On a hot Sunday afternoon in the Meatpacking District’s Gansevoort Plaza, the guy who has been called a once-in-a-generation striker and the best player in Arsenal history, Thierry Henry, signed autographs for hours, kicked a ball around with a U-16 soccer team, the Brooklyn Italians, and talked with us about his life, MLS career, and what it’s like playing as himself in FIFA.
Yes, we asked him if he ever played as himself in FIFA.
“I used to play a lot. But I never played as myself,” he said. “I don’t know why, I think it was weird.
But I did like how they made me better looking than I am, and they made me faster and better as a player than I really was.”
Henry was at the event to publicize Puma’s new line of shoes, the evoSpeeds. (In a particularly solid bit of marketing at the event, they let kids, and me, try on the pair designed by Usain Bolt and clock how fast you could run in them. Hungover and without socks, I clocked in at a 15.48. I was told this was very average.) Henry told us, though, that he’s an “old-school guy” and he just wanted Puma to make a pair that looked classic.
“It’s why I like Puma,” he said. “They can do that.”
Henry has now been in the States playing for the New York Red Bulls for three years. He’s the highest paid player, by far, in the MLS, and he’s playing like it this season—two months ago, he scored his first hat trick in the U.S., and he has nine goals total on the year. His Red Bulls sit in second place in the MLS’s Eastern Conference.
He cautioned, though, that unlike in the Premier League, the regular season matters less in the United States. The playoffs are intense and fast, and you don't win a title just for taking the regular season.
"What’s different here is that the best team doesn’t always win in the playoffs,” he said. "But I'm trying to help bring the title to New York for the first time."
That city is now one of a couple of places the 34-year-old makes his home, along with north London. But with him also taking up residence in New York, I had to ask if he now considered himself a New Yorker.
“I can’t consider myself a New Yorker ahead of a New Yorker, born and raised here," he said. "I would like to think I can be like a New Yorker."
Still, he's got to be living the life of a rich and famous athlete while here, right? Popping bottles, putting supermodels in the cab, and all that?
"I like to grab my bicycle with some friends, go down the West Side Highway, ride my bike," he said. "I like normal stuff."
Ah, well. We can still imagine.