The Trouble With Thierry Henry

Is that he's not as cool as we want him to be

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Life has many mysteries. Non-linear time, the Easter Island statues, the pricing strategy of cinema popcorn. It may soon be time to add the punditry career of Thierry Henry to that list.

In Sky’s new ‘greatest moments’ advert, released this week in an attempt to whip us into a frothy-mouthed frenzy for the new football season, and which has already been viewed around 18 million times on the broadcaster’s Facebook page, we see a chirpy Thierry superimposed into some of the Premier League’s most famous TV moments. 

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Aside from one slightly creepy moment when he appears to have Kevin Keegan slumped on his lap, the advert works. After seeing it, we’re probably all at least 4% less cynical about the league starting in the first week of August than we were yesterday.

If it was any of the other Sky pundits sprinting onto the pitch, or leaning up against a wall pulling a cheeky face, if it was Gary or Jamie or Glenn or Jamie or Graeme or Gary lurking around in a hooded top, it wouldn’t have worked. But Thierry has got something.

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Firstly, he’s not British. So, in football terms, he is already way cooler than his colleagues. He’s handsome too, which also marks him out. And he looks good in a suit.

He has some trademarks too. An excellent eyebrow raise and we all love that sideways coy smile thing he does. And that accent. Aye yai yai.

Lastly he was brilliant at football, a player with flair and style, one of the very finest in Premier League history.

It all adds up to the idea that Thierry might just be the best pundit ever. Except, the trouble starts when Thierry actually talks.

In an advert, where image is everything, he’s in his element. In a studio, where he needs to illuminate, analyse and enthuse, preferably all at the same time, he’s bloody awful. The idea of Thierry Henry as a pundit seems to be far more attractive than the reality.

The warning signs were there when working as the BBC's flagship analyst during the 2014 World Cup.

Expecting a winning mix of easy charm and intelligent insight, we instead got the disinterested sneer of a guy who’d been dragged from one of Ronaldinho's pool parties. 

Maybe it was the Rio nights. Maybe it was the jetlag. Maybe he was being forced to room with Alan Shearer. He'd be back to his old self again soon.

When Sky announced he was to join their ranks last January, it looked a great signing. A much-needed touch of stardust to sprinkle on Neville and Carragher's regional sales team, and at the very least he'd bring the vocal range down to a level that would put the nation's dogs at ease.

Except, it was grumpy Thierry that showed up again. When asked questions, he’d get inexplicably defensive. His sideways grin had been replaced by a steely and humourless glare that even Jeff Stelling seemed to find unsettling.

Instead of insight, he delivered banalities in a terse, machine-gun style. For all the enthusiasm he was showing, he may as well have been checking his phone as his fellow pundits debated. A tension seemed to befall the otherwise banter-heavy Sky studios whenever he was involved.

And then during the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, we saw a bizarrely sour and ranty side of Henry in what will forever be known as the ‘Chiccharitto Incident’ (below).

Where had the charming guy from the Renault ads gone? It was starting to look like the Thierry Henry we've been sold all these years might be a myth after all.

It's not too late for Thierry, but this feels like a big year for him. With a proper pre-season under his belt, and given more time to settle in to a new team, perhaps he can prove he has substance as well as style.

What do you think?

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