French striker Thierry Henry smiles during a press conference in...

French striker Thierry Henry smiles during a press conference in which he was introduced as a member of the New York Red Bulls. (July 15, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

HARRISON, N.J. - Bienvenue and adieu, Thierry Henry.

Yesterday, the 32-year-old star began a new phase of his career with the New York Red Bulls, leaving behind a championship legacy in his native France, England and Spain.

Henry, the former FC Barcelona striker, also announced his retirement from the French national team as he was introduced as the newest member of the Red Bulls at the team's new arena in New Jersey.

Henry signed a 4 1/2-year contract with New York on Wednesday, the first day of the MLS' international transfer window.

"I wanted to represent New York," Henry, who has been vacationing in New York since 1996 said. "It was a no-brainer for me."

Brandishing a Red Bulls scarf while sitting alongside members of the Red Bulls' front office and MLS commissioner Don Garber, Henry and head of Red Bull global soccer Dietmar Beiersdorfer admitted that the transfer to New York had been in the works longer than most thought - several years, not months. Rumors regarding the Red Bulls successful courtship of Henry surfaced months before the World Cup.

"For this transfer we worked for a few years," Beiersdorfer said as Henry nodded in approval. "It started before my time."

Henry is the most celebrated MLS signing since David Beckham transferred to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. Henry was member of France's 1998 World Cup championship team and the 2000 European championship team. He had a French record 51 goals in 123 international appearances. He also scored a club-record 226 goals for Arsenal of the English Premier League from 1999-2007.

Henry's first game with the Red Bulls will be versus Tottenham of the English Premier League next Thursday. The newest New York Knick and Henry's countryman, Ronny Turiaf, was at Red Bull Arena to greet him.

The deal is the second of three available "designated player" contracts the Red Bulls can execute under MLS rules. There is speculation that the third player the Red Bulls will sign is Henry's former teammate at Barcelona, Mexican international Rafael Marquez.

"I don't want to name names," Henry said, "I know a lot of the [elite players] who would like to come."

By coming to New York, Henry realizes he could anger a large Irish community. On a blown call last November, Henry handled the ball twice with his left hand, poking it to William Gallas for a go-ahead extra-time goal against Ireland in a playoff that put France into the World Cup and knocked Ireland out.

"After the game, I did apologize and I was saying this to the guys on the pitch, to the Irish guys," Henry said. "But, hey, the rules of the game are the ref doesn't blow the whistle, you've got to play."

With AP

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