Thierry Henry knows a little something about the lifestyle of a rich and famous soccer player.
The 36-year-old may be at the tail end of his career, but it’s a career in which he’s earned tens of millions of dollars in salary and endorsements, representing companies like Pepsi, Reebok and Gillette while starring for teams in Spain, Italy and England. In what appears to be his professional swan song with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the U.S., Henry is still the league’s third highest-paid player.
Henry also understands the pressures that come with being a big name for Arsenal in the Premier League in soccer-mad England, the team Henry played for from 1999 to 2007, a position that is new to first-year Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil.
Ozil, a Muslim from Germany who is of Turkish descent, transferred from Real Madrid in the Spanish league to Arsenal before this season for a reported $70 million over five years. It is the most a team has ever paid for a German soccer player. Ozil started the season strong, but has struggled lately, and currently has just six goals in 34 appearances for Arsenal. Henry believes Ozil is feeling the pressure that comes with being paid such a high salary in such a high-profile role.
“They don’t actually remember that the guy coming (to a new league) has to adjust to a new style of living, talking a new language, different food, different town, different team,” Henry told BBC World. “What I will say is people are focused on the main thing that I see he did change — that is the money. When a player has a price tag, he has to perform right away.”
Henry is right.
Most people don’t want to hear about the problems of somebody who’s young, rich and talented, but too often sports fans and media forget that athletes are real people. And just like a real person might see their job performance slip when taking on a new set of responsibilities in a brand-new environment, athletes are no different.
This isn’t a video game. This isn’t a fantasy league. Give Ozil some time to settle into these major life changes and his talent — that talent that put him in position command $70 million in the first place — will show itself on the pitch.