Henry won't be teary if France lose

Belgium assistant coach Thierry Henry (left), a Frenchman, having a friendly sparring session with Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku in training, before their respective countries spar for real in the World Cup.
Belgium assistant coach Thierry Henry (left), a Frenchman, having a friendly sparring session with Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku in training, before their respective countries spar for real in the World Cup.PHOTO: REUTERS

ST PETERSBURG • The irony of Thierry Henry, one of France's all-time football greats, plotting his own country's downfall at the World Cup in Russia has not been lost on his former team-mate Didier Deschamps, who calls it a bizarre situation.

When France go up against Belgium in the World Cup semi-final at the St Petersburg Stadium today, Henry - Belgium coach Roberto Martinez's assistant - will be on the opposing bench, looking to stop his country from advancing to Sunday's final.

Up against him is Deschamps, whom he played alongside in France's 1998 World Cup-winning squad and who has been Les Bleus' coach for the past six years.

"It's bizarre because he's French and will be on the opponent's bench," Deschamps said on the French sports show Telefoot.

"But he is someone I really appreciate, I'm happy for him."

What Henry makes of this bizarre situation remains a mystery.

A WIN-WIN SITUATION?

If we win, he will also be happy because, ultimately, he is a Frenchman... We just hope he doesn't beat us in this semi-final.

LUCAS HERNANDEZ, France defender, feels Thierry Henry - on Belgium's coaching staff - is still French at heart.

Interview requests and demands to get him to a press conference were brushed aside.

He prefers to leave the talking to the others.

The 40-year-old does not want his massive shadow to take the limelight away from those who have a bigger influence on performances.

Henry, who scored 51 goals in 123 international appearances, played for France at four World Cups. He was a runner-up in 2006 and also competed in 2002 and 2010.

But, for the past two years, he has been serving as one of Martinez's assistants, his first foray into coaching and he is seemingly an inspired choice if the rave reviews from the Belgian players are anything to go by.

"Thierry Henry is really important for our team. He tells us stories from his playing days and they inspire us. If he says something, it always turns out to be something helpful. His presence, his World Cup experience, it is all a very positive influence," said defender Toby Alderweireld.

"He will want us to come out on top," added Kevin de Bruyne, after Belgium beat Brazil on Friday to book their semi-final spot. "He always tries to help us win games."

France defender Lucas Hernandez, however, feels that Henry will not forget his roots.

"If we win, he will also be happy because, ultimately, he is a Frenchman," said Hernandez.

"All of France knows him, what a great player he was and what an icon for football. We just hope he doesn't beat us in this semi-final."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2018, with the headline 'Henry won't be teary if France lose'. Print Edition | Subscribe