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The Henry affair

What's French for 'contrite'?

November 21, 2009
By Paul Marshall
(Archive)

Thank goodness for Joël Quiniou, otherwise many of us living in France might have missed it. The French former international referee is currently gainfully employed as L'Equipe's expert whistle-blower, and - unlike the man in the middle at the Stade de France on Wednesday, Martin Hansson, helpfully spied that Thierry Henry showed Kobe Bryant-esque skills in setting up William Gallas' South Africa round-trip ticket-stamper in Paris.

Thierry Henry may have apologised but France have no intention of a replay
GettyImagesThierry Henry may have apologised but France have no intention of a replay

• Domenech: Henry's no cheat
• Paper Round: Replay not the answer
• Palmer: Deep gloom engulfs Ireland
• FAI request France replay
• Keane blasts FIFA and UEFA
• Henry admits handball

"An invalid goal" was the unimaginative but truthful headline that accompanied Quiniou's brief column, tucked away on page 3 of L'Equipe on Thursday morning. "Thierry Henry's handball, which was seen by millions of TV viewers but which unfortunately escaped the attentions of the referee and his assistant, will create a talking point in Ireland," he stated.

"In Ireland" is the interesting and most appropriate point, as in France, a country where politicians' extra-marital amours are regarded with envy rather than disdain, 'la main de Henry' has largely been justified in the manner of Frank Leboeuf, with people pointing out simply: "We're going to the World Cup."

The headline in Thursday's edition of L'Equipe read "The Hand of God," which was interpreted by some in Britain and Ireland to be ironic, but was clearly not when you take a peek inside and read another, "Miraculously saved from the abyss". There is mention of an 'enorme' handball by Henry in the build-up and a "tainted goal", but most of the post-match handwringing has been taking place beyond French borders.

A front-page editorial didn't mention the incident once, but does - as it has throughout Raymond Domenech's reign - talk about "a catastrophic match" from a side "that has failed to put in a single convincing display in 14 months of qualifying." Friday's edition was dedicated to 'the burning question.' No, not whether the game should be replayed, but whether Domenech, "a man in the fog" as they put it, having now got Les Bleus to South Africa should be given another chance to fluke his way to the final again.

There is no doubt that everyone in France saw Henry handle the ball, "but hey, we're going to the World Cup".

"Let me savour the moment" was how Domenech reacted to questions about the incident in his post-match press conference, while Arsenal full-back Bakary Sagna was glad the luck of the Irish had "for once gone in our favour." The French FA president, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, echoed those sentiments. "You have to be philosophical," he could barely be heard saying above much grating of teeth in Dublin. "Football matches are decided on the smallest details. I remind you that we haven't had a lot of luck during qualification." Perhaps not, but if "these things even themselves out", then Ireland can expect a Euro 2012 qualifying group featuring no-one more menacing than Andorra.

Henry's claims on Friday that he feels "the fairest solution would be to replay the game" came too late to have any real soothing effect to either the Irish or his image, despite the ex-Arsenal forward adding that he feels "extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa." Given that had the goal been ruled out, the aggregate score would still have only been 1-1, it doesn't say much for Henry's faith in his or his team-mates' ability to come through a penalty shoot-out.

Naturally, Arsène Wenger came to the aid of his fellow Frenchman. Wenger denied it was a 'Hand of God' moment, but - like Henry - claimed it "was the instinctive reaction of a striker. When the ball goes too far, you take your hand and use it."

Fair enough, but Wenger - who in his role as a French TV summariser admitted live on air on Wednesday that it was "100% handball" - was perhaps blinded by loyalty to his former protégé. What about the delicate second touch that dropped the ball directly onto his foot? Is Henry so superhuman as to have two instincts? Or perhaps he's just been spending too much time with his pedigree chum Tony Parker, he of Desperate Housewives husband and San Antonio Spurs point guard fame?

Wenger added that he was "proud of the way France reacted. Everybody said: No, that's not the way we wanted to qualify."

Patrice Evra and Raymond Domenech are united in a lack of repentance
GettyImagesPatrice Evra and Raymond Domenech are united in a lack of repentance

He was right, but the chagrin was more related to the lack of panache rather than the fact underhand tactics had been used. The French Finance Minister admitted it would be good for FIFA to change their rules to allow a replay in such cases, but those who count - Henry, the French team, Domenech and the FA - were only too happy to be heading to South Africa. "I'm not ashamed of anything," said Patrice Evra on Saturday as he defended 'Titi' in the French press, and declared he was ready "for a replay any time - on the PlayStation."

Henry's claims that he was "embarrassed" by the goal also look hollow - the way he wheeled away in delight and celebrated with Gallas bear eloquent testimony to that. In that light, his subsequent consoling and embrace of Richard Dunne appear nothing more than a clever PR move. Eric Cantona - for one - was not impressed.

"The thing that shocked me most wasn't the handball," said Crystal Palace's favourite kung-fu exponent. "What shocked me most was that - in front of the cameras - he went and sat down next to an Irish player to console him when he had just 'f***ked' him three minutes before. If I were Irish, he wouldn't have stayed three seconds."

Perhaps Henry was - as Wenger put it - blinded by "the greed of wanting to score." Given that Domenech and his players were given €10m in bonuses to share - courtesy of the FA and sponsors - it could well be another type of greed of not only the squad but also the aforementioned FA and sponsors that was the motivation to qualify at any cost. Appropriately, Saturday morning's L'Equipe headline translates as "Henry doesn't deserve all of that." The Irish couldn't agree more.