One problem with Mike Petke’s potential to spin this fortuitous Red Bulls’ coaching opportunity into career gold: his success or failure may not tell us much about Petke’s true capacity as a professional coach.
Rather, it may speak only to Petke’s ability to get along with one man: Thierry Henry.
With David Beckham’s departure from MLS, Henry (pictured, along with Kenny Cooper) inherits the chair as Major League Soccer’s preeminent global superstar. (Not to mention still its highest paid, with a guaranteed compensation of about $5 million.) Even before, Henry could be something of a prima donna, unwilling to play on artificial turf, moody around the media and unafraid to speak his mind about what best suits the team, personnel-wise.
In fairness, Henry’s fabulous talent (even at age 35) gives Petke a big leg up in terms of competitive advantage against some of the clubs he’ll face. And yet …
As a first-year manager, Petke has plenty on his plate. Being asked to manage the tricky politics involved here is a heaping helping of potential headaches for any boss, let alone one on the business end of a substantial learning curve.
Don’t forget, Henry is one of France’s best players ever. The Red Bulls soccer operations are now being steered by a Frenchman, former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier. That would seem to give Henry extra clout, should his ideas on the team ever arrive at odds with Petke’s, a troubling situation for any manager, much less one with no skins on the managerial wall.
At any rate, here’s what Petke said yesterday about his relationship with Henry.
I’ve been around the team, I know the players. We have a good relationship. Before he [Henry] came here I didn’t think anyone was as passionate about the game as I was. Whatever it is, Ping Pong, cards, whatever, he wants to win. I put him in the same category as guys like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in that respect. Nothing has changed. No one will be coddled. They are human beings and men and I will treat them like men.”
Which is a great attitude for a manager – so long as everybody inside that locker room, Henry and everyone else, is committed to acting like men and not like little boys.