Will Henry digest new role without becoming Le Sulk Part Deux?

Four years ago Vikash Dhorasoo went to Germany as a member of France’s World Cup squad armed with a pair of football boots and a Super-8 camera given to him by his friend, the film-maker Fred Poulet.

He had played every game of France’s qualifying campaign and could expect to feature regularly in the finals. Instead he ended up playing just eight minutes.

The footage he shot during that month in Germany was later made into a documentary entitled Substitute.

It shed light on an important aspect of a footballer’s life that is all too often forgotten amid the hyperbole that surrounds the modern game where looking from the stars to the stalls is deemed a step too far - at least in the eyes of TV companies and advertisers hell-bent on the creation of a product that puts a premium on revenue and not realism.

Ironically enough that’s the unintended message Dhorasoo would derive from Nike’s recent Write The Future campaign where Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba fly past no-name players who have to live with merely being the extras in a Hollywood-like production.

Admittedly no one wants to be a fringe player, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people don’t want to know what it’s like to be one.

Dhorasoo, for example, found being a substitute especially hard to process and that’s what made his film so enlightening. “No one can take away my good fortune. I am in this team to the end,” he said at the start of the finals. “I belong to the 23 players. I am in this team till the end, even if I don’t play.”

However, his optimism soon started to subside as the tournament progressed. “I’m getting fed up here in Germany. I wonder what I came here for, except for a film, because my World Cup went wrong. Three days ago against Spain, I felt like crying. I’m not a supporter. I’m not a spectator, I’m a football player and I’m not playing football.”

It seems distinctly unlikely that while sat in his hotel room wiling away the hours in Germany, the thought that the same fate would one day befall his team-mate Thierry Henry ever crossed Dhorasoo’s mind. But that’s just what has happened.

France coach Raymond Domenech benched Henry for the second straight game on Sunday, the first time he has done so in over four years.

Canal + claimed at the weekend that a few days before he announced his provisional 30-man squad on May 11, Domenech met Henry in Barcelona. It was there that he apparently asked the 32-year-old to go to the World Cup as a substitute and not as a main protagonist.

Domenech dressed the offer up a bit, telling Henry that he would be the joker in France’s pack. But he really didn’t need to, as a proud Titi no doubt aware of his chance to become the first ever Frenchman to go to four World Cups put himself at Domenech’s disposal and agreed to the offer.

While there are obvious parallels with Dhorasoo’s experience, the first thing to remember is that this is Thierry Henry, France’s captain and all-time top goalscorer.

The magnitude is completely different and Domenech deserves credit for making such a bold decision early, keeping it quiet and getting the player to accept his new role.

Ever since his infamous handball against the Republic of Ireland on November 18 one could argue that Henry has rarely been the same. He has scored just two goals in 2010 and his best performances this season came when Guardiola used him effectively as a substitute, the most notable example being against Valencia on March 14.

After Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Tunisia, which L’Équipe called ‘a step back’, Henry said: “The coach makes his decisions. When I come on, I put myself at the service of the team. Individuals don’t come above the team.”

That comment certainly makes it look as if Henry has bought into the philosophy Domenech outlined in L’Équipe on April 13 when he said: “They must be clever and forget their ego to realise that the only thing that matters is the team, not them. If they don’t understand that, I will need a gun.”

However, the real question is: for how long can we expect it to last? That’s what Bixente Lizarazu asked himself last week.

“If Henry is ‘confirmed’ in his role as a substitute, he will take it very badly,” the former full-back wrote. “It’s all well and good to say that it’s fine and look for a good posture. But it’s simply horrible. It’s an immense suffering above all for a veteran who needs the adrenaline of competition to give sense to his training.”

So, The French Connection asks, will a veritable footballing icon like Henry be able to digest his new role without becoming Le Sulk Part Deux?

Well, it probably depends on how far France go in the competition as Dhorasoo’s film suggests the further the worse.

In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how long he can watch Evra wear his captain’s armband and, from a playing standpoint at least, Nicolas Anelka lead France’s attack.

Whenever Les Bleus go on the offensive, often down the left-hand side, Anelka’s tendency to drop back into midfield to collect the ball means there is no one for Franck Ribéry, Florent Malouda or Patrice Evra to find in the box.

Domenech needs a target man capable of holding his position, someone who uses the opposition defence as his point of reference especially in a 4-3-3 formation.

Unfortunately for Henry that striker is more likely to be Toulouse’s André-Pierre Gignac, making his presence on the bench for France’s opening game against Uruguay all the more certain unless something radically changes between now and June 11.

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