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Why Thierry Henry Becoming Belgium's Assistant Manager Is Completely Bizarre

By Conall Cahill
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So, Thierry Henry has been named as assistant manager of Belgium alongside Roberto Martinez in a fairly bizarre development that has taken the football world completely by surprise, it would seem. Only a few days ago, Henry seemed perfectly content sitting on the Sky Sports couch and speculating on the fortunes of his beloved Arsenal.

The decision to appoint Henry is bizarre on a number of levels.

Henry was only awarded his Uefa A License (which enables him to coach in the professional game below Premier League level or at an academy) in March, and in slightly controversial circumstances. There were complaints at the time Henry received his Badge from the Football Association of Wales that he was fast-tracked through the course and had to undertake a lower workload than candidates who perhaps wouldn't have shared the same profile as him. One coach, Will Foley, opined that "the big names get an easy ride" in the course.

Let's assume that Henry did achieve his coaching badges having fulfilled all the criteria. Even then, his role with Belgium will be his first managerial job of any description (though he has coached Arsenal's youth teams). He goes into the job with Roberto Martinez, who comes off the back of two very disappointing seasons with Everton and zero international experience-although Martinez did, admittedly, work the oracle at Wigan and Swansea and nearly got the Toffees into the Champions League in his first season.


But Belgium's squad are one of the most talented in the world, and their Euro 2016 showing was a clear example of the flaws behind the 'anyone could successfully manage a team with great players' theory that often crops up with Barcelona or Real Madrid. Martinez needs a guiding hand, an experienced colleague, alongside him in his first international job. Not a student. In this regard, the appointment of Mikel Arteta alongside Pep Guardiola at Manchester City isn't comparable-the two have been friends since their time at Barcelona together and Guardiola is one of the greatest club managers in history. Martinez is a novice on the international stage.

Then again, perhaps Henry was chosen by Martinez personally for the role. Maybe because he has the pedigree to deal with the cluster of egos within the Belgium dressing room. Someone like Henry, who has won World Cups and European Championships, might command enough respect to avoid the bickering that seemed to fracture Belgium's Euro 2016 campaign (Thibaut Courtois being the main toy-thrower in the Belgian pram).  As we have seen with Roy Keane, having a legendary player in an assistant manager's position can be an astute move. Without the pressure of being the manager, they can offer words of advice and experienced input when they see fit.

There is a crucial difference between Keane and Henry, however. The Cork man had success as a manager, most notably in getting Sunderland promoted after they had been languishing in the Championship relegation zone. And with assistant managing, the old adage about Jack Nicholson doing stand-up applies.


Being a legend in one form gives you five minutes of breathing space to succeed in another before the audience realises you're a fraud.

The difference in leading as a player and as part of a management role was never more evident than during Patrick Vieira's initial struggle as manager of New York City. Henry's former team-mate got off to a terrible start, only winning one of his first eight games with a team containing David Villa and Andrea Pirlo-though in fairness to Vieira, Frank Lampard was injured for those opening matches. Yes, Vieira was the number one at New York, and Henry isn't quite the same at Belgium. But the stakes are so much higher, the expectation so much greater and the talent of the players so much better that it isn't unreasonable to at least equate Henry's role with that of Vieira.

And as for the difference in being able to analyse games effectively as a pundit and as a manager, one needs to look no further than Gary Neville's spectacular failure at Valencia last season and subsequent return to his excellent punditry career-a return that greatly amused his usual co-conspirator at Sky, Jamie Carragher.

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Neville became a highly respected coach with Roy Hodgson's England team just after his playing career ended, and some might say that this shows Henry could make a decent fist of it at Belgium. But Neville was not the assistant manager-that role was filled by Ray Lewington-and he was coaching a group of players he knew well, having played with or against most of them. He also played for the country 85 times. He, as much as anyone, knows what it is to play for England and how to deal with the pressures and obligations involved. Granted, Henry's long career with France means he is no stranger to international football, but his new role puts him in alien surroundings.

Henry himself tweeted that he "can't wait" to embark upon his new challenge, and his Twitter handle reads: "Amateurs call it genius. Masters call it practice."

Will the chance to practice under Martinez turn Henry into a master in management?


It will be fascinating to observe.

See also: Patronising And Cliched Zenit St Petersburg Tweet Reveals How Little They Think Of Dundalk

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