Thursday, November 26, 2009

Henry’s juggling sparks plenty of debate...

Thierry Henry’s bit of juggling last week certainly sparked plenty of debate. The Irish, poor souls, are in uproar, the French are as embarrassed as they are relieved, and everyone else seems to be chipping in with their opinion. I find it interesting that morality, in this instance, seems largely to depend on which team your sympathy lies with.

Had Robbie Keane handled the ball to give Ireland the win, would there have been such a fuss, or would we merely have labelled him ‘cheeky’? Rather than focusing on this one indiscretion, we’d more likely have hailed Ireland for being wily enough to squeeze past France.

As a Brighton supporter, I can recall a couple of instances when my team were guilty of some rule-breaking. I have a vague memory of full-back Johnny Crumplin slapping the ball in with his palm at Cambridge one time. Everyone, including Crumplin, looked at the ref and waited for a free-kick and a yellow card, but, amazingly, a goal was awarded. At Withdean, striker Gary Hart punched one in with his fist in the last minute against Southend. Did you find Brighton fans suggesting the game should be replayed? No, they laughed all the way home, delighted with the three points.

Calls from the Irish Football Association for the France game to be replayed were frankly ridiculous and possibly the greatest ever example of clutching at straws. If a game were to be replayed every time a ref missed a key decision, teams would end up playing every day of the week. Every time Manchester United lost, Sir Alex would be straight on the phone to the FA demanding the match be voided because the linesman got a throw-in decision wrong in the first half.

In his distinctive, brilliantly angry way, Roy Keane put it best during a press conference. “France are going to the world cup. Get over it,” he shrugged. Okay, maybe he was a bit harsh, but he made a good point about how, earlier in the campaign, Ireland won a game which saw them score from a dodgy penalty, and there were no offers to replay that game.

People are labelling Henry a cheat, but he is no more a cheat than any winger who dives or any centre-half who grabs a handful of a striker’s shirt. It was an instinctive reaction to use his hand, and people who say he ought to have owned up should put themselves in his boots, in a game of such importance (remembering that this world cup might be his last) and ask themselves whether, honestly, they would have told the ref to disallow the goal. I’m not sure I would.

Regardless of this incident, I’ll always think of Henry as one of the greatest players I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. He transforms football into an art form, and outraged moralists should forgive him this one blemish and instead focus on the sheer beauty he has brought to the game. After all, even though Diego Maradona ruined my summer in 1986, I still regard him as the greatest footballer that has ever lived.

We all know that instant TV replays are a good idea but until they come in, we just have to accept that sometimes, no matter how heartbreaking it can be, you’re going to be stitched up by bad officiating or plain bad luck.

1 comment:

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