Monday, June 25, 2007
Thoughts on Henry the Catalan
How cool that every time I'm driving from Atlanta to Macon, I go through (Thierry) Henry County and now it will have added significance.
Some may say that Henry came to Barca because of its liberal ethos or its cavalcade of offensive talent to play with him. Others may say that he's unsettled by David Dein's departure, Arsene Wenger's uncertain future, or Arsenal's lack of vigor in the transfer market. The discerning fan knows that Henry is headed to Catalunya because of his desire to pilot speeders through Endor and shoot goals while Ewoks cheer wildly:
(If you don't think that the little man is being indoctrinated with YouTube, you're sorely mistaken. And the unexpected benefit is that Der Wife is taking the lead in teaching El Himno del Barca, which means that she can belt it out now, as well. This might be my crowning achievement in indoctrination. I digress.)
On a personal level, I've never liked Henry much for three reasons. First, he was Ronaldinho's rival for the title of best player in the world. Second, his whining after the Champions League final (when his inability to finish two good chances was as much a reason for Arsenal's defeat as anything else) was unbecoming, especially for a player who has a bit of a pouty face to begin with. Third, my "excessive hype by English media" alarms went off because Henry could always score in the EPL, but he never achieved the same feats in Europe, he was a washout in Serie A (albeit in part because Juve didn't use him correctly), and France could never score without Zidane pulling the strings, which is inconsistent with the notion that Henry is a great striker. I should be able to get past the first two reasons now that Henry is a Barca player and the third went by the wayside a little with Henry's excellent first leg performances against Real Madrid, Juve, and Villareal in 2006 and a strong move to draw a penalty against Portugal in the World Cup semifinal. I'm not going to like him the way I like a product of the Barca youth ranks like Messi, Iniesta, or Puyol or a player who plays with personality like Ronaldinho, but I should appreciate Henry just fine.
I think that Barca's excitement at signing Henry can be put down to a few factors. First, they learned the hard way last year that depth at the striker position is critical. Gudjohnsen and Saviola were a major step down and the entire team suffered as a result. For that reason, I do not think that this move is a prelude to Samuel Eto'o being off-loaded. Second, Barca probably have a major warchest built up because they haven't made major waves in the transfer market in the past several years. Barca's revenues were way up as a result of their success on the pitch, as membership increased and their TV revenue swelled from a deep run in the Champions League. Thus, Barca have the money to spend on Henry, as well as Yaya Toure (who answers a major need in defensive midfield), Christian Chivu (likely slotted into central defense), and Eric Abidal (meets an obvious need at leftback). Third, there aren't too many opportunities to sign top drawer players who fit the Barca system perfectly, so the Blaugrana had to jump at this.
On paper, Barca ought to be close-to-unbeatable next year, but I said the same things last summer when they acquired Thuram and Zambrotta to shore up the backline and the team won bugger all this year. They still need to be luckier with injuries, Rijkaard needs better tactical advice (and he needs to resist the urge to play all four attackers at once [except when trailing]), and the players need to be motivated. A season in which the club failed to meet expectations ought to be a sufficient spur to better play, but you never know how the egos are going to work.
There has been some criticism of the move on the grounds that Barca are now repeating the "Zidanes y Pavons" mistakes of the Real Madrid Galactico era, but there are two reasons why this is wrong. First, Madrid were very successful after they signed Figo and Zidane. They only went wrong when they signed players who were Galacticos in name only, namely Beckham and Michael Owen. I doubt that anyone puts Henry on the level of Becks and Owen. Second, Madrid's strategy was to pair their star players with mediocrities from their youth system. Thus, when their stars aged, they were left with underperforming squads. Barca, in contrast, have a number of good, young players, so they won't have the imbalance that Madrid had in the later years of the Galactico era. When Henry starts to decline, Barca will still have other high-quality players to put around him.
My wife also posed the "doesn't this make Barca like the Yankees? You hate the Yankees." question to me on Saturday as I was raving about the different ways that Henry can slot in with Eto'o, Messi, and Ronnie. It was a lot like the scene in Office Space where Jennifer Anniston asks Ron Livingston "isn't that stealing?" It was a very obvious and hard to deflect assessment. Fortunately, sophistry is my speciality, so I got out of the box in a couple ways. First, Barca don't spend any more than a number of clubs in Europe, namely Real Madrid, the two Milan sides, Juve (once they get back on their feet), the top four in the EPL (once Arsenal start spending again), and Bayern Munich. The Yankees, on the other hand, spend more than anyone else in baseball by a significant margin. Second, Henry came to Barca, at least in part, because of what the club represent. He could have gotten a major bump in pay in any one of a number of locales. I may be cynical in saying this, but there is no reason for baseball free agents to play for the Yankees other than the fact that they pay more than anyone else. Third, what annoys me most about the Yankees is that they are parasites. They sign up talented players that other teams develop, but they never contribute any good young players on their own. (This is less true now that Brian Cashman has asserted himself and has changed the Yankees' approach to talent acquisition. Cashman has been able to do so because, from all accounts, Steinbrenner isn't as involved anymore, just as the Yankees were able to build the foundation of their championship teams in the early 90s because Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball and thus, they retained their prospects.) Barca may contribute great young players who punch balls into the net, but they can never be described as parasites.