Let Thursday’s news that French World Cup winner Thierry Henry has been effectively fired by AS Monaco after just over three months in charge serve as a stern warning for other talented young managers who aspire to one day lead the world’s biggest clubs.
Before accepting the job at Monaco, Henry, one of best players of his generation but a relative neophyte when it comes to managing — he had zero experience as a first team boss when he took over the eight-time Ligue 1 winner and Champions League regular in October — was being mentioned as a possible candidate for vacant posts with English giant Arsenal and the U.S. men’s national team.
It was easy to understand why. Anyone who’s spent any time around Henry knows what a brilliant football mind he has. He’s soccer obsessed; during the five seasons he spent in MLS before his 2014 retirement, Henry was as well-versed in the tactical minutiae of every club in the league as anyone, despite having already won just about every major trophy at the highest levels of the sport.
After hanging up his boots, he helped Arsene Wenger, his former coach with Monaco and Arsenal, with the Gunners youth teams on a part-time basis. He then joined Roberto Martinez’s staff with Belgium’s World Cup team, helping the Red Devils to a third-place finish last summer in Russia. After that, he quit his position as a highly regarded television analyst to fully focus on his fledgling coaching career.
Hiring young managers just a few years removed from being standout players, especially those seen as tactically advanced, is all the rage in Europe’s top leagues these days. The trend that began with Pep Guardiola and his unprecedented run in Barcelona now includes brand names like Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid; Zinedine Zidane, who led Real Madrid to three straight Champions League titles; Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager and frontrunner for Manchester United’s open job; and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United’s interim coach who is building a strong case for the permanent appointment. There are others.
Of the names mentioned above, though, only Henry’s former Les Bleus teammate Zidane was hired to helm a senior team before acquiring what most would consider the minimum qualifications. (During his 19 months leading Real’s reserve squad, Zidane wasn’t officially listed as head coach because he lacked the necessary UEFA certification.) When Monaco hired Henry, he was even more green than Zidane was.
The rest paid their dues: Simeone led four teams in his native Argentina and one in Italy before landing back at Atleti, the club where he made his name as a bruising midfielder. His compatriot Pochettino held the top jobs at Espanyol and Southampton before working his way up to Spurs. After serving as an assistant under Sir Alex Ferguson in Manchester, Solskjaer went back home to Norway and won three domestic titles with Molde. (He also managed Cardiff City.) Guardiola’s credentials were thinner, sure, but at least he’d won a league championship with Barcelona B. Besides, he only got Barca’s big job as second choice behind the more experienced Michael Laudrup.
Look, Henry might still turn out to be a great coach. We don’t really know yet how much the disaster in Monaco — the principality club sits 19th place after finishing second last year — is on him. We do know that the heat on Henry was scorching from the start having been brought in midseason to right Leonardo Jardim’s sinking ship, hardly the ideal situation for any coach in his first top job.
The 4W-11L-5D record he posted was ugly enough. More worrying were reports that he’d alienated senior players with an abrasive man-management style, an old-school approach at odds with modern leadership techniques. “My way or the highway” is no longer effective. Just ask Jose Mourinho.
Today’s elite managers have to be more than just tactical progressives. They also have to be amateur psychologists, able to engage young players effectively and persuade them to buy in. Elite teams foster a culture of collaboration these days, and successful coaches almost always spend years tweaking their bedside manner at lower levels before getting a crack at any high-profile position.
Thierry Henry wasn’t nearly ready for the Monaco job, and it showed. The star power that allowed him to jump the queue couldn’t save him in the end.
Henry will get another opportunity eventually. But he would be wise to consider following the path of another ex-teammate in Patrick Vieira, who went from Manchester City’s academy to a successful spell with New York City FC to Nice, where his team sits comfortably mid-table in his first season back in France. Nice won’t be Vieira’s last stop.
Meantime, the Monaco experience stands to benefit Henry in the long run, too, provided it makes him realize that climbing the coaching steps he missed in the past is his only route back to the top.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• 10-year-old wins science fair by proving Tom Brady is ‘a cheater’
• Five ways we learned Cleveland Browns dysfunction runs deep
• Trophies, touchdowns and ‘Wham Naked’: The Legend of Sean McVay
• The 10 least tradable NBA contracts