Thierry Henry is one of this generation’s legends of European soccer. The 32-year-old striker has been a member of the French national team since 1997 and has scored over 50 goals for Les Bleux - to say nothing of his nearly 230 goals in club play. He was one of the faces of Gillette shaving products stateside and has also been featured in innumerable soccer advertisements here and overseas. He’s also, as FOX SPORTS notes, guilty of one of the most flagrant uncalled handballs in the history of international play; step aside, Maradona.
What made this play especially egregious is that it happened with 13 minutes gone in extra time of a World Cup qualifying playoff between France and plucky Ireland. Though Ireland led the match at the time, the aggregate score was 1-1, and it was essentially a “next goal wins the World Cup berth” situation. Stage set? All right.
So with time winding down in the first overtime and a ball about to sail past Henry, the Frenchman stuck his hand out, knocked the ball down (which, we might remind you, is about as legal as playing atop a motorcycle), kicked it to teammate William Gallas, and watched as Gallas headed the ball home to give France the bid to South Africa in 2010. Oh, and just for good measure, he admitted he did it on purpose.
Video (with bonus uncalled offsides!) is after the break.
This was sensationally bad. How the referees didn’t think something might have been up when no fewer than seven Irish defenders began calling for the handball even before the fateful pass to Gallas is beyond us - and let’s not get started on two Frenchmen being so obviously offsides.
But perhaps you’re thinking, “but so what? I don’t know what all this soccer talk’s about.” So here’s an NFL corollary. You know how people were outraged when Brett Favre was taking out guys’ knees? Thierry Henry’s not a Favre, more like a LaDainian Tomlinson, but his committing a handball to decide a game like this is like if LT went Last Boy Scout on an opposing defense. On a game-winning touchdown in overtime. With no flag. And, we suppose, no subsequent arrest for multiple homicides.
At this point, with the game decided, there really isn’t a lot for Henry to do. As mentioned above, according to THE CANADIAN PRESS, he already fessed up:
After the match, the Barcelona striker said Swedish referee Martin Hansson was the main culprit for not spotting the infringement.
“I will be honest, it was a handball. But I’m not the ref,” Henry said. “I played it. The ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him.”
Further, the game’s in the books, so… what more is there? He’s going to get absolutely savaged in the press for a while - see the TIMES OF LONDON’s not-quite-subtle “Thierry Henry is an insincere cheat who has tarnished his reputation for good” headline - and then the story’s going to disappear (to great fanfare from Dublin) when France is knocked out of the World Cup in 2010.
Okay, one more corollary. This is like being in Game 7 of the ALCS, and Derek Jeter is up in the 9th inning and 2 out, then fouls one back and out of play, then circles the bases in ecstasy… at which point the ump takes his word for it, gives him the home run, and the Yankees win. Henry’s right, to an extent; this is on the refereeing. It’s just a shame that he put the game in the refs’ hands by, well, putting it in his own hands first.