What are the laws of football for?   You get sent off for dangerous play because it’s dangerous.  You get sent off for fouling too much because you shouldn’t foul too much.   But what are the implications of these dastardly acts?  Usually nothing.  Just the general cleaning up of the game and allowing it to be the free-flowing attacking game we all love.  If players are allowed to kick other players all they want then we probably wouldn’t have teams like the current Spain side.  So it’s all good really.   Ultimately though, yellow and red cards are passed on to punish infringements.   Things that players shouldn’t do.   Sometimes, if these things look very bad, long bans are passed along.   When Paulo Di Canio pushed over that referee he got a long ban.  The implication of his transgression was that referees had been demeaned and he’d set a bad example – you can’t assault the ref – but no real lasting damage was done.  Eric Cantona jumped into the crowd, and while this sort of thing is bad too, no real lasting damage was done there either.   Call up 95% of red card offences over the last season and again, no real lasting damage is done.

Ireland played a hell of a lot of international football to get to last night’s playoff.  They’ve been all over Europe, spent hundreds of thousands of pounds no doubt, used up all sorts of time and effort in an attempt to get to the World Cup.   The World Cup, the greatest show on earth, the biggest football tournament there is, the biggest sporting tournament there is.   And now they can’t go because Thierry Henry deliberately handled the ball (twice) and knocked them out.   Henry should be banned.  Is there a bigger crime in football than his, in terms of pure intent and the implications of this deliberate act?   I can’t think of one.   The implications of what Henry did are far greater than the implications of any other transgression a player might make (deliberately or otherwise – and let’s not forget that many red cards come from accidental incidents).  He should be banned.   All this talk of “he’s not the ref” completely misses the point.  The referee didn’t deliberately cheat a team out of a place at the world cup.  Henry did.

21 thoughts on “Cheat

  1. Excellent piece and I thoroughly agree. Any respect I had for Henry was totally blown apart last night. A disgraceful act of cheating and, quite frankly, even worse than Maradona’s. For a game of that importance the powers that be should step in and demand the extra time is replayed at a neutral venue.

  2. I lost my respect for Henry when he turned into Mr Petulant immediately after Arsenal lost to Barcelona in the Champions League Final in 2006. But I think this is a bit harsh for him. I would say this handball was more instinctive than truly deliberate. It still a foul obviously.
    I wonder if the Europa League’s extra assistants would have picked it up.

  3. Whilst I totally agree with the analysis given and think Henry has sullied his name forever (something that will irk him to no end), it should be noted that it was not a given that Ireland were going through, save for this goal. Anything could have happened in penalties, and therefore it is not as easy as saying Henry prevented Ireland from the World Cup. No, Henry prevented Ireland from the chance to compete in extra time for a chance at the world cup. That said, it is still inexcusable.

  4. but my point is that if someone elbows someone but doesn’t get caught he’ll get found out and given a three game ban. The impact of what Henry did is 100 times greater but everyone will shrug and go “well, one of those things”. It’s pure cheating though, with greater implications than almost any offence I can imagine someone committing on the field. So my question is: how can he not be punished? On what grounds is this acceptable?

  5. Spot on Rich. Henry was one of my favourite players outside of Fulham until last night. Footballers need to take a long hard look at themselves and stop trying to pass the blame on to officials. If you cheat the opposition you ought to think how you would feel if they had done the same to you. It’s not good therefore you really should own up and be honest. If you’re not prepared to be honest on the pitch why should anyone believe anything you ever say again. Officialdom always looks for the easy way out. They don’t want to replay games or ban players for this sort of thing because they think it makes them look bad. They are like politicians denying the true impact of expenses claims. The details don’t really matter, it’s the end result that’s important. Should France be allowed to go through to the World Cup in this fashion. No. They should be evicted from the competition because they have devalued it and the Republic should be given their spot. I’d love to see FIFA or UEFA or the FA grow some balls and start making these decisions but I know they won’t. In the words of The Specials “it doesn’t make it alright”.

  6. FIFA, UEFA, and others need to get their act together fast in regards to video technology. Imagine something like this occurring at next’s summer’s World Cup. Actually, it’s going to. Why?

    Because video technology for television broadcasts has both increased in quality and number since 2006. HD cameras used for sporting events can clarify the freckles on one’s face and stubble on one’s beard. And we all know cheating has always been a part of footy, but now it can be recorded, rewound, analyzed, and then spread throughout the internet like never before in history.

    Maradona’s “Hand of God” is folklore, Henry’s handball is undeniable evidence.

    So FIFA, the FA, MLS, SOMEONE needs to adopt this technology in some form. Otherwise the game runs the risk of losing all accountability. And there is very little left.

  7. I agree with you Rich on the bit concerning retrospective punishment. It should be available to the governing body for obvious violations such as this. But banned? Really?

  8. One of the weekly buzzes to be gained from football is the width of an upright etc. making all the difference, so this is a concentrated form of that. But more. There are novels written (the kind that you and Roy read) about single incidents proving pivotal in a life: actions in the heat of the moment, taken in less time that required to read this, that mark the protagonist permanently.

    Most players, and by extension most of us, adrenaline pumping and then crowd roaring, would doubtless have behaved the same in practice. But what if he hadn’t? Lifelong kudos for talking the ref out of it, and France would still have enjoyed a 50/50 chance. Henry is a thinking man; if he had his time again…? Who knows.

  9. The split second decision bit I understand and agree with so rather than condemning Henry the question is what to do.

    You can’t replay every match decided by an iffy decision but allowing access to technology (no matter what the ground rules) would stop this ever happening again and if FIFA care then the remedy is obvious.

    Occasionally something over and above the ordinary happens and for me this is one of those occasions. It feels to me like the Arsenal goal in the Cup against Sheffield United scored when the ball should have been given to the opposition. Arsenal offered a replay and most people felt that was correct.

    France should offer that but if they don’t there is no reason why FIFA can’t charge Henri for cheating (as in the Eduardo dive) and a ban for 5 competative International matches would be fitting.

    He strikes me as a guy who cares about his reputation and he’s tarnished it for ever.

  10. You can’t ban him unless you’re willing to overturn the result and replay the match. The DiCanio and Cantona examples that you used don’t even enter into this discussion because they didn’t affect the scoreline. Henry’s action clearly lead to a goal being scored. If you punish him, you’re essentially saying that the goal isn’t valid and that opens up another can of worms.

    If you’re going to have replay, it needs to be immediately used at the time of the goal. If FIFA isn’t willing to do that, replay causes more harm than good.

    1. No but my point was that what Henry did is in many ways far worse than what di Canio or Cantona did, and they got long bans.

      I agree, the ref should have a buzzer in his wallet that a fourth official activates when there’s been a cock up. It’d take 10 seconds to have sorted this. Ref gives goal, wallet vibrates, text message saying “no, Henry handled that, disallow goal and give yellow card” and on we go.

      1. I’ve always felt that it’s far worse to cause bodily harm to another human being rather than commit an infraction in the laws of football.

        How should we deal with players who have scored a goal when they were clearly offside? Are they considered “cheats”? Should we also shun the products that they promote or give them stick?

        Don’t get me wrong, I feel terrible for Ireland, but their entire qualification didn’t solely hinge on this match. There was a long process where they will look back on several missed opportunities throughout qualifying as well as in this tie.

        The sole blame on this lies with the match official, he and his linesman missed an obvious call. FIFA should take the blame for not having the proper process to right this wrong as well as having a match official who wasn’t up to the high standards that this match warranted.

        If I’m not mistaken, this ref is the same one who gave the questionable penalty to Gerard in the Champions League match last year versus Atletico Madrid.

        1. I think the game is too fast now for referees to be able to spot everything they should and the massive media pressure ensures that any error is instantly identified.

          I don’t think we can have referees that are good enough without helping them with technology.

          All that’s necessary is for the 4th ref with the technology to be available for consultation or ready to have a private word with the onfield ref.

          Instantly major injustices would be avoided. Where’s the downside?

  11. I am sorry but I disagree. Yes what he did was wrong, but I will not view him as a massive cheat. Lets face it, professional footballers will do pretty much anything to gain a professional advantage (thankfully they have not resorted to performance enhancing drugs). This is the fault of the conservatives and traditionalists at FIFA and UEFA. Goal line technology should have been introduced years ago and now it is really time for video referals on goals.

    Is Roy Carrol remembered solely for the Tottenham goal that never was? Was he a ‘disgusting cheat’? What Henry did is wrong but he has not permanently sullied his reputation, this, as with most things will blow over.

    Its funny how Irelands repeated missed chances to put France away have not been focused on. Whats that about media sensationalism?

    1. why would we focus on Ireland’s missed chances? That’s part of the game. Handballing the ball twice deep in the area, passing to a teammate for a winning goal, then acting as if it’s a bit of bad luck for everyone is not. Some things can comfortably be filed under “shit happens”. This is a step beyond that.

  12. Only saw this today Rich and was staggered by how blatant it was. The whole playoff process has stunk from start to finish, what with all the seeding nonsense (and hats off to Slovenia for inflicting one bloody nose on that process). Quite simply, the likes of Bosnia and Ireland are not welcome at FIFA’s fundraiser it seems. I’m not a big one for abusing players, but I hope Henry cops it big time in South Africa.

  13. When I finally saw the goal, I was staggered and saddened too, as I have a soft spot for both Henry and the Irish, especially since our boy Duff seemed to have a nice run out by most accounts.

    The problem I have with this hardline stance is the nature of cheating in sports and the varying degrees of it… an ex-NFL offensive lineman, Kyle Turley, once said (this may be a word or two off, but it’s close), “If I’m not cheating, I’m not trying my hardest.” Most players will cheat, break the rules, and I expect and respect this. Often they are caught, often they are not.

    Rich, I know you used to go off about the type of presence a player like Michael Brown brought in midfield… but he was, flat out, a mean-spirited cheat. He went around stomping on people and engaging in play that was completely contrary to what we consider the proper nature of the game. I can’t recount a single time he made a proper attacking pass or put a shot on target while wearing a white shirt.

    Henry, what he did should’ve gotten him a red card and, instead, it got him a ticket to the World Cup. If life is fair, he gets punished for it… but, I guarantee you watch Henry on most nights and his play is what we’d like to consider the proper nature of the game… fast, skilled, occasionally brilliant and generally beautiful.

    Now, you go ask Mr. Brown about his play and he’ll generally give you some bull about what he’s done, an innocent look at all times. Ask Maradona about his cheating hands and he’ll make deistic allusions to himself, maybe, if you’re lucky, also refer to his genitals… but at least Henry owned up after the game. His statement about the referee missing it was the same as the overall attitude players like Brown have while they’re playing, “If the referee doesn’t see it, it isn’t illegal.” Except one was able to own up to it and isn’t out trying to cause bodily harm.

    I can be angry and disappointed at the referee, at the player, at the play and at the result of all of it… but you also have to have proper perspective. The Irish were robbed and it was horrible, but let’s not kill Thierry, eh?

    1. “cheating hands” – got the ring of a song about it. Imagine Henry, tossing and turning in bed, whilst he is haunted by the voice of Hank Williams, singing:

      Your cheatin’ hand will make you weep
      You’ll cry and cry and try to sleep
      But slee-eep won’t come the whole night through
      Your cheatin’ hand will tell on you

    2. I completely agree with this. Henry has not created a career out of cheating but out of skill, intelligence and vision on a football pitch.

      Another player (although not in football) who made a career from cheating was Martin Johnson. He was excellent because he was never caught, yet he is now the England Coach and considered one of the greats of the game. The whole interpretation of this by the media smacks of an enjoyment about getting one over on the french and a still unhealthy obsession with the Maradonna ‘Hand of God’, probably because England have not won a world cup for 54 years.

      The reason Henry and Dunne were sitting together at the end of the match instead of punching each others lights out is because Dunne respects the fact that an Irish player would have done the same thing in that position. The handball was wrong and incredibly harsh on Ireland but there is no reason to perform character assassination on Henry.

  14. Action is already taken against players when something occurs outside the view of the referee. I see no reason why this is any different than elbowing an opponent when the ref isn’t looking. A ban is more than appropriate. Ireland should get a replay, independent whether the cheater is banned. I also wouldn’t mind him being banned for the World Cup, and France loses his roster spot so they can only take 22 with them.

  15. Roy Keane on the issue… regardless of your stance on this, pretty entertaining stuff and the right perspective to go at in the locker room… no excuses.

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