November 20, 2009

Les Fleurs du Mal

With Freedom Fries on the menu and talk of boycotting L’Oréal, it seems that the hand of Henry has stirred up more trouble than he could ever have anticipated

Henry

It sounds like Ireland came to a standstill in the aftermath of the playoff with France. Controversially, my mother was too depressed to speak to me on the phone afterwards. Across Europe the outrage made front-page news. Twitter and Facebook may yet be overloaded with the torrents of abuse and indignation that have arisen. Government officials from both nations have called for a rematch, yet FIFA have dismissed the idea.

My brother-in-law even elicited a comment on the incident from Gillette:

Hello Stephen and thanks for your email.

Gillette is aware of the HENRY handball incident in the France v Ireland
World Cup qualifier. Thierry Henry has publicly acknowledged that it
was a handball. It is not our place to comment on the refereeing in the
match. This incident does not affect his relationship with us.

Kind regards,

Fiona

When I sent him a link which provided access to the e-mail address of all 343 French senators and joked about whether he had time to contact them all, he replied darkly in the affirmative. For this, he would make time.

Popular conspiracy theories attacked the principles of FIFA when it was announced that the play-offs would be seeded, with a consensus that football’s governing body wanted to do its best to ensure that France and Portugal progressed to South Africa in 2010. The alleged reason for such bias was that millions in sponsorship revenue would be lost if Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo were not participants. Ironically, Henry has lost some of his lustre as a sponsorship figurehead in this kerfuffle, and the goal that eliminated Ireland was not a passage of play to shift many football boots.

The Guardian’s Richard Williams is right to observe that Henry missed his chance for a place in history as an exemplar of sportsmanship. I’m far from being a Liverpool fan but I must acknowledge Robbie Fowler’s protest that he had not been tripped when the referee awarded Liverpool a penalty against Arsenal in 1997. Elsewhere a villain, Paolo di Canio once refused to take advantage of an injured goalkeeper in a clear scoring opportunity. These things linger in the mind long after the results do.

The outraged public response to the perceived injustice of the game is amusing, some press commentary assessing sportsmanship and officials’ decision-making processes is thought-provoking, but reactions from people within football are just depressing.

Henry has admitted that ‘the ball had contact with my hand’, but initially implied that it bounced off him while it was clear that he redirected its path intentionally with two strikes of his palm. His implication that everything happened so fast that he forgot that he was playing football rather than some other sport is similarly unconvincing. It’s notable too that he declared graciously that Ireland should be granted a replay only after FIFA had announced that this would not happen.

The referee Martin Hansson, seeming to perceive that his decisions affect himself and no-one else, wished himself well in a comment striking for its idiotically amiable philosophy: ‘I cannot comment on the game itself but life must go on and I hope I will survive this too.’

David Beckham – surely the last person who should be consulted about anything, ever – came to Henry’s aid in the press with a bizarre, narcissistic non-sequitur: ‘I’ve had a few headlines in the past which have not been nice but I don’t think he is a cheat.’

Roy Keane’s outburst attacking the FAI and the Irish team has the air of a man struggling to establish his relevance from the remote climes of Ipswich as he dredges up World Cup 2002 for no credible reason. ‘Me! Me!’ he shouts, ‘I still count’.

UEFA’s website makes no mention of the controversy surrounding the decisive goal. Wagging its finger, FIFA has scolded that ‘referees must be respected’, not offering any reasons why, nor contemplating any scenario in which respect might be won or lost. ‘As is clearly mentioned in the Laws (Law 5) of the game during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.’ They seem to think it unacceptable to question why laws arise, or whether they can be amended.

Broader contexts are that football is one of the few professional sports not to allow the review of video footage by match officials, and that match-fixing scandals are being investigated most recently in Germany in the fine Italian tradition. These are signs that football is a bullshit sport. World Cup 2010 will be a dreary sham of showboating poster-boys. I predict Gillette vs Adidas in the final.


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