Henry looks to rebound with Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. -- Thierry Henry isn't looking at his tenure with the Red Bulls as a prolonged retirement tour.

Henry, who will turn 33 in August, is instead looking to put a disappointing year of soccer in his rear-view mirror and help lift the Red Bulls to their first MLS title in 14 years.

"I can assure you that I came here to try to win, that is the most important thing," Henry said at a Thursday afternoon news conference at Red Bulls Arena. "I am a competitor."

Henry was asked to assess where he is as a player, nearly a month removed from a subpar showing at the World Cup and two weeks after being released by FC Barcelona, his club team. He decided instead to focus on the present.

"[I'm] right here with the New York Red Bulls trying to win a title," Henry said. "I'm just looking forward to coming here and representing the New York Red Bulls."

Henry, who earlier in the day announced his retirement from the French national team, signed a 4½-year deal to play in Harrison.

The former World Cup champion is coming off a disappointing season with FC Barcelona. He scored just four goals for the team last season and fell out of the starting lineup. He was released by Barcelona last month. Henry said on Thursday that he played for four months with a nagging knee injury.

"I didn't recover well from it. I suffered," he said.

He was a reserve on the French team which was engulfed in controversy in the form of a player revolt and failed to make it out of the first round of the World Cup in South Africa.

So Henry is looking for a fresh start of sorts in Harrison. He will play his first game for the Red Bulls on July 22 against Tottenham Hotspur, in the Barclays New York Challenge at Red Bull Arena. Coach Hans Backe expects him to play 45 minutes in that match.

Backe said Henry will team with star forward Juan Pablo Angel on the front line for the Bulls, who are 8-5-2 and in second place in the Eastern Conference. Angel and Henry have the potential to form the top-scoring tandem in the league.

"He is definitely hungry," Backe said of Henry. "He will lift our game [and] he will lift our players."

Henry, who said he will live in the area, hesitated to compare his arrival to MLS with that of David Beckham, who joined the Los Angeles Galaxy with great fanfare in 2007 but did little to help the franchise on the pitch.

"We're not here to compete," he said of Beckham. "We're here to make football better."

There's little doubt that Henry, in name recognition, is one of the biggest soccer stars to play in the New York market since Pele joined the Cosmos in 1975. MLS commissioner Don Garber called Henry's arrival "a very historic day for soccer in America."

The commissioner believes the former Arsenal star gives the Red Bulls a chance to gain a stronger share of the saturated local sports market.

"Our expectations are high that Thierry will help us break through some of the clutter in the New York market," Garber said.

But Henry wasn't interested in quantifying his impact on ticket sales for the Red Bulls or the game's popularity in the Big Apple.

"I know people are going to mention me as the guy who changed soccer, but I am just the next guy coming," Henry said.

He's been seriously considering playing in the MLS for "five months" and said that joining the Red Bulls was "a dream come true."

"Finally I am here," Henry said. "I hope you can enjoy my game and let's hope we can enjoy a title also."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com

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