucial to keeping New York atop the Eastern Conference. It's about having a leader who is willing and able to call out his teammates as warranted and someone who is a consistent presence on the pitch. In addition to his absences earlier in the season, Henry has missed recent away games in San Jose and Seattle. He was a ghost of a figure in the 1-1 draw in Chicago and was barely noticeable in the final 25 minutes of the DC United defeat (some of that, admittedly, was his teammates doing).

There's one man who clearly stands out above Henry for his durability, leadership and knack for scoring big goals: Joel Lindpere. After the Chicago draw, it was Lindpere - not Henry - who called his teammates out for their lack of effort. He went on to almost singlehandedly earn the Red Bulls a draw at Stanford Stadium a week later. Though he pulls down a fraction of Henry's salary and is quite possibly the most underpaid man in MLS, the Estonian has it all over the Frenchman in terms of grit and determination.

So please, New York Red Bulls. Let Henry do what he does best - score and set up goals - whenever he is able to do it. But don't ask him to assume a role he's clearly not cut out for or willing to perform. It's time for New York to pass the captain's armband to Joel Lindpere, show a little more dignity in the way they deal with the news media and move forward.
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