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Mike Petke speaks on his relationship with Thierry Henry

Jan 25, 2013, 9:50 AM EST

Colorado Rapids v New York Red Bulls Getty Images

One problem with Mike Petke’s potential to spin this fortuitous Red Bulls’ coaching opportunity into career gold: his success or failure may not tell us much about Petke’s true capacity as a professional coach.

Rather, it may speak only to Petke’s ability to get along with one man: Thierry Henry.

With David Beckham’s departure from MLS, Henry (pictured, along with Kenny Cooper) inherits the chair as Major League Soccer’s preeminent global superstar. (Not to mention still its highest paid, with a guaranteed compensation of about $5 million.) Even before, Henry could be something of a prima donna, unwilling to play on artificial turf, moody around the media and unafraid to speak his mind about what best suits the team, personnel-wise.

In fairness, Henry’s fabulous talent (even at age 35) gives Petke a big leg up in terms of competitive advantage against some of the clubs he’ll face. And yet …

As a first-year manager, Petke has plenty on his plate. Being asked to manage the tricky politics involved here is a heaping helping of potential headaches for any boss, let alone one on the business end of a substantial learning curve.

Don’t forget, Henry is one of France’s best players ever. The Red Bulls soccer operations are now being steered by a Frenchman, former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier. That would seem to give Henry extra clout, should his ideas on the team ever arrive at odds with Petke’s, a troubling situation for any manager, much less one with no skins on the managerial wall.

At any rate, here’s what Petke said yesterday about his relationship with Henry.

I’ve been around the team, I know the players. We have a good relationship. Before he [Henry] came here I didn’t think anyone was as passionate about the game as I was. Whatever it is, Ping Pong, cards, whatever, he wants to win. I put him in the same category as guys like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in that respect. Nothing has changed. No one will be coddled. They are human beings and men and I will treat them like men.”

Which is a great attitude for a manager – so long as everybody inside that locker room, Henry and everyone else, is committed to acting like men and not like little boys.

  1. wesbadia - Jan 25, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    This helps sate some of my concerns. Spoken like a general there at the end of that quote, not like a mere soccer coach. I like that.

    I guess my next question is if Petke can instill some pride-in-club in Henry so he stops moping around the field even after he’s scored a brilliant goal. Henry may very well have the most passion for the sport on the planet, but until he starts exhibiting that passion in positive ways to the fans, no one will believe it. I hope Petke brings that out of him. It might turn Henry into a better ambassador for the league.

  2. arjanroghanchi - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    I am so sick of this Thierry Henry as Tyrant narrative. The traits that Titi displays on the field in MLS, are the same traits he displayed in England, Spain, and for France.

    Athletes that reach his level of performance and success are not known for their geniality. They are known for winning things. And Thierry Henry has won it all, literally.

    Even the humble Leo Messi has been known to berate a teammate on the field when he is disappointed with their play (just ask WC winner David Villa).

    Anyone who doesn’t think that the benefits to Conor Lade, Dax Mccarty, Ryan Meara (young American prospects by the way) of being on the same team as Titi FAR outweigh getting glared or yelled at on the field A) doesn’t understand football and B) should reexamine their supporter’s bona fides.

    I have had the pleasure of attending many RBNY games and watching Titi score and create many goals. I could care less how nice he is, or how easy he is to work with.

    Mike Petke is a big boy. He will get along with Thierry Henry or he won’t.

    That doesn’t change the fact that Thierry Henry at 35 is the best player in the league by a wide margin, and certainly the best chance RBNY have of winning a trophy this year.

    (BTW, if Thierry Henry says in private or from the field “we should try this…” Petke would be wise to listen.)

    • wesbadia - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      If your comment is really a reply to mine (which it seems to be), then you would be wise to reread what I wrote. Berating players and demanding more of them on and off the field is not a contention. Plenty of players do that, and I think it should be accepted in professional sports by now to do so. I know it is by me.

      What I take issue with is Henry’s seeming dislike of playing soccer here. Every goal he scores, every assist he makes, every textbook pass he completes… it doesn’t matter; when he’s on the field after it happens it looks like he’s detached from what just happened. He’s a shell with no emotion and no visible passion. He may very well be an incredibly determined, passionate person in the locker room, but he does NOT display that on the field. Not showing emotion when scoring a goal? Even his Olimpico last year? That is not natural. He’s giving the impression he doesn’t want to be here, playing in this league or with his teammates. If that’s not true, then his attitude on the pitch needs to change. Millions of eyes are watching. And as the chief ambassador of MLS right now for foreign eyes, he’s doing an absolutely horrible job of it.

      • mvktr2 - Jan 26, 2013 at 12:35 AM

        fwiw wesbadia I didn’t read his comments as a reply to yours.

        However I don’t think any problems around Henry have much to do with his ‘glaring’ or on the field commentary to teammates. If anything that’s a good thing, and it’s not something I’ve seen put forth as an ‘issue’ or at least a real one concerning Henry. The talk I’ve heard is he and ‘his people’ having input above the coach’s head organizationally putting Henry’s philosophy and ideas at odds with his direct ‘boss’. Actually the competitive desire to expect and ask for excellence is usually the hallmark of successful sports teams and businesses as well.

        As wesbadia said originally this quote from Petke is good news. I noted in the article announcing he’d been hired this could be a good move, only time will tell. However being a professional coach is less about teaching and more about leadership, holding people accountable, setting expectations, setting the pace. Behind all of that strategy and approach fall in line. No matter how good a strategist, game planner, teacher, or talent evaluator a coach is, ALWAYS the most important traits deal with leadership and it’s application organizationally.

        One final thought about on the field behavior. Anyone whom saw the Alabama/Notre Dame BCS nat. champ. game and saw what happened between the Bama QB & center with 7 minutes left to play in the game and up by 4 TDs iirc should ‘get’ that it wasn’t a bad thing, but a beautiful thing. It encapsulates the drive to succeed that the head coach has instilled in his entire program from himself all the way down to student assistant trainers. The bar of expectation is perfection, be the best you can be every day, dominate.

  3. mconroy10 - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Huh??? I don’t recognize this passionless player you’re talking about and I’ve gone to nearly every home game he’s played, and several away. If anything, his competitiveness and passion has gone over the top on occasion and gotten him in trouble.

    • wesbadia - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:19 PM

      Have you seen how he played when he was at Arsenal? His loan stint last year was a stark contrast of his NY demeanor. Scoring a goal and actually smiling? That’s unheard of at RBA. Usually he sulks, straight faced, away from all his teammates, and just jogs back to the other sideline. On the rare occasion that he does celebrate, it’s to tell the NY fans that they were wrong about him and he’s still King Henry. If you’re not seeing this, you’re not watching him close enough. Turn on a TV and see how he acts up close in stead of at the other end of the field.

      • arjanroghanchi - Jan 25, 2013 at 3:29 PM

        you have never been to a red bull game, and possibly never watched one on TV.

      • wesbadia - Jan 25, 2013 at 3:33 PM

        I’ve never seen a Red Bull game live, you’re right. But I’ve watched them and Henry on the screen enough to know what I’m talking about. Do I need to dig up video highlights to prove this?

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