Former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry has been appointed as the new coach of the France U-21 national team.
Izuchukwu Okosi here takes an indepth look at the enormous challenges that faces Henry as he takes charge of the young Les Blues
Onetime Juventus prodigy, Henry who is one of the finest footballers, past or present to have played the game had begun his coaching career working as the assistant to former Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez.
Henry was number 2 to Martinez during the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups and Euro 2020 tournament.
Martinez is now in charge of the Portuguese national side and Henry who was also at a time the head coach of New York Red Bulls is now on the cusp of becoming a number one himself.
There is belief by some sections of the France football faithful that Henry is being primed to someday become the head of the senior national team. Perhaps as the successor to Didier Deschamps.
With that in mind, there are key performance indicators that the France Football Federation will look out for in Henry’s new role.
There is also a Nigerian interest in the appointment of ‘Igwe Henry’
Creating winning teams for Olympics, Euro 21
Henry will take charge of the France team to the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
This Olympics and the Euro U-21(in 2025) sides are expected to form the conveyor belt that will produce most members of the France national team for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the USA, Mexico and Canada.
The career of the enigmatic will be a great inspiration to the upcoming generation of Les Blues.
It is early to project how much his team will perform but being an attacking player in his playing days, it would not be a surprise to see the team dominate teams, and playing on the front foot.
Looking at the career of Henry and characteristics of his playing style, he was blessed with pace, trickery, shooting range and spectacular free kicks.
These are elements that would make his team a great side in prospect.
Great Attack, poor defence?
However, the one area that observers will be keen to see how his team develops is on the defensive side of the game.
Henry was in the top five bracket of the best attacking players in the world when he played.
Of course, he would understand the need for a balanced squad where the defence (including the goalkeeping department), midfield and attack work telepathically during the tournaments he will lead the team to.
As the cliché goes in football, ‘attacks score you goals but defences wins you competitions’. Henry will be acutely aware of this.
His assistant coaches have not been made known but whoever takes up the job of being defensive coach and goalkeeping coach is expected to be good students of the game.
Another feature that may also continue to be part of the next generation of France players is the mixed culture and races.
Henry is of the Caribbean heritage and France national teams are mostly made up of players from francophone Africa.
Few examples of past and present stars that donned the blue are Mali (Ngolo Kanté), Karim Benzema, Zinedine Zidane
(both Algeria), Kylian Mbappé’ (Cameroon), Patrick Vieira (Senegal) Lilian Thuram (Mali), Marcel Dessailly (Ghana), to name but a few.
Most people conveniently are of the opinion that France will not be able to reach the milestones that they reached if not for the rich talents from Africa.
Some players of Anglophone African countries like Ghana as shown above and Nigeria have attracted the interest of France too.
Chelsea’s Lesley Ugochukwu is of Nigerian descent whose parents raised in Paris and has played for the U-19 national team of France.
Ugochukwu, eligible to play for Nigeria through his parents from the South Eastern region of the country could be part of the France Olympics team next year (2024).
Re-emergence as world leaders
France won the (senior) World Cup in 1998 and also in 2018. In these 20 years, many counties have evolved to become mainstays in the game.
Despite not becoming champions themselves, Croatia came agonizingly close twice but finished third and second in 1998 and 2018.
Spain have won the Euros and the World Cup between then and now. Germany have stuttered a bit while Belgium for which Henry worked for had their golden generation flex their muscle albeit disappointingly failed to light up the world.
Henry will be hard pressed to build a group of formidable youth teams in his new stint that will rule the world in a few years time.
Izuchukwu Okosi is a Nigerian sports and entertainment journalist with two decades of experience in the media industry having begun his media journey in 2002 as an intern at Mundial Sports International (MSI) and Africa Independent Television (AIT), owners of Daar Communications Plc.
In October 2004, Okosi joined Complete Communications Limited, publishers of Complete Sports newspaper and Complete Football magazine as a reporter and later script writer for the Complete Sports studio.
He worked there for 13 years until October 2017.
Okosi also worked various times as Correspondent, Content creator and Editor at Sports Market International Magazine, Opera News, All Nigeria Soccer Media and Iconic Media Watch.
He also undertook freelance writing gigs for some local and international organizations.
Okosi is a member of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Association of Movie Producers (AMP), Association of Voiceover Artistes of Nigeria (AVOA), Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) and Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
He has been part of cast in some Nollywood movies and radio dramas including Blood Money 2, Scores To Settle, Dead End 2, Another Campus Tale and Battle Line.
Aside mainstream media and the entertainment industry, he has interests in scouting/unearthing of talents in the sports and creative sectors, exports business and property development.