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     Volume 8 Issue 96 | November 27, 2009 |

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Don't Blame it on Henry

Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

The Irish termed it daylight robbery. The sheepish French called him Le Cheat. The English termed it the moment that differentiated a cheat from a paragon. The Argentines, predictably called it 'the hand of Henry.'

French coach Raymond Domenech (L) celebrates with French forward Thierry Henry at the end of the match.

The only trouble was, the referee did not call it.

103 minutes into an enthralling World Cup winner-take-all play-off between France and Ireland at the glorious Stade de France, Thierry Henry cheated.

Yes, he did cheat. Let's get that fact out of the way.

Gliding onto a free-kick from deep, the man much of North London call Saint Henry, controlled the ball with his hand, not once, but twice. The first was pardonable, coming about by instinct. The second however, was the sort of cheeky pat on the back best friends give each other. It changed the direction of the ball completely, and rather than dithering out of play, the ball found itself directed via Henry's left leg onto the flailing body of William Gallas and into the back of the net.

Out went the army of leprechauns and FIFA and Sepp Blatter could breathe easy as the superstar laden French made it into the showpiece event in South Africa next year. Never mind that they were horrible for much of the qualifiers, never mind the Irish resilience, never mind the blatantly dubious decision to seed the play-offs, all a World Cup place finally came down to was the hand of Thierry Henry.

The predictable diatribe followed. The Irish screamed bloody murder, Trapattoni screamed replay, the French just murmured and everyone suddenly discovered a moral code that they lacked only last week.

Which is exactly what, yours truly finds so difficult to understand.

This incident has just suddenly seen every single journalist, coach and player jump on a high horse and proclaim their self-righteousness.

What Henry did was cheat. There is no doubt about that but the hyperbole I have read or heard is totally unreal. Personally speaking, I haven't lost any respect for the man and that is not because he is a player I have a soft spot for he isn't. The fact is that what Henry did at the Stade de France that day was exactly what 99% of the world would have done.

TV grab shows French forward Thierry Henry eyes the ball.

Think about it, really. Henry is a player who has defined the decade with his style and flair and can perhaps even be a nominee for the player of this decade. He is nearing the end of his career and this World Cup will most likely be his last.

So if anyone is arguing that after two legs of frustrating, pressure cooker atmosphere football against a team he felt like they should be beating comfortably, in a stadium packed to the rafters with people baying for a World Cup place, Henry should have walked up to the referee and asked him to disallow the winner, they must be kidding themselves.

If he had, he would certainly have gained respect. However, the fact that he didn't shouldn't mean he has lost any either. After all these things happen everyday, and since when did the world get so altruistic? Would Michael Owen have said sorry for that swan dive against Argentina in 2002? Did the English reject that win? Would Lionel Messi ask for his handball goal to be disallowed? Do we love him any less for it? Would Rivaldo ask for a Turkish red card to be rescinded for his shoddy acting?

Another argument that's been done to death is the 'save the children from moral decay' angle. That is even harder to swallow. Why not tell the children what is true? Professional sports is a mixed bag with good and bad, wrong and right actions. Just like life itself. Besides, children aren't foolish. A 6-year old will realise that what Henry did was against the rules. And in most cases daddy will be there to tell him it was wrong.

And then he will have examples like Daniele de Rossi to follow. de Rossi, a fantastic player by his own right and not the cleanest bloke by any stretch of the imagination once pleaded with the referee to disallow a goal he had scored with his hand. The referee obliged and Roma who were trailing 1-0 then, came back to win the game 2-1.

De Rossi's valiant act is commendable, but in a world and in a sport that is swiftly losing the moral code that supposedly binds it together, it is a solitary light. In a perfect world, de Rossi should be the norm and not the exception. But we do not live in a perfect world and we must strive to make the best of our circumstances.

Henry did just that, by any means necessary. Yes, he cheated. But so do the rest of the world. No it isn't right. But that doesn't mean he is more to blame than anyone else. It's upsetting but that's jut how it is.

As Henry would doubtless tell us all, cest la vie.

photos: AFP


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