No, Kevin hasn’t stolen my password and logged in as me to write this and I’m still not a Les Bleus fan or anything like that, but I do think it’s high time I took a stand on this issue. The issue is not really about Thierry Henry or Sergi Busquets or Lionel Messi, but it takes the form of Thierry Henry.
What appears to be happening is that people are taking their personal whims out on Henry, disregarding his actual contributions on the field and replacing what he actually did with what they would like him to have done. If you’ve read this site or its previous iteration long enough, you’ll know that I’m not unbiased, that I often make opinionated comments about particular players and am sometimes overly zealous about running players out of town if I deem them surplus to my own strange requirements. And before this gets going, I want everyone to know that disagreement with my opinions here or belief that you are one of the people I’m talking about doesn’t equate me judging you or holding it against you because, to be honest, I’ve forgotten who the specific people making these points were.Okay, let’s take the match against Depor yesterday as a prime example of what I’m talking about. At halftime people were disparaging Henry for having had a terrible match, calling for Pedro!’s inclusion. That is a legitimate call to make if your view of Henry’s performance is negative, of course, but let’s talk about the actual performance. There were several times when I noted in the liveblog that Henry was wide open on the left and was completely ignored by his teammates, especially Xavi.
There were other times that were more frustrating for me as a watcher and a fan. One such moment was a fast break started by Henry, who passed to Messi and Messi began dribbling through players. Henry made a mostly vertical dash through the defense, taking a slight angle (diagonal) route towards goal. When Messi passed the ball, Henry was offside, having cut through the defense. Several commenters on the liveblog said Henry should have either held his run or taken a more diagonal approach. The problem, though, was not Henry’s run, which was timed perfectly to coincide with Messi beating a defender and thus opening his passing routes, but rather Messi’s unwillingness to pass the ball at the first opportunity, choosing instead to pass after he’d be the next defender. Because of that, Henry was offside, as he would have been had he taken a more diagonal route (which would also have had the consequence of putting him with his back to goal and farther from Messi).
Why was no one demanding Messi pass the ball earlier rather than Henry adjust his run? Because, of course, Messi is Messi. And don’t get me wrong, I get that Messi is Messi and Henry is not Messi, that the reason Messi is so wonderful (check his first goal), is because he’s unpredictable and brilliant, but my point is that Henry’s run was the correct run and that Messi made the mistake, not Henry. I don’t particularly mind that Messi made that mistake because he’ll do the extraordinary sometimes to make up for it, but it’s still a mistake and if you’re going to label part of the play a mistake, label the actual mistake a mistake rather than the part that isn’t attributable to your favorite/favored player.
Now let’s take the assertion that Pedro! is better than Henry. I don’t have a problem with that statement on its face, as it is totally possible. However, the idea that Pedro! is more effective than Henry at this very moment is, in my not-so-humble opinion, dead wrong. Pedro! was, at the very least, no more effective than Henry throughout his time on the field. I know that Pedro! provided the assist for our second goal (and Messi’s second), but does that make him more effective necessarily?
We’re talking about something that’s a bit hard to be totally precise about (it’s why there are coaches rather than spreadsheets), but roughly speaking, Henry made the right runs throughout the day and then Guardiola made a tactical substitution to switch the point of attack, moving Pedro! to the right where Henry is not known as an effective player. Pedro, on the other hand, appears to have more versatility in his positioning, perhaps stemming from his La Masia training or perhaps stemming from just simply being more versatile.
Watch our second goal (complete with “atomic worm” references from the commentators):
Pedro! is on the right, playing a pass-and-move game with Dani Alves and Messi and slips in behind their back line to get a nice little chip to Messi, who buries a header. Wonderful offensive play, but look at where Iniesta is. Is he being worthless way over there on the left all by himself or is he being effective in his positioning? Thierry Henry made that same run time and again in the first half, coupling it with the same run Pedro! made through the short side of the box (by short side I mean the side with the ball) but instead of being pared with Dani Alves, Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi, he’s pared with Abidal, who is trailing 40 yards back in order to play defense.
Note: when Pedro! came on, Iniesta switched from a predominately middle-aligned role to a left, left-of-center aligned role, meaning he was effectively filling Henry’s spot. However, Henry was not receiving much support, and as I wrote before, wasn’t receiving any passes. There are obviously ways to interpret that, but if Guardiola interprets it as an inability to play with or at the level of Xavi, Iniesta, etc, then Henry should be sent packing and pronto. If he’s a place-holder for Pedro!, who is growing into the role, then awesome, but for now Henry is doing a very effective job and should be given the same leeway (or lack thereof, I suppose) as anyone else.
If you’re down with numbers: when Henry has played in a league match, we have won that match. When Henry has not played in a league match, we have drawn that match half the time (3 of 6)–though one of those wins was the 6-1 mauling of Zaragoza.
So, you should feel free to judge Henry however you’d like, but remember that there are other positions you can take to defend him that are just as logical and just as “unslanted” as any opinion condemning him. Feel free to make your cases in the comments.