Thierry Henry’s potential move to Major League Soccer seems to be drawing closer by the week as the France striker’s stay at Barcelona appears to be grinding to an unsatisfactory halt.
Henry is unsettled in La Liga, and a report coming out of Spain this week further fueled intense speculation that the 30-year-old is bound for the United States.
Seattle Sounders FC, who will join the league in 2009, appear to be the franchise with the greatest interest in and best chance of securing Henry’s services in what would be a spectacular coup for MLS.
Yet inevitably, any big move made in MLS will attract as much criticism as praise and be analyzed and wholeheartedly scrutinized.
Many will trot out the old line about needing to get players like Henry in their primes rather than toward the twilight of their careers.
But don’t forget that Barcelona, one of the greatest clubs in the world, thought highly enough of Henry to offer him a lucrative and lengthy contract just a year ago.
They clearly thought he still would be an effective performer in La Liga and the Champions League in 2009, 2010 and 2011, so why shouldn’t he be in MLS?
Of course, things have not entirely gone to plan for Henry since he left Arsenal. He is not happy at being forced to play on the left in a 4-3-3 formation that means he has to cover a huge amount of ground and reduces his lines of attack.
Barcelona fans hoping to see the Henry of his Arsenal days have been disappointed and often voiced their displeasure, yet Henry never has shirked his professionalism.
The internal war between Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho has drawn fans, players and club staff into taking sides, but Henry has refused to be drawn into the debate, despite his proximity – as an attacker – to that fractured situation.
Also, he has served as a mentor to brilliant youngster Bojan Krkic, who at 17 appears on the cusp of becoming one of the game’s biggest superstars.
Henry often has spoken of his desire to end his career in the United States and has a deep personal love affair with the city of New York, which he described as his favorite place on earth.
Now, Seattle is not New York, but Henry still would find a measure of anonymity and the sort of vibrant culture he loves so much.
There still is the possibility the Red Bull company could try to take advantage of his affinity for New York and try to bring him in, especially as it looks like youngster Jozy Altidore is playing his final season in MLS before heading to Europe.
It will be tough to shake off Seattle, though, with the multiple millions of Paul Allen’s dollars driving a club that already looks likely to become a force in the league before it has played a single game.
The argument that it would benefit the league to have a global star such as Henry in the gigantic New York market is valid.
Yet if Seattle does, as many league insiders suspect, show the sort of financial intent and marketing foresight to join the Los Angeles Galaxy as one of MLS’ highest-profile clubs, Henry still could have a significant impact.
Despite starring in shaving commercials with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, the Frenchman does not have the same level of fame as David Beckham, but his soccer ability and pedigree cannot be questioned. Like Beckham, he would not come to America simply to cruise toward retirement; he would do everything in his power to make his team successful.
Henry has used his pace to great effect throughout his career, and while he inevitably will slow down in his twilight years, his skills and vision still would be enough to give MLS defenders nightmares.
The biggest worry would be in avoiding the syndrome that affected Arsenal in his final season with the Gunners. Henry was in such special form that his teammates constantly looked to give him the ball rather than making more obvious and sensible passes elsewhere.
The result: Arsenal’s play became predictably one-dimensional and put the brakes on their season.
Such potential problems are a long way away, and Henry is not immune to having a sudden change of heart.
But for the sake of MLS and soccer in the United States, fans of the league should hope he makes the jump as soon as possible.