Henry's flawed theory

Henry's flawed theory


Henry's flawed theory

It is understood that the canonisation of Thierry Henry has been postponed indefinitely. During his eight years at Arsenal Henry came to represent what football ought to be about, yet in the space of barely a heartbeat at the Stade de France on Wednesday night he managed to show what in reality it is about, namely getting away with what you can when you can.

It was not just that Henry handled the ball in setting up the goal for William Gallas which took France to the 2010 World Cup at the expense of a Republic of Ireland side superior in every respect on the night except when it came to finishing. He manhandled it, which is to say that having seen it hit his left forearm he deliberately kept the ball in play with a cupped hand and then placed it on to Gallas's head. It was an act born less of instinct than calculation.

Afterwards Henry freely owned up to what he had done, saying that it was up to the referee to spot the offence. The relevant linesman was on the wrong side of the net to get a clear view and while the presence of a goalline judge might have seen Gallas's equaliser, which gave France a 2-1 aggregate lead in their play-off, disallowed maybe
Henry might not have risked a yellow card had another pair of eyes been watching.

Either way he has earned his place in football's hall of infamy and within seconds of Wednesday's incident was being spoken of in the same breath as Diego Maradona and 1986 and all that. Henry will never quite be in Maradona's class as a footballer but if he keeps this up in South Africa the Argentinian's reputation for unbridled deviousness will have a serious rival.

Few if any could ever have expected the words "Henry" and "cheat" to appear in the same sentence but after Wednesday night they became inseparable. The French have a better word for a cheat – un tricheur – which has a satisfying Machiavellian ring about it. For England fans Maradona will always be a cheating Argie. For the Irish the hand of Henry will forever remain the ultimate tool in the plot hatched by Fifa to frustrate Giovanni Trapattoni's players through its late decision to seed the play-offs.

At least Maradona had the decency to score one of the World Cup's greatest goals once he had fisted Argentina into the lead against Bobby Robson's England in the 1986 quarterfinals, dribbling half the length of the pitch, past player after player, to find the net then repeating the feat in miniature against Belgium in the semifinals. Paradoxically the worst and best of Maradona roused England to produce what almost became one of their greatest recoveries, for at 2-0 down Robson brought on John Barnes to create one and very nearly two goals for Gary Lineker.

In Paris the Republic of Ireland still had the better part of extra-time to save the situation but were looking drained. Had Robbie Keane put away the second chance that fell to him with the assurance of his first-half goal the additional half-hour might not have been necessary. As it is the runners-up of 2006, when their captain, Zinedine Zidane, stained an outstanding career by getting himself sent off for butting Italy's Marco Materazzi in the chest, are in the finals once more because another French captain stooped to fraud.

It is to be hoped that for Henry this is a one-off. Maradona was a compulsive handler, as he demonstrated against the Soviet Union in the 1990 tournament when he stuck up a paw to block a corner from Oleg Kuznetsov, an offence oddly unseen by the referee.

Maradona left the 1994 World Cup after failing a drug test and now, as Argentina's coach, has been banned for two months by FIFA for obscene language in the aftermath of his side's qualification for South Africa.

Somehow it is hard to see Henry's career keeping Maradona company for long. Not that this will be of much consolation to the Irish who on Wednesday were cheated of a penalty shoot-out at the very least. But that, unfortunately, is the game. As one old pro, Ronnie Whelan, said of Henry's legerdemain: "If you're a professional footballer and you're in the same position you'd do the same thing and hope to get away with it." Henry did and Ireland were left demanding a replay. In their dreams.