Thursday, November 19, 2009

La Main de Henry

Soooo, where to begin with yesterday's "slight" controversy.

Before the video gets taken down, take a look (the replay shows it clearly):

Henry admitted the handball, claiming it was not intentional. His intent is certainly debatable, but I wouldn't question that because in the heat of the moment sometimes that kind of thing happens. It's not so much that the handball is intentional but more that you just aren't really thinking, it's all instinct and adrenaline, and only after your hand is touching the ball do you really realize what you're doing.

Certainly Ireland are aggrieved, rightfully so. However, I am going to straight off debunk a number of the Irish complaints.

The offsides. Of all the complaints, this is the most stupid, plain and simple. The players who were offside did not play the ball! Henry was in an onside position, that's all that matters! Then, when Henry played the ball, Gallas (who was offside when the kick was taken) was no longer offside because he was behind the defender on Henry. Simple, it's all on the video easy to see and it's in the rules, so I don't want to hear about offsides on the play anymore. Done.

France and Ireland should replay the match in Paris. Again, just stupid talk from justifiably bitter losers. If FIFA/UEFA were to set such a precedent it would be unheard of and would destroy the legitimacy of the sport as far as I'm concerned. Once you did it here, there'd be no differential between replaying this match and any given match across the world where some controversial call/no call, such as a clear dive leading to a penalty. It would be chaos... Now, speaking entirely hypothetically, what if the French were to say, we don't want to take the victory in this manner, we admit cheating and are willing to replay the match (or replay just the extra time)? I'd still be hesitant, though I might ultimately allow it. The reason even that is dangerous is again the precedence it sets. Now every time a controversial call leads to a result, the aggrieved team would be lobbying the team that benefited to do the same, and that to me isn't much more sporting than cheating in the first place. Part of what makes sports so great, and remember that sports are merely entertainment, is the controversy and talking points that are imbued throughout sports history.

It was Henry's handball that robbed Ireland of a place in the World Cup. I find this point technically wrong because Henry's handball merely robbed the Irish of a chance to continue extra time and try to win the playoff match in penalties. If the Irish were in fact advancing based on away goals or something, and then France's goal changed that result entirely, then yes, they had an actual World Cup place taken away from them. For large portions of the game, the Irish were taking it to France. France continued to show that something is amiss with this team. And Raymond Domenech continues to be an idiot (subbing Malouda for Gourcuff, and keeping Benzema on the bench??), yet the French were dominating extra time and looked like they might get a goal. Ireland had some great chances to put the game away during normal time and failed to do so, that's their own fault and it came back to hurt them. (I know I'm being harsh here, more on my true feelings on the Irish performance follow below.)

Henry is a cheat and this forever tarnishes his legacy. I think people are getting a little hysterical with the calls for Henry to fall in a ditch, etc. etc. He cheated, yes. Is he a cheat? No. There's a difference. Amado Guevara is a cheat. Henry cheated in this instance. Did the Hand of God forever taint Maradona? I say no. In fact, it's part of his mystique. (Maybe if you're English you feel differently.) Of course that goal may be softened somewhat by the fact that Maradona came back three minutes later and ripped through the entire team with probably the most famous goal in soccer history.

I think Henry has done too much, on and off the field. I think his admission of touching the ball, and the way he spoke with the Irish players on the field after the game, is key in somewhat easing this moment from being a huge black mark on his career to merely a negative mark. He even supposedly told the ref it hit his hand. The real question should be what the hell the referee and his assistant were watching/thinking?! Still, this doesn't completely taint Henry's career. It will become part of his and the sport's history, and it'll be talked about all summer when France play in the World Cup, and be reprised the next time qualification comes up for France and Ireland individually. Yet, Henry will still be Arsenal's and France's greatest goalscorer, and a World Cup, Euro Championship, and Champions League title winner, in addition to so many domestic honors.

I'll finish with two more analogies. To some people, Zidane's sending off in the World Cup final tarnished his legacy. I understand that a little because that was his final game and it could have been an unbelievable send off by winning his second World Cup, yet he let his famous temper get to him and he struck out so violently. But no one is using that to diminish Zidane's on the field accomplishments or his place among the all-time greats. As far as I'm concerned he's still the greatest player during my era (Ronaldo was close because of his excellent peak, though he definitely tarnished his legacy when he got fat and continues to play out a somewhat sad ending to his career).

Lastly, many of these complaints are coming from people who obviously have a bias for Ireland, or maybe against France. But if it was a reverse situation, anyone who claims that they would not only own up to it but have told the ref to disallow the goal or would ask for a replay are simply lying through their teeth or lying to themselves. You can say that all you want but you aren't in that situation, and I know you would be no difference than Henry or the French in the same situation. If the US was in the playoff against Uruguay and Clint Dempsey used his hand to divert the ball leading to the goal that sent the US through yesterday, I don't know a single US fan who wouldn't take the goal and qualification. We'd be just like the French. I'd say, yeah he used his hand, yeah it was wrong, yeah the ref should have called it, but such is life and such is sport, sometimes that happens. I wouldn't be proud and I'd know we backed into qualifying, but I would not call Dempsey a disgrace and give up our qualification. And you wouldn't either. So I don't want to hear it.

(And yes, I understand that if this happened to the US, I'd be absolutely heated and would forever hate the opposing player. I'm a biased fan, that's sports. So I'm not actually judging the Irish supporters. I feel for them, and having them in the World Cup would have been great. And let's face it, based on the merits of performance and heart, Ireland should have gone through with a performance in Paris that the UK press are rightfully calling heroic. Giovanni Trapattoni did a great job with that team.)

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