Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry are two of the latest names to circle for the head coaching position with the USMNT. Crystal Palace sacked the former on Friday after a run of 12 matches without a win. The latter is a pundit for CBS, but he previously worked under Roberto Martinez on the Belgium National Team staff at the 2022 World Cup.
Thierry Henry’s ties to the USMNT are clear. He stated on Champions League coverage on Paramount+ that he is interested in the job. He knows the players and MLS and won the World Cup as a player. With such a young squad, they could learn from the experience that few in the world can compete with. Granted, Henry’s coaching runs are not exactly rife with success.
That being said, Patrick Vieira was just sacked for a poor run of form himself. Twelve games without a win have Crystal Palace narrowly above the relegation zone. The club is in 12th, yes, but only three points above 18th-place Bournemouth. It is a tough break for Vieira, who is without Wilfried Zaha. And, in the Premier League, where Palace has been struggling, the Eagles did not play a team beneath them in the table in 2023. After a trip to Arsenal on March 19, Palace has six-straight games against clubs with fewer points.
Even then, if there was a situation where the USMNT is picking a new head coach between these two French icons, the priority should go to Patrick Vieira, not Thierry Henry.
Why Vieira makes more sense for the USMNT than Thierry Henry
Outside of the fact that both Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira had long and successful stints at Arsenal, the two have similar backgrounds. World Cup winners with France that spent at least eight years in North London. After time around Europe, both ended up in Major League Soccer. Henry was a player with the New York Red Bulls. Vieira, on the other hand, made his senior managerial debut with New York City FC.
Later, Henry added MLS management to his resume with the Montreal Impact. Unfortunately, their time managing those clubs never aligned. Vieira moved to Nice a year before Henry arrived in Montreal.
However, the fact that both managed in Major League Soccer fits the trope that any incoming coach must know the system of soccer in the United States. For example, Tony Meola said the USMNT must hire from within MLS to understand the mentality of how things work here. While it has been at least three years since either managed in MLS, it opens some doors for comparison of how each fared.
Comparing MLS stints
Vieira had two-and-a-half seasons at the helm of NYCFC compared to Henry’s one. Both managers got their clubs into playoff berths in each of those three full seasons. In fact, NYCFC also qualified for the playoffs after Vieira’s half-year in charge. The manner of qualification, though, differed heavily.
Vieira led an NYCFC team that was consistently among the best in the MLS Eastern Conference. The club was second in the East in both of Vieira’s full seasons, but it crashed out in the conference semifinals both years. That was the first round for NYCFC. Henry’s playoff qualification with the Montreal Impact was when the club finished ninth in the Eastern Conference. That was only good enough for the preliminary rounds, where Montreal lost to the New England Revolution in stoppage time.
Whereas Henry’s points per game earned as a manager was 1.13 in his lone season, Vieira led NYCFC to 1.63 points per game.
Different success levels
Vieira’s success at NYCFC was enough to land him a job at Nice. There, he found mixed success. His first, and only, full season in charge got the club a seventh-place finish in 2019/20, which was an improvement on the previous campaign. The next season, though, saw Vieira sacked by early December. He lost five-straight games, including three in the Europa League. Four of those games were at home.
When Crystal Palace hired Vieira, it was a similar story. The first season under Vieira, 2021/22, was good, but not great. Palace finished the season 12th, which was a better point total and two places better than each of the two previous campaigns. Albeit, it was a narrow improvement. Palace also reached the FA Cup semifinals, losing to Chelsea. Then, just like at Monaco, Vieira’s second year brought struggle and an eventual sacking.
Compare Vieira’s manager spots in Europe to Thierry Henry’s. Henry took over at Monaco in the middle of the 2018/19 season, when the club sat in 18th. As the manager for 20 games, Monaco only picked up 17 points. In fact, Monaco dipped in the table to 19th, threatening relegation just two seasons after winning Ligue Un.
To be fair, it was Henry’s first time managing at the top level, having only worked youth teams and assistant roles prior to this. He would eventually return to the Belgium national team as an assistant under Roberto Martinez.
That time with Belgium, as well as simple name recognition, could be the difference for Henry compared to Vieira when it comes to who lands as USMNT head coach. Henry was on the coaching staff with Belgium for the 2018 World Cup, 2020 Euros and 2022 World Cup. Despite being Belgium’s ‘golden generation,’ the third place at the 2018 World Cup was by far the highlight. Early exits in the latter tournaments tarnished the relative glory Martinez delivered in Russia.
Patrick Vieira does not have the taste of international coaching. And, as a player, there is not much separation between the two. Perhaps Vieira could make a claim in this hypothetical argument that he actually played in the 1998 World Cup Final that France won. Henry remained on the bench.
The fact that Vieira is now open for employment is a major opportunity for the United States. Vieira would be a different look, slightly comparable in terms of resume to Jürgen Klinsmann when looking at former head coaches of the side. Yet, to have someone of the prestige of Vieira on the American sidelines would be a major statement for a growing soccer nation.
PHOTO: IMAGO / PanoramiC
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