TH14 MIA for Red Bulls Title Push

Monday, November 01, 2010 | View Comments

It must be tough being a highly paid professional athlete.  Sure, the money and fame seem nice, but when your every move is analyzed, criticized, and scrutinized, living a normal life must be nearly impossible.  One misstep, one mistake, one action that could be perceived as evidence that your commitment is lacking or that you're not holding up your end of the social contract, and BOOM, the world falls down upon your head.

Wayne Rooney knows all about it.  So does Brett Favre.  Their stories are massive, the media ravenous packs of snarling wolves ready to castigate them for their misdeeds over and over and over.  Speculation swirls about their play, the natural question emerging of how controversy might affect their ability to perform, and their reputations are flipped in an instant.

Don't screw up, big time athletes, lest you find yourself in a living hell.

Thierry Henry knows about it too, both because of the implosion of the France national team at the World Cup and the travails of his French teammates as a result of some other seedy escapades.  Even when a player doesn't text dirty pictures, get caught with a prostitute, or wrap his car around a tree, he's subject to intense hounding in direct relation to the brightness of his star. When Henry signed with the New York Red Bulls, we were led to believe that one of New York's and Major League Soccer's selling points was the relative anonymity he could enjoy in the States.  That claim was bolstered when Titi did what would be unthinkable for him almost anywhere else in the world and rode the train to work at Red Bull Arena; yes, Henry could do things here he just couldn't get away with in football-mad Europe.

We shouldn't begrudge Henry his new American freedom.  The Red Bull's big summer signing should be able to do what he pleases (within reason, of course) when he's not playing soccer.  Titi is a big basketball fan, and has been seen more than a few times in the months since he arrived taking in the NBA at Madison Square Garden and the Nets' Prudential Center.  There is obviously nothing wrong with his taking up a spot courtside to enjoy something other than soccer.

Except, well, he hasn't exactly lived up to his promise since signing with RBNY, and trips out to the Garden and Prudential Center when he's reportedly nursing a sore knee, in the midst of the playoffs and while his team is out west getting the job done no thanks to him, might lead one to question his commitment.  Since Henry's ill-advised kick at a ball perilously close to Kevin Hartman's foot back in Frisco, the Frechman has done nothing but watch from the sidelines.  He took to the trainer's table having left a rather unpleasant taste in our mouths.

So now he has time to get his picture taken with LeBron James, whom I'm told lists Henry as his favorite soccer player (eh, color me skeptical, since this is the first we've ever heard of Bron Bron and soccer).  Is it fair to question Henry's commitment to the MLS effort just because he's taking advantage of life as a wealthy man in America?  He has said all the right things since arriving, and if he's injured, he's injured.  Without a degree in medicine, I'm not going to claim a night out at the arena is bad for an injured knee.

But perception is perception, and we've had enough of big name European players landing in the States only to see their contributions amounts to little more than billboard fodder.  Apologies for the cynical attitude and the raw nerves, but we've been down this road before.  It's nice that we have players the stature of Thierry Henry signed to MLS contracts.  It would be nicer if said players were actually playing.

We can't convict Henry of being unprepared for the rigors of MLS play without knowing how he trained in anticipation of his debut.  Naturally, there's a period of adjustment to a league that is too often overly physical, and I sympathize with any player arriving from a more fluid competition like La Liga.  Wrapping your head around what makes an MLS referee tick must be nearly impossible.  But does that make it out of bounds to wonder if perhaps Henry took his new gig a little too lightly?

Henry shouldn't be above criticism, at least from the fans of Red Bull.  I can imagine frustration boiling over a bit, though it's easy to ignore Henry's absence when the team is winning.  Should Henry miss New York's home leg against San Jose and the Red Bulls lose the series, I don't expect he'll be given the benefit of the doubt.  Joel Lindpere is playing through a groin strain with barely a complaint, and scored a playoff goal to boot; the brightness of Henry's star or the shine of his reputation will do little to calm aggrieved fans.  In fact, it may be worse exactly because Henry is who he is, and because he spoke so forcefully about bringing a title to New York.

When you make the most money, you get the most heat.  That truth is one that crosses every border, and it's not always fair.

Enjoy New York, Titi.
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