Thierry Henry has expressed concern over Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil star Neymar after some of his recent comments suggested that he was nearing the end of his career. The star PSG attacker said in an interview with DAZN that he thinks the next World Cup will be his last and added that “I do not know if I have the strength of mind to deal with football any more.”
Henry, who you can watch on the Paramount+ studio show coverage of the Champions League, told L’Equipe that Neymar’s recent comments should be taken more seriously within soccer than it has been so far. “When you analyze a move, and he did not track back — OK,” said Henry. “That it is a fact, and it must be said. True, he is not playing as well, but there are reasons for that. Neymar has often spoken in his recent interviews about his well-being and about the pressure.
“My first question was, is he alright? It was not about him not doing nutmegs, sombreros, or not accelerating anymore. He speaks but are we hearing him? He is asking for ‘help,’ there are things going on in his head, as with any human.”
Henry played alongside Lionel Messi towards the end of his career and the Argentine has struggled to settle into life with PSG so far after spending his entire career with Barcelona up until then. The former Arsenal man admits that emotional shock can play a part having experienced it himself.
“You would have to ask him,” said Henry. “I cannot speak for him. When we speak of Messi or Neymar, who are exceptional players, we too often forget that aspect. When Lionel cried on leaving Barcelona, that was not part of the plan. You think you are never going to leave a place and suddenly you do — it creates an emotional shock.
“People say, ‘he is fine, he has got everything he needs in Paris,’ but it is not that simple. When I left Arsenal for Barcelona, I needed a year to feel good. I arrived there with an injury, in a period of divorce, I had to learn a new system, you mix all of that together and it plays on the mental side of things.”
Henry recognizes the difficulties faced by soccer players today in even admitting that they are not in the best mental shape and that fanbases could be unforgiving if players opened up about their struggles more regularly. It was something Henry regularly considered as a player when players were even less expressive.
“I do not know how people react if a footballer started talking like that at the end of a game, explaining that he was not doing well mentally,” he said. “In my time, it was a lot harder, it was completely taboo. Even within the squad.
“You would show up and be asked, ‘how are you?’ and you would respond ‘good’ even if things were not going well. ‘Did you sleep well? Yes,’ even if it was not the case. ‘Are you hurt? No,’ even if you were in pain.
“Nowadays players can open up more. But if you say, ‘mentally, I was not doing well,’ it can come back to haunt you in an away games. What are opposing fans going to chant when you are taking a throw-in or when you arrive at the stadium? ‘Oh, that guy was scared last week!’ It is not easy to open every door and for people to read who you are.”
Henry even admitted that there was a fear of letting of his emotions show and that he could sympathize with Naomi Osaka’s recent struggles which attracted attention in the tennis world.
“Crying was impossible,” said Henry. “You could not show your weaknesses. It was like, ‘Thierry, do not cry, do not cry, do not cry!’ I sometimes cried alone, but I was fighting to keep it together. Nowadays I do cry.
“Nowadays, when someone opens up on a sensitive topic, we can no longer turn away and reject what they are saying. Everyone likes it when you say you are good. Why would it be bad to see you’re not doing well in your head? It will not stop you from being judged on your game.
“When [tennis player Naomi] Osaka spoke out, it did not shock me. My reaction was, ‘ah, I understand.’ Beforehand, for me, being able to share your faults was a weakness.
“These days I think being vulnerable is a strength. When you free yourself of something which has been weighing on you for a long time, you feel light, you run quicker, you sleep better, you eat better…”
Neymar and Messi’s PSG will be away at Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League this midweek as the French giants bid to reach the quarterfinals at the expense of their Spanish rivals.