HARRISON, N.J. -- Over a decade ago, while practicing with the French national team, Thierry Henry gave his shirt to a young 12-year-old soccer fan. Little did he know that he would inspire a professional soccer player.
"After the training, he was in the [locker] room and then from there he gave me the shirt. I went to school with the shorts, I went to train with the shirt," New England Revolution forward Saer Sene recalled.
When Sene decided to join the New England Revolution in January from the Bayern Munich reserve team, the Paris native got another chance to meet his childhood idol. He shared the story with Henry, who was in disbelief.
"I told him that and he laughed and said, 'No way, that's not possible,'" Sene says with a grin.
Ever since that moment, the two strikers became friends and Sene describes the relationship as a mentorship.
"He is a big brother to me in America," he said.
Sene is making quite an impression in Major League Soccer. In five games, the 25-year-old has two goals and one assist. Even after a game in which he didn't score, a 1-0 defeat to Henry's New York Red Bulls, several members of the team's backline were quick to praise the hard-working, physical forward.
"Sene is a handful," said Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara. "I know we played him in preseason when he just signed with the team and he was difficult to deal with. Today, he was great."
Yet, as happy as Sene has been in MLS so far, the forward wishes he could have put on a show in front of Henry.
"Yea, it would have been [nice to score]," said Sene. "He already knows that he is my idol. This was the player I dreamed to be when I was young. This is nice because it was a dream come true. I never thought I would be able to play against him."
Though he might be curt at times with members of the media, the 35-year-old Henry is often seen outside of the locker room areas waiting to give advice. Whether it's Gabriel Obertan when Manchester United is in town or Sebastien Le Toux last year with the Philadelphia Union, Henry usually lends a listening ear to younger Frenchmen.
Today, even after suffering a right hamstring strain that will keep him out for three to four weeks, Henry's commitment didn't waver. A foggy-eyed Henry stood outside of the New York locker room waiting for his young pupil. Once Sene arrived, the two players spoke for several minutes with Henry making several gestures to instruct his mentee. It is clear that Henry sees something in Sene.
Sene shared some of the conversation.
"He told me to keep going and you got to do better in your first actions. 'Little brother, you want to do it like me.' I say, 'Yeah big brother, I try to and I will learn,'" Sene said. "Next time, I think it will be done. Every time he says to me, 'You to keep going, this is football and when you play good the team plays good.'"
As for Sene's future, it's clear that he would like to return to Europe one day, even though he is happy to continue to his soccer education in MLS. With Bayern Munich II, Sene scored 19 goals in 55 appearances and enjoyed a good relationship with the club's previous manager, Louis Van Gaal.
"That was a new experience for me. I was young and was training with the second team and Louis Van Gaal loved the young players who did well. One time he called me to the [first team] training and I did well and stayed with the first team," Sene said.
Under Van Gaal, Sene played several preseason matches with Bayern's first team and sometimes sat on the bench for league and cup matches.
"Sitting with the big stars who I saw on the TV everyday, I was learning from them and it was a dream because it was my first time as a professional player," Sene reflected.
Once Van Gaal was dismissed by the club, Sene admits that his future became clouded. Yet he holds no resentment toward Bayern and will be rooting for the German side when it faces Chelsea in the Champions League final.
"This is life. When you play football, there are a lot of surprises," Sene said. "You never know what will happen. Today, I'm in New England. Tomorrow, I might be in England with Arsenal. Another day, I might get injured. You never know."
If Sene continues to listen to his world famous mentor, developing new aspects to his game, he might cross the Atlantic the other way. For now, he's living in the moment.
"Now that I'm in the MLS, I try to give my best here. We'll see what will happen."
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