Former Impact and CF Montreal boss, Thierry Henry was the special studio guest on Sky’s Monday Night Football show this evening.
After Jamie Carragher and Henry had dissected Liverpool’s 1-0 success at Wolves, presenter David Jones changed track to Thierry Henry, the coach, leading to a fascinating three-way discussion, particularly for any fan of the Montreal team.
The Frenchman spoke of how much he enjoyed his time in Quebec.
And of how satisfying it was to work on changing the identity of the team, describing the ‘amazing’ feeling in transforming the mentality of a player comfortable in passing backwards or sideways to one who suddenly uncovered an instinct to pass forwards.
“It is great! That pleasure for me of seeing someone changing is great. It is upsetting that I couldn’t carry on, because when you start something you want to carry on, for obvious reasons, but the new season it couldn’t continue [for me]. It was going to be the same way as last season and I need to be closer to my kids. But I really enjoyed it. This is what I want to do.”
Henry highlighted the Montreal job as the more challenging of his two coaching assignments, essentially down to the Covid factor.
Describing the situation to UK viewers, Henry explained the difficulties Canadian clubs faced last season, having to be on the road for so long and the frequency with which players became injured under a stop/start schedule, before underlining the objective of play-off football was eventually achieved.
“If you really count how many times we had to quarantine as a team last year, or as individuals, because when we went back to Canada we always had to quarantine, I quarantined over 150 days.
“That’s some time to be alone with your own brain, especially mine. You wouldn’t like to be in there,” he quipped.
“Joking aside it became tough. We had to play the MLS-is-Back tournament, and even though we lost early, in the round of 16, we had to be there for just over a month.
“And so you were doing field... hotel... field... hotel... I’m not complaining, but it’s a fact.
“You know when you go on pre-season for instance, you always try to plan it so it doesn’t pass ten days. So you do ten days, then a break, then another ten days and another break. If not guys are going to have a go at each other, because it is just normal, it’s very difficult.
“Then it was back to Canada to quarantine, and then relocate back to New Jersey as the US teams were not permitted to cross the border into Canada.”
The Frenchman explained how he learned a lot about himself and the role he was there to perform. He quickly realized that despite being away from home and having to deal with personal problems, his team still had to win games.
“I learned that nobody really cares about all of that [the challenges]. The coach has to be the leader of the pack, the captain, and make sure you can control that situation. It wasn’t easy, we managed to do it. We had games where we were 14 or 16, including two goalkeepers on the bench. It was tough but I learned a lot on the human side of it.”
Carragher asked Henry: “Do you find it’s unfair the scrutiny big name players are under when they first go into coaching when you are really learning on the job?”
Henry responded negatively saying it all comes with the territory. “Same as a player sometimes... when you were good, you are not that good. You know, you have a team with you and so when you are bad, you are not that bad either.
“People do not tend to see the whole picture. When I arrived in Monaco, I had 17 injured players. Seventeen. Nine or ten of them were starters, so it takes time to rebuild something.
“You arrive in MLS and you have to deal with Covid. And obviously you have a project in place and you are trying to achieve something. It’s not easy.
“And what goes on with my name, or whatever I’ve done before, I always say, ‘I haven’t done anything as a coach. I’m not pretending... you know, what happened in the past happened in the past, you can’t be too much in the future [either], you have to be in the present.
“But you can’t help it, people will always ask me questions. Sometimes I faced questions after games like, ‘Would you have scored that goal if you were the striker?’ But I’m not. So the player missed it. Why ask me if I would have scored that goal. I’m not on the field any more, but you will always get that scrutiny.”
At Monaco, Henry said he would’ve acted differently had he known he was to be afforded so little time. There dawned a huge realization that regardless of any situation, if you don’t win, things become very difficult.
He finds it more challenging to analyze his Montreal experience however...
“It’s harder to judge. I couldn’t even phone anyone for advice on how to deal with the situation, because no-one had gone through that type of situation before.
“If you brought the players back [to Canada] you couldn’t train. We played some games where we trained two days and we went to play against a team that was already training for a very long time.”
Despite acknowledging how important results are in football, Henry will not compromise his philosophy when he accepts a third coaching challenge. “I think you have a certain way of thinking, an identity and a philosophy and sometimes you can change the tactical aspect, but identity and philosophy should remain the same.
“I like to play out from the back, but I like the the option of playing a long pass also. You need to give the option to the player to play short and have the confidence to play short.
“In Monaco it was difficult, as you can imagine, we were at the bottom. I wanted my team to play out from the back. Same in Montreal. We went from a team that was used to playing on the counter-attack, but the team that actually made the play-offs, although I know we did not have the best year ever, made the play-offs by trying to play out from the back.
“And this is a little victory because you see guys that were brave enough because they were finding themselves in a system where they have a short solution, but if not comfortable it was ok to play a long pass.”
Continuing on and reflecting on more generic changes in the game, Henry sees modern day players as much different than when the Frenchman was knocking in goals for fun at Highbury.
“You have to go to them. Now you are the senior guy and you have to go to the new generation.
“What I knew, what was set in stone, is not the same any more. I cannot speak to those guys and have the same view of what I knew before, because it’s not the same any more. These guys are really gauging me against what I thought was set in stone.
“I think it is the same in life. Youngsters are challenging you on anything, even if they are right or wrong. They are waiting for you to explain to them what's wrong when it’s clear to see.”
Henry explained how he learns from players all the time, and that he held back, for instance, during post-match press-conferences, “because the first thing they [the players] do when they get into the dressing-room is go for their phones to hear if I’ve killed them or not.”
He does however feel it’s important and there is a right time to have the tough conversations and be honest with each other. But not publicly as some players will not react well.
“You have had to learn from your mistakes at times. You can’t be the same way right now [as in the past]. Like I would never have gone to see my coach to ask why I’m not playing. You knew why you are not playing. You are not playing because you are not good. That was the story before.
“Now you can’t do that, you have to go to them, you have to speak with them, you have to praise them when sometimes they don’t deserve it. But you have to find a way to motivate that player, whatever way. Put your ego on the side, leave it there and this is about the team, because at the end of the day, the players will win.
“Pep says this all the time. It is true, he used to say this in the dressing room at Barcelona... ‘Without you guys I am nothing’.
“You are at the mercy of your players sometimes. If those guys are not performing, it’s on you to make them believe what you are about to sell them.”
Having coached at Monaco and Montreal, Henry explains he has more sympathy and understanding for any coach, now that he understands what it’s like being on the other side of the line.
“It’s a different ball-game,” says the former French World Cup winner.”
Check out the latest The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 19). Recorded last Wednesday evening the TBIR team discuss the Nancy appointment, select the best-ever #IMFC head coach and try to understand why so many of Europe’s big clubs are struggling under pandemic football. Plus all the usual favourite features...
Every Week - The Ball Is Round... @TBIRMontreal - please follow us for regular, weekly CF Montreal, Canadian, MLS and international content in English!