Thierry Henry is said to have turned down the chance to coach Arsenal’s Under 18 side because it would mean calling a halt to his fledgling career in TV punditry.
By all accounts, Arsene Wenger gave Thierry the choice of becoming the full-time coach of the Under 18s or continuing as a pundit – the clear implication being that he could not continue to do both.
As a result, the club’s all-time leading goal scorer said a polite ‘non’ to the coaching role and decided he would prefer to continue his work with Sky, thereby leaving his pursuit of a UEFA Pro licence somewhat in limbo.
Frankly, and despite the hysteria of many fans, I don’t subscribe to the view that Thierry has somehow been forced out of the club. To hold that view, you would also have to believe that Arsene has a malicious, calculating streak in his nature, that this was some sort of power play to sure up his own position and absolute authority.
It’s nonsense. Apart from anything else, Thierry joined the club with Arsene’s approval and assent. It is well known that he offers his former charges every opportunity to learn and hone their craft at the club – just look at Steve Bould, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires et al.
It seems to me that this was simply a practical decision. Arsene wants his youth team setup to be as successful as possible, he wants it producing talented youngsters who can make the leap into first team football.
To achieve that, it is reasonable to require that the coach of that side gives the task his undivided attention. You can’t have your coach offering his views on Monday night’s Watford versus Crystal Palace match while his young side are in action in the youth leagues and in need of his guidance.
I understand that Thierry’s contract with Sky and his freelance work with the BBC is extremely lucrative, but, in order to develop their potential, young players require attention and dedication, wholeheartedly and without compromise.
And let’s not forget for a moment the situation that arose in the middle of last season, when Thierry asserted, during the course of his TV punditry that Arsenal could not hope to win the Premier League with just Olivier Giroud as striker.
No doubt that caused a great deal of embarrassment and theatrics behind the scenes at Arsenal and, whether it was a genuinely held opinion or not, it was not what Olivier needed to hear, and not what Arsene would have wanted from one of his coaches.
Thierry was given a simply choice: Continue working with the Under 18s, let them benefit from your vast experience, and secure your UEFA Pro licence, or further your career in punditry. The Frenchman has made his choice.
That’s not to say it isn’t an incredibly disappointing decision. The World Cup winner would doubtless has helped the young Gunners, imparting priceless wisdom upon blossoming talents, and it may have proved a stepping stone onto bigger and better things both for Thierry and for the club.
But, as I said, the choice was laid before Thierry, and he made his decision.
It would be a shame now to see him drift off to another club, to see others benefit from his talents, much as Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and, latterly, Mikael Arteta have done, but I simply don’t think Arsene was being unreasonable here.
Giving your day job only 50 per cent while you pour your remaining energy into a side career as a low rent YouTube commentator is not something you or I could expect to do in our places of work, so why should Arsene expect any less of its employees?
Can you picture Steve Bould knocking off early from training sessions to oversee a pickled onion enterprise? I’ll leave that with you.
He’s sure to get a lot of stick for it, but I don’t blame Arsene for putting the choice before his former charge. Arsene lives, sleeps, breathes, and eats football, it isn’t beyond the pale to expect his colleagues to share some of that passion.