By IVES GALARCEP
HARRISON, N.J.– It was a natural question to ask Thierry Henry after the New York Red Bulls hired a coach with no head coaching experience. Did the team consult with him bout the decision to hire Mike Petke. Henry confirmed that the team did speak to him about the hiring, but made it clear it was only to let him know who they had chosen to hire.
“Although I think that everybody thinks that I pull the strings here, I don’t,” Henry said. “They told me that Mike was going to be the boss. I thought that was something clever.
“Instead of losing time, I don’t know who they had in mind. I don’t know what was happening or who they were going to approach or sign. I knew there were some names were up in the air,” Henry said. “But I was like ‘Petke is a fan. He loves the club. He played here. He finished here. The fans love him. he knows the league. He knows the players that are in the team that we have. He knows the players that we have to play against, so it’s not like he’s going to have to need to have a guy that knows the league or tell him who we’re playing against’.
“Mike knows. I think, for me, that can only be a plus.”
Henry also dismissed the notion that hiring Petke was a mistake because of his lack of experience, and he offered up the ultimate example of how choosing a young coach can pay off big time.
“Some (of the media) have already asked me the question ‘Is he not too young?’ ‘Might be inexperienced’,” Henry said. “I’m like ‘to get experience you have to start somewhere’.
“Obviously I’m not going to compare him to Pep Guardiola but what I’m saying is when Pep Guardiola took charge of (Barcelona) in 2008-2009, everybody was like “Oh, he only had one year of coaching with the reserve team. Why, why, why we don’t get a big big or a big name?’ and suddenly the guy won six trophies in one year, which had never been done before,” Henry said. And now look at how they are talking about Pep Guardiola.
“I’m more using Mike with Pep in the sense of you have to start somewhere to have experience,” Henry said. “I think it’s the right place for him to start. Obviously he’s going to have to put his DNA in the team and hopefully it’s going to work.”
Henry wasn’t the only big-name Red Bulls player to give Petke full backing. Tim Cahill was also complimentary of New York’s latest head coach.
“I’ve only been at two clubs, and I’ve had great relationship with my managers, especially (Everton manager) David Moyes,” Cahill said. “That’s the reason why we were successful. For Petke to be the manager is unbelievable. For the club, the league, the Red Bulls, it’s really important that we make inroads.
“I think, for the league, it’s brought some massive credibility to the Red Bulls,” Cahill said. “A real identity with the fans and, for me, it’s what the team needs. He’s a boss that knows a lot about the team, and in the infrastructure from bottom to top.”
The Red Bulls are in a state of transition this pre-season. Not only because of the new coaching staff, but also because of the massive overhaul of the roster. With so many new faces, and a rookie head coach trying to make his mark on the team, the Red Bulls are still a work in progress, even as they have enjoyed a good start to the pre-season.
“It’s still not there yet. We still have two more weeks to go. It’s still kind of raw right now but we’re working on some stuff in training, how Mike wants us to play and hopefully it’s going to work,” Henry said. “It might not work right from the start, but hopefully we’re going to stick with him and hopefully the fans are also going to give Mike some time.
“I have no doubt about that though because the fans really love Mike and they have to understand that it’s the first time he takes charge with a team,” Henry said. “New players and new everything so hopefully we can start the season with a couple of wins, but we all know it’s going to be hard with the two games we have to start with.”
Petke will make his head coaching debut in three weeks when the Red Bulls travel to Portland to take on the Timbers on the opening weekend of the 2013 MLS season, and while he is sure to have his growing pains, one thing Petke does have is the backing of the team’s biggest player.