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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Big dates await Thierry Henry but Monaco must get back to winning ways quickly

Former Arsenal striker takes over the 2017 champions in the relegation zone

Thierry Henry speaks to the media at his first press conference as Monaco manager. EPA
Thierry Henry speaks to the media at his first press conference as Monaco manager. EPA

There are numerous dates on the calendar already circled in red around which Thierry Henry’s progress as a novice managed will be intensively assessed.

There’s the trip to Bruges on Wednesday, his Uefa Champions League debut on the Monaco touchline, seeking the club's first points of a troubled campaign so far.

Ironically, it was to the president of Club Brugge, Bart Verhaeghe, that Monaco had to go, in Verhaeghe’s capacity of Belgian FA vice-president, to seek formal permission for Henry’s release from his previous job, as assistant manager of the Belgium national team.

There’s the visit to the Stade Louis II of French champions Paris Saint-Germain, the aristocrats from Henry’s native city, on November 11, an ominous date when viewed from Monaco’s current position, 18th in Ligue 1, 21 points behind leaders PSG.

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There’s the big friendship derby, December 8, when Monaco play Nice, and Patrick Vieira, a former playing colleague with Arsenal and with France, will be his opposite number.

Peer over the new year horizon, and there’s a really fascinating possibility: Monaco, struggling in a Champions League group with Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, might well end up in the Europa League in the latter half of the season.

Guess who will be in that mix? Arsenal, where Henry spent his peak years as a world-class forward, are already well on the way to making the knockout phase.

None of which are as important, right now, as the trip to Strasbourg on Saturday, the eagerly-awaited premiere as manager of a man long destined, in his own mind and in the judgement of the distinguished managers under whom he played as a brilliant, record-breaking striker, to thrive in management.

Monaco, who approached Henry as the four-year tenure of the Portuguese Leonardo Jardim came to an end early last week, looks like a good fit.

Henry played at the club from 1994 to 1999. It has a famously productive youth scheme; it is a place where the low crowds for less glamorous fixtures can mean atmospheres are subdued but, with that, the pressure can feel less intense.

Henry was in demand even as an untried manager. He chose Monaco ahead of what he understood was genuine interest from Aston Villa, of the English Championship, and ahead, clearly, of continuing with Belgium, whose run to third place at the summer’s World Cup had strengthened his conviction that coaching at the elite level was something he wanted.

Henry, according to Belgium’s players, had a considerable influence as Roberto Martinez’s hand-picked deputy, for his knowledge of what it takes to triumph - Henry won the World Cup with France in 1998 - and his studious understanding of how to unpick defences.

Henry’s base has been London since he retired from playing, his last goals scored for New York Red Bulls as a fit, lithe 37-year-old in 2014.

But he will bring attentive expertise on Ligue 1 to his new post: few devour the sport like Henry, a prolific watcher of the game wherever it is played and a shrewd analyst.

His playing resumé - France’s all-time record scorer; Arsenal’s record scorer over an era in which they were Premier League champions twice; a Champions League winner with Barcelona in 2009 - guarantees respect from Monaco’s players.

Those include players he played against, like captain Radamel Falcao, to those young enough that he played alongside their fathers: Kevin N’Doram, the 22-year-old Monaco defender is the son of Japhet N’Doram, whose pass set up Henry’s first ever Champions League goal, for Monaco, back in 1997.

The younger N’Doram, unfortunately, is out of action for the important first few weeks of Henry’s managerial career, following an altercation immediately after a car accident that left him with an injured arm.

Injuries and suspensions leave the new manager short of four or five first-teamers for the Strasbourg trip, the opening mission of his bid to ease Monaco, French champions under Jardim in 2017, away from the relegation zone.

“Obviously we have to start winning,” says Henry, of a team without a victory since the opening day of the season, a Monaco who have leaked 22 goals in 12 competitive matches. “Your task as a coach is to make the players sure of what they are doing. Confidence comes from that.”