thumbnail Hello,

Goal.com's Ewan Macdonald reflects on Thierry Henry's controversial assist against Ireland...

The hand puns, the jibes, the jokes, will follow Thierry Henry around for some time. (Just look at our headline!) After all, his Harlem Globetrotter impression during France's win over Ireland isn't something easily forgotten.

Certainly the Irish fans won't let it lie anytime soon. Henry will be demonised and ostracised - with this result taking an ill-deserving France side to the World Cup, one feels that there will not be the indulgent attitude towards this goal that Diego Maradona enjoyed with the Hand of God in 1986.

But while Henry will forever be tarnished by this incident, so too will the sport. This, in fact, concerns all of us. The fact that Henry was able to carry out his abuse of the game, and saw his side rewarded for doing so, is an indictment of football in general, and of its governing body in particular.



After all, this is an incident that took place on their watch, in the midst of perhaps the most prestigious European play-off. Having successfully gerrymandered the seeding arrangement, two of the world's more popular countries were to face off in a two-legged showcase. What a shame, then, that they will be forever remembered for all the wrong reasons.

But how could it ever have been otherwise? By refusing to move match officiating into the 21st century, but readily accepting a wealth of cameras at every international match, FIFA find themselves stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. Cameras are everywhere, yet nowhere. Replays are viewed, but not seen. Human-only refereeing is a product of a time when, if one was lucky, the only way of retroactively viewing an event would be a single, almost certainly inconclusive, black and white photograph. Now we can see Thierry Henry's handball in glorious high-definition, yet as far as the governing body is concerned it may as well have been sketched on papyrus.

This state of affairs is laughable. Not a single person in the world can be left with any doubt as to Henry's actions last night, yet FIFA's own website described the manouevre variously as a "flick" and a "pass". (To be fair, they do have passes in basketball.) It's the Emperor's New Clothes writ backwards: we have seen, but must say that we have not. And all because referees are left to do an impossible, thankless task as the all-seeing eye of the camera sits by to judge, but not to aid.

As for the players themselves, well, they are human. Like all humans they are open to temptation, and to acting in the heat of the moment. Ask a footballer if they would cheat in such a fashion to take their team to a World Cup and a majority would probably say no, perhaps even with grave offence taken. But put a footballer 100 minutes into a hell-for-leather play-off in front of tens of thousands of fans, with a split second to decide, or not even decide, to move one's arm, in the fog of battle, and the outcome will be different.

Being unable to read men's souls I won't even speculate as to whether or not Henry acted with malicious intent, or if it was an involuntary accident. We all saw the action, but not its motivation. Yet the fact of the matter is, that even if Henry acted in moustache-twirling villainy, the systemic structure of football is set up not only to permit, but in fact to reward such actions. Take a risk, take a dive. If you succeed, riches immeasurable await. If you fail, you'll maybe get a booking, or a red card if you're lucky, and all will be forgotten. The question, then, might become who wouldn't have done what Henry did?

FIFA are for all manner of reasons delighted with this state of affairs. Worryingly, local associations follow the lead of FIFA. UEFA's boss Michel Platini, often styled a maverick, is perhaps the most slavishly devoted to the orthodoxy of refereeing. The introduction of additional officials to monitor the penalty area in the Europa League, for example, is not a brave new decision but rather a Canutean effort to stave off video evidence.

A legitimate concern is that the introduction of video evidence will create a two-tier sport. Poorer associations, and even lower leagues in countries as football-rich as England and Spain, will struggle to pay for the video equipment itself, much less the trained officials to man them. Yet when the stakes are as high as they are at the top level, this may well be a price worth paying.

By all means call Thierry Henry a cheat. By all means treat this as his legacy if you choose. But make sure that your ire isn't only directed at the Frenchman. Look at the bigger picture. You'll see that Thierry Henry acted in the spirit of football as handed down from its leaders. You tell me if that's for the good of the game.

And finally: Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni deserves praise for his measured and considered response to the issue at Thursday's press conference. The veteran rose above the reactionary and the bitter and instead spoke of the importance of ensuring that such injustices can no longer happen in our sport.

Ewan Macdonald, Goal.com

Related