France’s all-time record goalscorer Thierry Henry will don a Belgian uniform when Belgium take on France in the World Cup semi-final.
The French legend is now a member of Belgium’s backroom staff and will be required to put emotions aside for the make-or-break clash.
The Red Devils take on France at Krestovsky Stadium on Wednesday morning AEST, and Belgium are hoping the 40-year-old will provide some useful insights on their opponents.
Henry helped France to glory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 and the sight of him attempting to help plot their downfall this time around promises to be somewhat surreal.
“I was lucky to play with him for two seasons in the French team. He’s was a great player and a great gentleman of French football,” Les Blues captain and goalkeeper Lloris told a news conference.
“It is true it is a little bit peculiar to see him with the Belgian team. But that is his career and now he is learning for his future career.
“I think his heart will be split because before everything he is French. He has lived through great moments with the blue jersey – he has the record of goals scored and the second most caps.
“He left a mark on the history of Les Bleus. He has a great passion for football. He will be with the Belgians and do everything to help his team.”
France coach Didier Deschamps played alongside a youthful Henry when Aime Jacquet’s men enjoyed their finest hour on home soil 20 years ago.
“I’m pleased for him. He’s somebody I really appreciate,” Deschamps said. “It is a difficult situation, it really is not easy for him.
“When you face your old team you are part of the enemy team but this time it is notch higher. He is on the bench and facing his home nation, but he did know that from the time he was joining the management team to be an assistant to Martinez this could happen.
“On a personal note it is a great pleasured that I am going to see him.”
Martinez is surrounded by the faithful staff that served him during his tenures in charge of Swansea City, Wigan Athletic and Everton.
The addition of Henry has brought an invaluable insight into how the game operates at the highest level.
“Me and my technical staff have been working for 12 years together. We have clarity,” the Spaniard explained.
“What we didn’t have is international experience, the knowhow of winning a World Cup and being expected to perform in front of the eyes of the world. Thierry Henry brings that.
“We cannot follow the path of another Belgian generation who won a World Cup. Thierry Henry brings that [experience] as a footballer of elite thoughts. He was the perfect missing piece in our group.”
One of the keys to Belgium’s players joining Henry in potentially claiming that rarefied status of being World Cup winners will be the performance of Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne against Les Bleus.
“Maybe he’s going to sing La Marseillaise, which I would find normal,” De Bruyne said when pondering how Henry might react during the pre-match formalities.
“It could be a little bit difficult but he’s working for Belgium now and he wants us to win. It’s his job, that’s football.”