Being a soccer fan in America can sometimes feel like being part of some small cult that is privy to an entire world of sporting action that the U.S. media simply ignores. No media time equates to no public recognition, so international soccer players who are mobbed overseas by adoring fans are hardly recognized in the U.S.
For instance, I was recently watching the NCAA Final Four with five smart, sports-savvy friends. During a commerical break, a Gillette commercial came on that featured three of the international sports world’s biggest titans: Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Thierry Henry. Talk about “the best a man can get”! These three guys are world class athletes of the highest ilk.
But while Tiger, and to a lesser extent Roger, couldn’t go anywhere in America without a security team the size of President Bush’s Secret Service, my intelligent, well-traveled friends had absolutely no idea who Henry was. They actually thought he was some new foreign basketball import at first. One even suggested Henry was perhaps Tony Parker’s older brother.
I corrected them by informing them that he was, in fact, one of the five finest “footballers” in the world, though not of the Reggie Bush variety. This revelation induced the typical “soccer is so gay” groans from my friends, who then proceeded to insinuate that I only knew about Henry because of my love of FIFA video games.
They had a point, but so did I. I did initially fall in love with Henry by making his virtual counterpart dominate my brothers in FIFA. But unlike so many other virtual sports heroes, the real deal was just as impressive when I watched him play on TV. In fact, the man himself performed some maneuvers his virtual doppleganger couldn’t have even fathomed.
Thierry Henry is one of the finest strikers in the world and he deserves recognition on par with Woods and Federer. During his run with Arsenal, he was perhaps the most talented forward in the history of the Premier League. In 254 official league matches he scored 174 goals while leading Arsenal to domestic and international cup success. Moreover, he has scored 44 goals in only 98 appearances for the French national team, a team record, and he assisted Les Bleus capture of the 1998 World Cup. He has had an undeniably heroic career.
All over the world, he is renowned for his play. That play translated into huge endorsement deals with Reebok, Pepsi, Nike and, of course, Gillette. It also has translated into a near record salary with Barcelona of the Spanish Primera.
Yet, Barca is actually down on Henry right now and thinking of unloading the star and his huge salary. Rumors have already begun flying that Henry could be bound for MLS, most likely either New York or the new Seattle franchise. However, his likely salary demand ($300,000.00 a week) is probably too deep for even the deepest of MLS team owner’s pockets.
Even if Henry came to Seattle or New York, Americans still probably wouldn’t give him much notice. I can almost hear my friends remarking, “sure, he’s a world class athlete, but its only MLS.” Well, that may be true. But if a player with the attributes of Henry can’t bring more fans to the league, I fear no one can.
Oh, and did you know that around the rest of the world Kaka is also featured in the same Gillette advertisement with Woods, Federer and Henry. Why is he left out of the U.S. version? Well, for one, like Henry, he is just not that recognizable here. But the main reason?
Gillette says they omitted him because of what his name is synonymous with in the U.S. Yeah, that’s right, they think we would all just make a bunch of poop jokes if Kaka was in the ad too.
Seriously? Does Gillette think Americans are that childish?
What a bunch of caca.