Thursday 13 February 2020, 11:49

Piette: It’s surreal having Thierry Henry as our coach

  • Samuel Piette is navigating preseason with new coach Thierry Henry

  • Montreal Impact return to Concacaf Champions League this month

  • Piette spoke to about the upcoming season for club and country

Samuel Piette’s 2020 campaign promises to be one of the most exciting and important of his career. The 25-year-old defensive midfielder is approaching his 50th cap for Canada, having captained the side on multiple occasions, and is entering his fourth season with Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact under new head coach Thierry Henry.

As winners of the 2019 Canadian Championship, the Impact are readying for their first Concacaf Champions League appearance in five years. They’ll enter the competition on 19 February, travelling to face Costa Rican powerhouses Saprissa. Meanwhile, Canada are in the thick of a late push to reach the Hexagonal, or Hex, a crucial step forward on the road to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. For now they are on the outside looking in, sitting 73rd in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, four spots behind El Salvador, who occupy the sixth and final place. caught up with Piette as the Impact began their pre-season in Florida. The Montreal native shared his early experiences with his new coach, what it’s like to wear the captain’s armband for his country and more. How would you describe Thierry Henry's coaching style and the chemistry of the team as you begin working together?

Samuel Piette: So far, so good. We’ll learn from him – how he is as a coach, as a person – throughout the training. But so far you can see that he’s someone who communicates a lot to the entire group from the sideline, whether we’re scrimmaging or doing an exercise. He walks around to individual players to tell them things he sees that they are doing well and things they should change. He’s very positive, as well. It’s never negative. He’s always looking for us to get better. He never wants you on your back, or to be against you.

We are learning how he wants to play. It’s still early to say exactly how we want to play. With his coaching style, our exercises are almost always with the ball. Last year, there was a lot of running, especially in the first week of pre-season. Now everything involves the ball and games, and that’s something the players appreciate.

Was Henry a player you idolised growing up? What’s it like playing for someone with his impressive resume?

It’s special. The first time I met him and had him in front of me, my first thought was, ‘Holy sh*t, he’s bigger than I expected!’ It’s very different from watching him on TV. I’m a big fan of Barcelona. He played for, in my opinion, the biggest and best club in the world; to have him now as a coach is obviously special. Honestly, the first few days were surreal, having him on the sideline coaching us. But now that we’re seeing him every day, we’ve started to see him as the Montreal Impact coach, not Thierry Henry the player. He’s working with us and we’re all together in this.

The Impact enjoyed an impressive Concacaf Champions League run in 2015, finishing runners-up. Has that been discussed as you prepare to enter the competition this year?

We have talked about it, but there also aren’t a lot of guys left on this team who were part of the 2015 campaign; just Evan Bush and Anthony Jackson-Hamel, my room-mate. We talked about the moments these guys lived in 2015, and how important it was for the club and the city. Everyone was behind the team. We’d like to use that as motivation and try to replicate it this year. But I think it would be stupid of us to think about winning the final at the moment. We have to focus on getting through the first round, first of all, which will be very difficult against a good team.

Last year Canada reached new heights, which included a triumph over neighbours USA in Concacaf Nations League play. How have you seen the team grow since you’ve been part of it?

Not only the team, but the entire programme has grown a lot in the past two, three years. Our new manager, John Herdman, made the switch from the women’s side to the men’s side and it’s been really positive for us. He’s trying to implement things that will bring us to the next level. We also have some highly talented young players: Alphonso Davies playing at Bayern Munich and Jonathan David playing in Belgium, for example. We haven’t had these types of players before, and especially at young ages.

I think this new generation of players will be very helpful for this country. It is pretty difficult to qualify for the Hex now that the format has changed. It’s a bit unfortunate for us, but I know the people in place are willing to do everything within their control to get us to the Hex. We know how important it is.

You’ve captained the national team a few times already. What do you see as your duties and responsibilities in that role?

Being a captain gives you more responsibilities, but for me it doesn’t change how my attitude is with the guys. I’m only 25 years old – I’m not the youngest, but I’m also not a 15-year veteran with the national team. I’m kind of in between the two generations. I think I’m a nice, positive guy that people like to be around. Just being myself, being disciplined and setting the example on and off the pitch – especially for these younger guys who are just joining the team – I think that’s something you have to do. But it’s also something you should enjoy. If you see it only as a duty, then I don’t think you should be wearing that captain’s armband.

It’s still six years away, but Canada, USA and Mexico will combine to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Have you thought about what it might be like to compete in a World Cup on home soil?

Of course. I think as soon as they made the announcement, every Canadian was excited. Right now we are in the process of qualifying for 2022; we’re not even talking about 2026. But by then I’ll be 31, 32 years old. Hopefully I’ll still be playing at that age. I intend to. To have that event, with more countries than before, I know how special that is. Representing my country in Montreal, or even Toronto, or Ottawa – wherever – would be a massive honour.