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Henry - Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

Decision time looms for the CF Montreal head coach

Decisions, decisions.... Thierry Henry with plenty to ponder....

You have to admire Thierry Henry’s commitment to football.

Arsenal’s finest-ever doesn’t need the money, stress or pressure that comes with managing a football club, but it’s in his blood. He’s as much driven to becoming Henry the great coach as he was in becoming Henry the player, who hit those most elevated of heights.

And although he may leave CF Montreal halfway through his 2-year deal, he can’t be labelled a quitter either.

The Frenchman had a tough ride at Juventus as a player but didn’t waste time, moving to The Gunners when his former Monaco manager came calling. And despite an indifferent beginning at Highbury, he still ended his first season in London with 17 league goals.

Arsene Wenger Press Conference
Arsene Wenger was surprised to see Thierry Henry enter the race for the Bournemouth job along with another of his former players, Patrick Vieira.
Photo by Jun Sato/Getty Images

As coach, a comfortable introduction to national team management under Roberto Martinez with Belgium was followed by torrid times at Monaco. Wrong job! Wrong time!

Undaunted after a period of inflection, he answered Montreal Impact’s need. Henry was back in the same MLS he graced as a player with New York Red Bulls.

Again Henry the coach found life less natural and much more complex than when he scored goals for fun.

A poor run of results in control of a team inherited not built, dealing with the Covid-ravaged, start/stop season in which his team played only four times in its home city and being estranged from a family domiciled in London, England, clearly took its toll.

It would have broken lesser men. At many of his press conferences he sulked, the image of a frustrated, tired figure upon whose shoulders the world had come to rest. The thought would cross my mind often, wondering if Thierry Henry would endure the season with Montreal.

He did of course, and steered his team into the conveniently-inflated play-offs. A modest reward for all the toil, travel and trauma in a season like no other.

Like all top-class sportsmen, Henry possesses the durability and determination qualities in abundance. He’s serious and driven with a high level of intelligence. That’s why as long as it remains a burning desire, he will make it as a coach.

We’ve heard various players praise his methods and management, including Samuel Piette, a player Henry challenged, removing the Quebecer from his comfort zone, and also discarded captain, Jukka Raitala, who rates Henry as, “... the best coach I’ve played under.”

Managing Montreal Impact was always going to be a stepping stone for someone of Henry’s stature and footballing credentials. In Montreal we all hoped he’d stay the course as laid down by his contract. He still might, but it’s beginning to look less likely.

He clearly wants to coach at the highest level and the opportunity presented at AFC Bournemouth in England’s second-tier provides a bigger and brighter shop-window than with Montreal in MLS.

It’s not without risk however. The possible downside could see The Cherries falter and decline. The Championship in England, even as far back as its ‘English League Division Two’ days, is rightly considered a very hard league to get out of, at the right end.

As things stand Bournemouth lie 6th, in a play-off position, twelve points behind leaders Norwich City, but only eight short of Brentford and Watford in second (also automatic promotion) and fourth. Swansea lie third seven points better off than Bournemouth, but with two less games played. With sixteen rounds left to play, anything could yet happen.

The Cherries have led mainly a third and fourth tier existence for much of their history, being famous for Ted McDougall’s FA Cup record-breaking 9 goals in one match against Margate, having their town ransacked by promotion-chasing Leeds one bank holiday weekend and knocking Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United FA Cup holders out of the competition while a third tier club. The town itself is a popular destination for retirees.

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Bournemouth v Manchester United - Dean Court
Thirty-seven years ago last month, until then the greatest day in the history of Bournemouth’s modest little Dean Court stadium. Milton Graham (falling) hooks home the first goal in third tier Bournemouth’s 2-0 victory over FA Cup holders, Manchester United.
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

But everything at the football club changed when Eddie Howe took them to promotion from the fourth tier in 2009/10, and a year later when Russian multi-millionaire Maxim Victorovich Demin became a co-owner.

Howe oversaw promotion again (to the Championship) in 2012/13 and incredibly to the Premier League in 2014/15, where they remained for five seasons, before last year’s relegation.

Former assistant Jason Tindall with 22 years behind him at the club, succeeded Howe post-relegation, and things started off well, unbeaten for the first nine league games and losing only twice in the first nineteen. The Cherries lay second just prior to Christmas. They even knocked out Premier League Crystal Palace in the League Cup, before narrowly succumbing to Phil Foden’s 75th minute winner at Manchester City in the next round.

But a recent run of four straight defeats set the panic bells ringing. Tindall was fired.

There may be a feeling at Dean Court that it’s this year, next year... or never. Bournemouth has managed to keep together a largely Premiership squad thanks to Premier league relegation parachute payments, which fall dramatically in value in the third year after relegation, and disappear completely in year four.

A pair of renowned BBC football journalists are on record quoting sources at the south coast club suggesting Bournemouth were looking for an experienced, tried and trusted manager to succeed Tindall, one who has what it takes to get them back into the Premier League’s promised land.

Thierry Henry’s hat going into the ring appears to have turned management heads, or perhaps the owner’s. Has the glitz and stardust obscured the previously more modest and workmanlike aspiration?

If he really wants the job, this aspect certainly seems to be working in Henry’s favour, but the price of failure could be high, unless Mr Demin has guaranteed time and funds for the current CF Montreal boss.

Is this the next owner Thierry Henry will coach under? Russian tycoon Maxim Demin made his fortune in banking, with Zenit Bank and AK Bars Bank, as well as holding a senior position in the oil company Tatneft.

Another failure in the Henry coaching CV won’t look good. Europe’s perception of his coaching credentials are to be kind, modest, and weighed down by the old adage that ‘great players often do not make great coaches’.

There is enough uncertainty to suggest Bournemouth, like Monaco before, could be the wrong club at the wrong time for Thierry Henry.

But there is plenty also to attract him to the role too. A family in the UK, no more long spells spent holed up in secure hotels away from home during another Covid-infested MLS season and the prospects a successful promotion season would provide.

It’s not a shoe-in just yet, but you feel CF Montreal Sporting Director Olivier Renard may have to swiftly switch his attention away from players to finding a new head coach, if that particular search is not already well underway.

As for Henry if he moves, only bringing back Premier League football to the Premier League’s smallest-ever venue will do. Anything less will be viewed as failure.

Check out the latest The Ball Is Round Podcast. Recorded Wed 17 Feb, we cover the Henry/Bournemouth situation and other Montreal soccer news...
Every Week - The Ball Is Round...