PARIS (AP) — Having helped France win trophies as a prolific forward, Thierry Henry wants to lead Les Bleus to a long-awaited Olympic gold medal in his new role as coach.
Henry was hired as coach of the national under-21 team last week on a two-year contact, and he will also lead the France team at the 2024 Paris Olympics. The French Olympic team last won gold at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, and Henry intends to put that right.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve won. There’s a problem somewhere. We’re going to have to try and solve it," Henry said Tuesday at his first news conference. “Being on the podium is going to be something that’s outstanding, especially being at home in France."
Henry hopes he does not encounter the same problems as his predecessor, Sylvain Ripoll, who went to the Tokyo Games without his best players because clubs refused to let them go.
Clubs do not have to release players to the Olympics because the FIFA-run tournament is not included on its international match calendar, meaning Ripoll had to make a raft of changes after announcing his squad.
Henry said that he and French soccer federation president Philippe Diallo are already talking to French soccer clubs to avoid a similar fiasco.
Henry helped France win the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship two years later, scoring 51 goals in his career with the national team. He is the all-time leading scorer for Premier League team Arsenal.
But the transition to coaching has not always been smooth.
Henry had two spells as Belgium assistant coach. He also coached Monaco — where he was fired after a difficult spell — and Major League Soccer team Montreal. He said those experiences taught him many things that he wants to share.
"After all, I like working with young people, and I’m good at talking to young people,” Henry said. "So I hope it’ll be a positive thing.”
Henry's other objective is qualifying France for the 2025 European under-21 Championship in Slovakia.
Henry’s first match in charge is a friendly against Denmark on Sept. 7 followed by Slovenia four days later in a first qualifying match for Euro 2025. His team also faces Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Cyprus in its qualifying group.
Diallo praised Henry as the ideal choice.
“For the federation it is also an important moment, because we have two major deadlines in the coming season,” Diallo said. “On the one hand, the qualification for the 2025 Euros, and on the other hand, an event that only happens once a century, the Olympic Games in Paris ... We needed someone who could embody the Olympic ambition of the federation.”
Henry’s assistant coaches are his former Arsenal teammate Gaël Clichy and former striker Gérald Baticle.
Henry quit his role as a broadcaster to take the job.
“I wasn't fulfilled,” Henry said. “The French team is something you can’t turn down.”
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire in Paris contributed to this report.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer
Youcef Bounab, The Associated Press