World Cup winner Thierry Henry now training Belgium strikers
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Romelu Lukaku watches video clips of great strikers on his computer to help hone his own goal scoring skills: Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Thierry Henry.
At the World Cup, the Belgium and Manchester United forward can leave his laptop in the locker room. Henry is an assistant to coach Roberto Martinez and spends hours training and working with Lukaku and Belgium’s other attackers in Russia.
It seems to be paying off. Belgium was the top-scoring team in the group stage with nine goals, eight of them from open play.
Lukaku has four goals in the two matches he has played so far. When he was rested for the 1-0 defeat of England, Adnan Januzaj stepped up and scored by feinting to the right, stepping back to the left and sending a curling shot over Jordan Pickford. It was a goal Henry would have been proud to have scored.
Januzaj, a talented forward who many observers believe has yet to fulfill his potential, credited working with Henry as one of the key’s to bringing out the best in Belgium’s players.
“Obviously that’s all the hard work we put into training with him,” he said. “That’s all the finishing we do and I think it’s so important to have somebody like him in the team.”
Martinez brought Henry into the Belgium setup two years ago to impart not just his knowledge of goal scoring — he is France’s all-time top scorer with 51 goals in 123 appearances, and Arsenal’s with 228 — but also his experience of winning with a team weighed down by great expectations.
In 1998, Henry was part of the France team that won the World Cup on home turf. Although Henry did not play in the 3-0 final victory for Les Bleus over Brazil, he scored three goals in his first major tournament and converted a penalty in a nerve-rattling shootout against Italy in the quarterfinals. Henry scored three times two years later as France added the European Championship to its trophy cabinet.
“Thierry Henry brings something completely different,” Martinez said when he announced Henry was joining the Belgium setup. “He’s someone that has been in the situation of having to develop a mentality as a team. To change the dream of winning something special.”
So far, so good.
Lukaku has scored his four goals with his left foot, his right foot and his head. Dries Mertens scored his country’s first goal of the tournament with a first-time volley. And then came Januzaj’s move to wrong-foot England defender Danny Rose and curl in his shot to give Belgium a perfect 3-0 record in group play that earned him praise from Henry.
“He said to me, ‘You see when you work hard, when you play with your quality you can be the best,’” Januzaj said.
Henry, whose illustrious club career included stints at Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona and New York Red Bulls, is keeping a low profile in Russia, his focus clearly on helping Belgium fulfill its potential.
Speaking before the tournament, Henry made clear that Belgium’s talented team now must live up to expectations back home in football-crazy Belgium.
“To be a golden generation, you need to put some gold on it,” he said in a TV interview. “What I mean by gold is winning.”