Tuesday, October 4, 2022

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Thierry Henry is ‘not here to kill anymore’ as he swaps the pitch for the boardroom

As Thierry Henry sits down in the idyllic surroundings of Lake Como to discuss his latest football project, he can’t help but wonder how he got here.

It’s not so much his delayed flight to Milan that makes him think. It’s more his own journey. From a young boy training with a tennis ball in his parents’ modest apartment in the Paris suburb of Les Ulis, to the present day when he entered the realm of club ownership.

After a playing career that saw him win Premier League trophies, Champions League titles and the World Cup, the 45-year-old is taking his love of the game in a new direction after investing in ambitious Serie B club Como 1907 Has. It is a journey his younger self would never have had the audacity to contemplate.

“You know, I’ll get back to that,” he says sports mail. “I used to have a tennis ball in my hallway at home and I was trying to keep the ball up and making sure it didn’t hit the walls because if that happened I would be in trouble.

“Well, to be part owner of a team? I mean, you don’t even think about that, especially where I’m from. When I think about the journey – it’s not over yet – this is a new chapter.”

A new chapter brings a new approach to life, both on and off the pitch. Henry was fascinated by the project that was launched in Como. The desire to bring the club back to Serie A is there, but it’s not the owner’s sole aim, nor is it what tempted the Frenchman to invest in the opportunity.

Djarum Group, which bought the club in 2019, is focused on delivering projects within the local community – including a pledge to ensure all products and produce used and produced by the club are locally sourced by 2025. A younger Henry’s priorities might have been reversed, but not now.

Henry admits his attitude has changed since he retired – his children have played a part in that, as has the recent pandemic.

Gone are the forces that once drove him – a win-at-all-costs mentality that he thrived with Arsenal’s Invincibles and back-to-back big trophies with France. The same mentality with which he literally took Ireland’s World Cup hopes into his own hands in 2009.

“As a player, I was there to kill,” he says. “I wasn’t there to entertain or to think about what was on your mind. I was there to kill. Win with my team. That’s all.

“I’m not here to kill anymore. I’m not playing, it’s over. It’s more about talking, having connections. About being vulnerable. Making people understand that it’s okay to be vulnerable.

“When you’re young you don’t hear that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s the complete opposite. Especially in game.

“Now people are speaking out. I thought I knew a bit about the game before, but the new generation is teaching me how the game is now.”

Henry has the comfort of being surrounded by familiar faces in the Como boardroom. Dennis Wise, a former Premier League opponent, is the club’s CEO while Cesc Fabregas also invested when he joined the club on a two-year deal last month. The club have not commented on the amount invested by any of the former Arsenal stars. All three share the same agent in Darren Dein, son of former Gunners co-owner David.

It was Fabregas who convinced his former teammate to jump on board for the opportunity. “I know when Cesc is amazed at something – because he forgot to be stupid – it’s because something is happening,” he adds.

As a shareholder, there is no everyday role in Lombardy, a situation that suits Henry very well. With the World Cup fast approaching, he has his role as assistant coach with Belgium to juggle alongside his expert roles at CBS and Amazon Prime in France.

Being stressed, he came to the club to facilitate, not dictate.

“I’m not here to tell people what to do, it’s not my job,” he says. “If Dennis wants to know if people want to talk to me, involve me and let me come to the game, I’ll be happy to do that. But you must know your place.

“If you are Gilberto Silva or Dennis Bergkamp. Gilberto will make Gilberto, Dennis will make Dennis. That’s why a team is a team. Stay in your lane. Stay in your zone.

‘I’m a shareholder, that’s my lane.’

Another lead, but the boy from the banlieues of Paris is still on the move.

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