A new page will be written in the history of the France U23 team. Thierry Henry, who succeeded Sylvain Ripoll after six years as coach, will sit on the bench at the Marcel-Picot stadium in Nancy on Thursday. Les Bleuets host Denmark (6:30 p.m.) in a friendly match, before starting the Euro 2025 qualifiers in Slovakia on Monday (6 p.m.). The start of work for Henry.
A year ago, the CIES Football Observatory (Centre International d'Etude du Sport) made France the second country in the world for exporting footballers behind Brazil. Despite its flourishing nuggets, the Blueberries have not finished on the podium at the Euro since 2002, eleven editions in a row. They did not pass the first round at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and had not even qualified for the previous five Olympics.
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At Euro 2023, Sylvain Ripoll's team, beaten in the quarter-finals by Ukraine (1-3), was again talked about for its low quality of play, especially compared to its workforce. France pales in comparison to Germany and Spain, dominant among the under-21s. Thierry Henry will have the mission to create a craze. It goes through the game and the results. “The U21s are the France team, you play to win tournaments,” recalled Henry.
The first starting lineup of Bleuets version Thierry Henry will be very scrutinized. It will give the trend as to the players brought to pull the team up. The ex-striker could rely in defense on Castello Lukeba, 20, 12 caps, moved from Lyon to Leipzig this summer. "I am one of the oldest, my objective will be to bring my experience acquired by participating in the last Euro," Lukeba told L'Équipe this week.
In the middle, the football world will closely follow the prodigy Warren Zaire-Emery, only 17 years old and holder in the four matches of PSG this season. But the executives are especially hoped for in attack. Rayan Cherki (Lyon, 12 caps, 5 goals) "is an outstanding talent with exceptional qualities", praised Henry. We will have to watch the neo-Parisian Bradley Barcola and the neo-Lensois Elye Wahi, as well as the Rennais Arnaud Kalimuendo, dean of the Bleuets (22 years old, 22 caps, 5 goals).
So far, coach Thierry Henry has had a chaotic career, far from that of the player (123 selections, 51 goals with the France team). His first experience as N.1 at AS Monaco lasted only three months (October 2018 – January 2019). Hired by Impact Monreal, in MLS, in November 2019, he left Canada a year and three months later. “The separation is too painful for me and my children”, he justifies, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There were also his periods as Roberto Martinez's assistant with Belgium (2016-18, 2021-23), which he left after a bitter failure in the first round of the Qatari World Cup. "You're going to make mistakes," Henry said. It is in chess that you learn the most. […] I learned a lot, the Covid year changed me a lot. You learn a lot on a human level, it really helped me. You get an education but sometimes the players re-educate you. In addition to perfecting his management of men, questioned in Monaco in particular, Henry (46) also aspires to take off his career as a coach.
"There, I'm thinking of Denmark," warned a Henry eager, as the sporting maxim wants, to take the matches one after the other. But the Olympics, "if we talk about the event, it's extraordinary, recognized the 1998 world champion. Marie-Jo Pérec, Flessel, the Barjots…" The Bleuets have the players to aim for gold at home next summer. Any result other than a medal would be considered a disappointment or even a failure.
In its history, France has won only two Olympic medals in men's football: silver (1900) and gold (1984). Garnish the prize list, Henry has time to prepare for it, a little. Counting the current streak, the coach has three international windows to work with his group this year and then will have at least one in 2024, a few months before the start of summer. "But you have to prepare for qualifying for Euro 2025," insisted Henry. This will also be an objective for the France team.