MONTREAL (AP) — CF Montreal lost a head coach and Major League Soccer said goodbye to a marquee name with news Thursday that Thierry Henry was stepping down.
Citing family reasons, the 43-year-old former star striker said he was quitting the club after one season at the helm to return to London. Kevin Gilmore, Montreal’s president and CEO, called it a “difficult day,” but said Henry was leaving on good terms.
“I’m surprised but given the circumstances it doesn’t shock me that this has happened given what he went through last year,” Gilmore said.
Separation from his children, plus the prospect of having to spend another season on the road due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, contributed to Henry’s decision.
“Last year was very difficult on this club across the board,” said Gilmore. “But especially with those that had to spend the last four months of the season outside of Montreal. And the prospect of starting a season like that again is very difficult. And it’s taken its toll on a lot of people. Obviously it’s taken its toll on Thierry and his children.
“He made a difficult decision – although I keep saying when you make decisions based on family, they’re always good decisions – to stay in London and give up his position as the head coach of the club in order to be close to his family.”
The announcement comes on the eve of training camp. Players report Monday for a seven-day quarantine period, medical exams and COVID-19 testing prior to the start of team training March 8. The MLS regular season kicks off April 17.
Montreal said it will take a committee approach to coaching, led by assistant coach Wilfried Nancy, until a successor is found. The new head coach will take charge of a roster radically changed since last season: 11 players left and there are eight new faces.
Henry spoke to the Montreal players and staff Thursday via video.
“It is with a heavy heart that I’ve decided to take this decision,” the French native said in a statement. “The last year has been an extremely difficult one for me personally. Due to the worldwide pandemic, I was unable to see my children.
“Unfortunately, due to the ongoing restrictions and the fact that we will have to relocate to the U.S. again for several months, (this year) will be no different. The separation is too much of a strain for me and my kids. Therefore, it is with much sadness that I must take the decision to return to London and leave CF Montreal.”
Henry was hired in November 2019, succeeding interim coach Wilmer Cabrera on a two-year contract with an option for the 2022 season.
Henry has been linked to the managerial opening at England’s Bournemouth in recent days. But Montreal officials said there had been no contact with that club, which recently handed the manager’s job to Jonathan Woodgate through the end of the season.
“Bournemouth was nothing more than a rumor,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said Henry was not focused on a job hunt: “Right now his sole and only focus is his children and his family.”
But Montreal sporting director Olivier Renard said he hopes Henry returns to coaching as soon as possible.
“He deserves it,” Renard said. “I can say that I was very proud of him last year … You could see he was in difficulty about his family, about the players. He was the leader of the team.
“Thierry’s departure is unfortunate and premature because this was very promising, but he informed me of his desire to be back with his family because the situation was and remains very difficult for both him and his family. I want to thank him, first on a human level because he led the players by example last year by being away from his family, but also from a sporting level and for what we have built together since his arrival. We wanted to elevate this club and we are on the right track.”
A 1998 World Cup champion with France, Henry’s team had eight wins, 13 losses and two draws in the pandemic-shortened season, finishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Montreal lost to New England 2-1 in the postseason play-in round, its first playoff appearance since 2016.
“We had an impossible year together and to make the playoffs with this group of people is an experience that I will never forget,” Henry said.
Montreal players report Monday for a seven-day quarantine period, medical tests and COVID-19 testing prior to the start of training March 8. The season starts April 17.
Henry starred for Arsenal from 1998-2007 and returned in 2012 during a career that also included time with Monaco (1994-99), Juventus (1999), Barcelona (2007-10) and the New York Red Bulls (2010-14). He was an assistant coach with the Belgian national team (2016-18) before coaching Monaco (2018-19) and Montreal.
He scored 51 goals in 123 international appearances.
Gilmore said the team is in the process of finalizing where in the U.S. it will play home matches this season while border restrictions continue. A return to New Jersey or Florida are possibilities.
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