Thierry Henry’s international playing days ended in controversy and his coaching career has started in embarrassing fashion.
Three months into his first managerial job, Henry was fired as coach of Monaco on Friday following a terrible run of form.
The former Arsenal, Barcelona and France star arrived amid much fanfare and hype. He had no previous managerial experience and being thrust into a relegation battle may have proved too much for him.
“It’s with great sadness that I’m parting ways with Monaco,” Henry said in a statement. “Despite the difficulties we encountered during this adventure, I took an enormous amount of pleasure in taking charge of this marvelous club.”
Henry was replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the coach Monaco fired to make way for Henry last October. Jardim’s first game back is a crucial relegation scrap away to fellow struggler Dijon on Saturday.
“I sincerely hope my successor manages to get the club out of this situation,” Henry said. “I wish everyone all the best for the future, starting with Dijon, and why not a victory in the League Cup so that we get back into Europe again?”.
Monaco meets Guingamp in the semifinals of that competition on Tuesday.
Last Saturday, the pressure showed when Henry aimed an expletive at a Strasbourg player during a 5-1 home defeat.
Henry’s tenure started and ended with defeats.
He lost 10 and won four of his 20 games in charge, the defense conceding 36 goals. One of the wins was a 1-0 triumph in the French Cup against an amateur team that plays several divisions below.
Monaco is second from bottom in the league, deeply frustrating for a club which has won the title eight times and reached the Champions League final in 2004.
Under Henry, who started his playing career with Monaco, the club never won a home game. It prompted him to question whether there was a “Stade Louis II” syndrome.
As a player, Henry enjoyed a strong relationship with the British media but a brittle one with their French counterparts — despite his achievements with the national team.
Facing the media as Monaco coach was a new experience and appeared to be uncomfortable, with Henry often looking tense and sounding defensive.
He would often use fighting talk ahead of games, spouting motivational expressions like “going to war” and being “on a mission” while he demonstratively banged his hand on a table, or raised a finger in a show of authority.
The words and actions did not look convincing, coming from someone whose stellar playing career was in the higher echelons of world soccer. He won the World Cup and the European Championship with France, two league titles each with Arsenal and Barcelona, and the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009. He is France’s and Arsenal’s all-time record scorer.
But he is not someone used to a relegation scrap, and he was found badly wanting.
DEFEATS AND COMPLAINTS
Although he inherited a squad low on confidence and riddled with injuries, some results were awful.
While losing 4-0 at home to a rampant, free-scoring Paris Saint-Germain was perhaps expected, a 4-0 reverse at home to Belgian side Club Brugge was not and neither was last Saturday’s rout by Strasbourg.
Henry, at first, kept quiet about video reviews during games, but after that defeat he snapped and became overtly critical of VAR because it broke down when he thought Monaco should have had a penalty.
His lambasting of VAR was somewhat ironic since it was Henry’s handling offense, followed by a cross for a goal, which helped France qualify for the 2010 World Cup in a dramatic playoff with Ireland. There was no VAR around at the time, otherwise the goal would not have stood and France may never have gone to South Africa.
Henry was vilified by fans, former teammates and politicians. The criticism affected Henry deeply, and worsened his already mediocre relations with the French media.
FRUSTRATION BOILED OVER
Frustration got the better of him as he started to turn on his Monaco players. He openly questioned them, saying in a news conference this week: “I don’t think the lads realize what is happening. You can’t just say ‘We’ll get out of it.’ Things don’t work like that. You have to go and do it, stop talking.”
He took things a step further by pledging to figure out which players “really has the fiber of the club” and weed the others out to form a smaller, tight-knit squad. He was true to his word and dropped players, but reportedly did so without informing the club’s hierarchy.
Waiting in the wings was Jardim, who was fired in early October after a run of 10 games without a win left the club third from bottom. He gave a timely interview to sports daily L’Equipe on Tuesday, saying he was sure he would return to Monaco one day.
But fans must be wondering who is running the club and how, because the compensation payment for Jardim was reportedly 8 million euros ($9.13 million), and so it will be for Henry seeing as he joined on a three-year deal with his yearly salary estimated at more than 5 million euros ($5.7 million).
Jardim led Monaco to the French league title in 2017 and the Champions League semifinals in the same year.
Now the merry-go-round sees him back in charge of a relegation fight, while Henry will need to think about the next step in his career.