NY,Henry loves you

Why living in Big Apple has been the Frenchman’s lifelong ambition

Written by New York Times | Published: July 17, 2012 3:05:13 am

Sam Borden

Thierry Henry found his initial love for New York exactly the way you would expect a young boy from the Paris suburbs might: through an abiding affection for the rap group N.W.A. and an emotional connection to a shiny coat.

Growing up in Les Ulis in the late 1980s,Henry and many of his friends were enamored with the rap group that included Ice Cube,Dr. Dre,Eazy-E,DJ Yella and MC Ren. Music videos of groups from the United States were popular internationally,and Henry was especially fascinated with the Los Angeles Raiders paraphernalia that the members of N.W.A. often wore.

When Henry was 13,his father,Antoine,came home one day with a jacket for him. Antoine Henry had seen his son salivating over MC Ren’s look but did not find a Raiders jacket; instead,he offered one that was blue,white and red. It was a New York Giants jacket.

“At first I was like,‘What is this?’ and then I was like,‘I wanted the black one like N.W.A. has!’ “ Henry said. “But then at school,someone asked me about it,and of course I acted like I knew all about it. And then the Giants won the Super Bowl that year,and suddenly,it was an amazing present.”

From that point on,Henry adopted the Giants as his American football team. A curious soul,Henry traveled the world because of his ability to make magic with a ball at his feet,playing first for teams in Monaco,France,and Turin,Italy,then for juggernauts in London and in Barcelona,Spain. He scored more than 300 goals in Europe,won two Golden Shoe awards and earned a World Cup champion’s medal with France in 1998.

Always,though,he thought of New York. Henry first visited the city in 1996 and found himself continually coming back during off-seasons or breaks in his schedule. Each time,he would try to stay in a different part of Manhattan,experimenting with hotels on the Upper West or East Sides for one trip,then going downtown the next time he returned. For a man with a professed love for “the smell of concrete,” the city was intoxicating. “I knew I would live here someday,” he said.

Big leap,bigger apple

In July 2010,he made the leap. At 32,Henry left behind a European career that many believe would have continued to thrive,exchanging it for a place in the MLS,a contract with the Red Bulls and,perhaps most of all,the ending he always craved. “It is home in a lot of ways,” he said. “But it is more than that. I have seen a lot of places,and for me,it is the best city in the world.”

One afternoon this spring,Henry left his apartment,headed west on his bicycle and rode uptown along the Hudson River. No one,besides his doorman,recognised him. No one ran up asking for an autograph. No one bothered him. For Henry,it was the latest example of his personal bliss. “These things would never happen in Europe,” Henry said,“never in a million years. Never,never,never.”

Henry’s overall New York existence is hardly run of the mill — after all,he’s got a car,a parking space and a reportedly $14.85 million triplex,each of which puts him in a relative Manhattan minority — but his day-to-day life is gloriously typical.

Unlike in baseball or banking or acting,New York is hardly the center of the universe when it comes to the world’s most popular game. In truth,it is barely in the universe at all. But Henry did not want to stay in Europe. He even told his agent not to listen to any offers from European clubs,however lucrative they might be.

He is similarly blunt when discussing his impact on soccer in the United States. Unlike other international players who have come here,he makes no grand statements about imminent transformations in the sport’s popularity. He remains realistic. After all,he plays in a market where one night earlier this season the Red Bulls played a game on the same night that the Yankees,Mets,Knicks and Rangers all had games on television,too.

Still,he seems pleased with the progress. Henry said that the quality of play in M.L.S. was improving immensely. He would not reveal how many more years he wanted to play,but he made it clear that he was very content that the final chapter of his career was taking place in New York.

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