With one, perhaps two, touches on Wednesday night in Paris, Thierry Henry cemented his country's place in this summer's FIFA World Cup in South Africa. But it was not with his often graceful, sometimes majestic foot that the Barcelona star undid the Irish defense.
Instead, he split through the shamrock back-four and handled -- twice -- the ball before delicately lifting it towards his oncoming teammate with his foot. William Gallas, French national team defender, would put the goal away with his head. The Irish had been undone before a crowd of over 80,000 in the French capital in a manner most foul.
Since the final whistle, Henry has stepped forward to admit his "unintentional" handball, noting he told the referee of the incident on the field after France was awarded the goal. As captain of the national team, he immediately reached out to the Irish players, particularly Richard Dunne, the Irish defender, after the game finished. Dunne was quoted in The Independent, "He's admitted he cheated," and claimed that Henry intended to handle the ball.
The backlash in the Irish and English press has been vicious. Columnists of The Guardian like Richard Williams have questioned his manhood and Amy Lawrence has cried, "Shame on Henry." The former Ireland player Tony Cascarino has labeled Henry a cheat in The Times writing, "He speaks so eloquently, but to me now he'll always be insincere, a faker, someone who cares only about himself."
Such travesties of inaccurate refereeing have besieged the British Isles before, most notably the "Hand of God" goal scored by Argentina's Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup against England. This goal is evoking hatred from Ireland around the world, throughout its vast diaspora, which is being jumped on by all island dwellers, including the often ridiculed English.
Thierry Henry's career has been a remarkable one. He has won titles in France, England, and Spain as well as the World Cup and European Championship. He is the leading goal scorer of Arsenal F.C. in the English Premier League and has been awarded the Legion d'honneur -- France's highest honor. But with two touches he turned a world of admirers into enemies, alienating himself and his career from all its heights.
Henry's movements may have been involuntary, but a larger question remains. With the entire hopes of your nation resting on a single goal, a goal which would grant your national team a place in the finals of the world's largest sporting tournament, would you not, too, have done the same? Henry even admits to the foul, but blamed the referee. "I played it and we scored, but it was the referee's decision. That's why the Irish all ran to him, not to me," he said to The Irish Times.
In the end, the situation comes down to a failure in officiating, not the cheating of a single player. In soccer, like in all sports, players cheat. They dive. They feign injuries. They commit illegal tackles. No different than bankers seeking that extra edge illegally, players will pursue the win without regard for law. It is natural. And much like in finance where regulation is necessary to control the power of greed, so too is officiating needed to prevent cheating. FIFA must look to find a solution to the issue of goal line decision-making, the failure of their current officiating system, while maintaining the flow of the game. But, like in banking, this task has never been the simplest.
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