Departing a press scrum after Thursday’s practice at Red Bull Arena, team captain Thierry Henry walked up behind head coach Mike Petke and greeted him with a solid slap on the back.
“Big man!” he exclaimed.
Petke greeted his star player with a smile and invited him to take a seat for a chat. Together, they watched on as practice died out, engaged in a 20 minute conversation which, judging by the hand gestures, must have been tactically or strategically centered.
This moment in time was just another sign of the improved relationship between star striker and rookie coach. Both made headlines with their well-publicized practice tête-à-tête last month.
Now, a mutual respect has developed between both men that has bled into the fabric of the team.
“You get judged by your results and Mike has done that,” Henry told reporters after practice. “It’s never easy to learn the process while it’s your first year, but like I said, you have to start one day.
“It starts where people loves him, where he is a club legend, so I would like to think that helps him in a way,” the French legend concedes. “Great reaction, great attitude, you know how he is. He is a fighter, he’s trying to put that into the team, and at the moment, it is working, definitely.”
While acknowledging that Petke’s built in support system as a team icon has helped cushion some of his shortcomings this year, Henry was quick to note that does not at all take away from the rookie boss and his accomplishments.
“It’s never easy. We have had some rough moments this season, where we were not winning, we were playing poorly,” Henry explains. “Suddenly, we win on the road of winning, then we win again playing poorly, now again on a good roll.
“I think he is going to learn with the process but he dealt with it amazingly.”
Those glowing words were reinforced by fellow team DP, Tim Cahill, who shares a strong bond with Petke from his first days as a player with the team.
“He was that reserve team manager when I first got here that helped me a lot to find my feet,” Cahill explains. “I’ll never forget it. He deserves his crack. He is obviously top of the poll and he is there for a reason.
“The thing with Mike is he loves the club,” he continues. “There is no secret with his passion and what he does for the football club and the players. The time and effort that he invests in us and for me, as a footballer, always helping the team, him basically guiding us and showing us the way.”No stranger to the rumblings of social media, Cahill also touched upon the accomplishments of his first-year coach, which he insinuates go unheralded in the press.
“Everyone is talking about how great all the other managers are doing and the pitfalls,” he says. “For where we are sitting, and what he has done in a short space of time, he should take a lot of credit. We all know we are going to make mistakes, but with Mike, he is a true leader. He was as a footballer, and the best thing I love about him is he is passionate. You can see it.
“When someone takes their football home with them, this is what this club has been waiting for, the fans, someone who really cares and wears their heart on their sleeve.
“That’s why we are successful,” he continues. “He cares. It’s important that we drum that into every single player and staff member.”
Both players agree that Petke has grown as a manager throughout the year, and point to the standings as proof of his accomplishments. Moreover, they credit their boss for sticking to what made him successful as a player.
“Obviously he has grown, but the main thing is, every week he is just getting better,” Cahill says. “He stays by his players regardless and that’s the true sign of a manager. He always has our back and as players, we have his as well. That’s what you need to breed a strong unity and team is a man that loves the club.”
“When people ask me to compare players that I played with or against or whatever, he just has to be himself,” Henry says. “He has to be Mike Petke. That’s the best he can do.”