When France take on Belgium in Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final they will look across and find a familiar face on the opposition bench.
That of Thierry Henry – the former Arsenal striker who was a member of the France squad that won the 1998 World Cup.
Henry, who remains France’s record international goalscorer with 51 goals for Les Bleus in 123 internationals, will be aiming to stop the country of his birth from repeating their 1998 success as assistant manager to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.
It is a conundrum that the French players admit will seem strange.
“It will be bizarre to have him up against us,” said Olivier Giroud. “He is a living legend of French football.
“He has given so much to the France team and we have got a lot of respect for what he has done.”
“But of course I would be proud to show [him] that he has chosen the wrong camp,” Giroud added.
Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris, who played with Henry for the French team, agrees.
“It is true that it is a little bit peculiar to see him with the Belgian team, but that is his career and that is how he is learning his future career,” said Lloris.
“I think his heart will be split tomorrow because before anything he remains French. (But) we know him, he has a lot of passion inside him, for football – and he will be with the Belgians and giving everything to help his team.”
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) July 6, 2018
Henry joined the Belgium setup in 2016, just a few weeks after Martinez was given the job, working mainly with the squad’s strikers such as Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi.
He has stayed out of the limelight ever since, much to the frustration of reporters, giving just one interview during that time.
“I’m here to help the manager and the squad. The manager is the one who will do the talking,” said the 40-year old.
“I will try to make the team better. As a coach you don’t have to mention what you have done as player in the past. And as a coach I haven’t proven anything.”
His continued silence mean Henry’s thoughts on Tuesday’s match remain a closely guarded secret, although it is safe to say that another World Cup win, even as an assistant coach, would certainly be something to be proud of.
However, given the predicament he finds himself in, Henry will certainly not be bragging about it.