Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Un petit tricheur...

There's been an unusual silence from me in the seven days since the match last week largely because I have followed Virginia Woolf's
injunctive never to write when one is angry. While that anger has only subsided a little, there's little point in poring over the ashes of the
game, to glean either good or bad points - in any case, the whole match is by now, dominated by one bad point of monumental size. FIFA, though
they may be an organ of such corruption and rancidness capable of being matched only by a planeload of Third World kleptocrats touching down at Geneva International Airport, are correct not to order the match to be replayed. As egregious a wrong as Henry's handball was, FIFA cannot overrule referees, even if sometimes they wish they could have.

The French Football Federation though, had it in their gift to offer a
replay, and they might have felt it incumbent on them to do so, seeing
as so many of their countrymen were mortified at the way they qualified
for South Africa. It appears however Raymond Domenech put a spanner in
the works by refusing a rematch. To be honest, I think Jean-Pierre
Escalettes, the President of the FFF, is every bit as lacking in
backbone as his manager and nobody at 87, boulevard de Grenelle gave
serious thought to killing the golden goose they had almost given up for
dead. It's an ignoble dereliction of fair play but let's not be too
pious about it. France will trot out at the next World Cup in imposture
in the eyes of the world and many of their own supporters. And given
their usual form in tournaments this decade they will hardly do better
than Ally McLeod's Scotland who deprived Wales of a World Cup finals
spot in 1978 thanks to a Joe Jordan handball. The cosmic retribution
will be swift, just and probably underwhelming. A passionless French
team will limp from one uninspired draw to another before being soundly
beaten by a modest enough opponent - Denmark, Slovakia or Cameroon
perhaps. And Raymond Domenech will refuse to take any blame...

But what of the villain of the piece, a man who has, in the past week,
revealed himself to be of less than monumental proportions? Not so much
in the act of cheating he committed, though it was clearly an
intentional double-handball; any schoolboy who has ever juggled soccer
and Gaelic football over a season can train their instinct to wrap their
hand around the ball when playing the foreign game - highly-paid
footballers can do the same, without any excuses.

Since he handled the ball not once but twice before setting up William Gallas to score the goal that put Ireland out of the World Cup, Thierry Henry has done a lot of pleading. It started at the final whistle. By now settled down from his exuberent celebration of Gallas' goal, Henry consoled Richard Dunne and said 'it was handball but I'm not the ref'. One has to admire Richard Dunne's magnanimity that he didn't, as Eric Cantona suggested he should have, socked Henry one there and then. It continued the following day, with Henry sheepishly apologising via his Twitter feed, then he said he was not a cheat and called for the match to be replayed, after FIFA had already put his foot down. It was a communiqué delivered, crucially in English rather than French, aimed at touching up his tarnished image. Henry doesn't want to go down in history as a cheat - though there will be many who have followed his progress over the years who will say his cheating started neither last Wednesday nor the day before - so you have to question his motivation in blatantly cheating last week. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. Then Henry said he felt all alone and considered quitting the French team, because the FFF, rather ungratefully did not give him more wholehearted support for his cheating.

Once again, I'm not going to be too pious about cheating. Everyone does it at some point in the game. And most of them are never noticed. Some do it in minor instances, and others, like Henry do it in, ahem, grander ones. Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal is one of those grander instances. But where Diego differs from Thierry is not in the fact that El píbe scored a fantastic goal within moments of his moment of treachery, but because Maradona has never shirked the fact he cheated. From the very moment he coined the immortal phrase to his more recent likening it to 'pick-pocketing Prince Charles', Maradona has brazenly embraced his cheating. He knows it was important enough, and he, unlike Henry is not going to hide behind a referee's call. England fans may not take much comfort from that but Maradona is, in Graham Greene's words 'man enough to be damned'. Thierry Henry, fretful of his reputation having crossed over to the dark side, is not. He is milksop Jonathan Harker to Diego's Count Dracula. And it is this cravenness that makes Henry's behaviour all the more repulsive.

Anyway speaking of 'hiding behind a referee's call', here's the exemplary Thierry Henry in a 2006 Nike ad. Is he still talking to Cantona, I wonder? Or did he bottle out of talking to him that day, too?