As Thierry Henry sits down to discuss his latest football venture in the idyllic surroundings of Lake Como, he cannot help but ask himself how he got here.
It’s not so much his delayed flight into Milan that has him thinking. It’s more his own journey. From a young kid practising with a tennis ball in his parent’s moderate apartment in the Parisian suburb of Les Ulis to now, entering the realms of club ownership.
After a playing career that saw him lift Premier League trophies, Champions League titles and the World Cup, the 45-year-old is taking his love for the game in a new direction after investing in eagerly ambitious Serie B club Como 1907. It is a journey his younger self would have never had the temerity to contemplate.
Thierry Henry was announced as a shareholder at Serie B side Como at the end of August
‘You know, I go back to this,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘I used to have a tennis ball in my corridor at home, trying to keep the ball up and making sure it wasn’t going to touch the walls because if it did, then I was going to be in trouble.
‘Now, being a shareholder of a team? I mean, you don’t even think about that do you, especially where I’m from. If I think about the journey – that is still not done – this is a new chapter.’
A new chapter brings with it a new approach to life, both on and off the field. Henry has been captivated by the project being instilled at Como. A desire to return the club to Serie A is there, but it is not the owner’s singular aim, nor is it what enticed the Frenchman to take up the opportunity to invest.
The Djarum Group, who bought the club in 2019, are focused on delivering projects within the local community – including a pledge to ensure all products and produce used and produced by the club are locally sourced within the region by 2025. A younger Henry’s priorities might have been reversed, but not now.
Henry admits that his outlook has been altered since hanging up his boots – his children have played a role in that, as has the recent pandemic.
Gone are the forces that use to drive him – a win at all costs mentality that saw him thrive with Arsenal’s Invincibles and lift back-to-back major trophies with France. The same mentality that saw him take Ireland’s World Cup hopes, quite literally, into his own hands in 2009.
Henry (centre), alongside Djarum Group representative Mirwan Suwarso (left), Dennis Wise (second left) and agent Darren Dein (right) at his unveiling as a Como investor
‘As a player I was there to kill,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t there to entertain, or to think about what was going through your mind. I was there to kill. To win, with my team. That’s about it.
‘I’m not here to kill any more. I’m not playing, it’s over. It’s more about talking, about having connections. About being vulnerable. Making people understand that being vulnerable is OK.
‘When you are young, you don’t hear about being vulnerable is OK, it’s the total opposite. Especially in the game.
‘Now people express themselves. I thought I used to know stuff about the game but the new generation are re-educating me on how the game is now.’
Henry has the comfort of being surrounded by familiar faces in the Como boardroom. Dennis Wise, a former Premier League opponent, is the club’s CEO, while Cesc Fabregas also invested when joining the club on a two-year contract last month. The club are not commenting on the amount either of the former Arsenal stars have put in. All three share the same agent in Darren Dein, son of former Gunners co-owner David.
It was Fabregas who convinced his former team-mate to jump on board with the opportunity. ‘I know if Cesc is amazed about something – because he forgot to be stupid – it’s because something is happening,’ he adds.
The move sees Henry join his former Arsenal team-mate Cesc Fabregas as an investor
As a shareholder there is no day-to-day role in Lombardy, a situation that suits Henry just fine. With the World Cup fast approaching, he still has his assistant coaching role with Belgium to juggle, alongside his punditry roles with CBS and Amazon Prime in France.
As he is at pains to stress, he has arrived at the club to facilitate, not dictate.
‘I’m not here to tell people what to do, this is not my part,’ he says. ‘If Dennis wants to know, if people want to speak to me, involve me and me coming to the game, I’ll do that happily. But you need to know your place.
‘If you’re Gilberto Silva or Dennis Bergkamp. Gilberto will do Gilberto, Dennis will do Dennis. That’s a why a team is a team. Stay in your lane. Stay in your zone.
‘I’m a shareholder, that’s my lane.’
A different lane, but the boy from the banlieues of Paris is still going places.
Henry still has other duties, including media work with CBS in the US and Amazon in France