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Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Shameful incident will brand Henry for life


LONDON — It takes years for a player to build a reputation. During his eight seasons at Arsenal Thierry Henry established himself as, in the opinion of most, the finest overseas footballer to play in England.

Christopher Davies

A three-time Footballer of the Year, the France captain became one of the world's truly great players.

But now Thierry Henry will be remembered as a cheat and a liar. Forget the great goals and the excitement he has given. The Barcelona striker stands alongside that other cheat (a chemist's friend) Diego Maradona.

His deliberate double handball that allowed William Gallas to score France's decisive goal and end the Republic of Ireland's 2010 World Cup hopes will be a tattoo for life.

When you think of Maradona you think of the Hand of God. Now Henry has the Hand of Frog.

"I will be honest, it was a handball," said Henry which pre-supposes in the light of damning video evidence he could deny the offense. "But I'm not the ref. It would have been better to do it in another way but as I said, I'm not the ref."

In other words, cheating is OK as long as the referee doesn't spot it, which Swedish official Martin Hansson was not in a position to do. And what Henry means by "better to do it in another way" heaven only knows.

Win the game fairly?

Yes, that would certainly have been better.

Henry also claimed it was an instinctive reaction, as if that makes it all right. He knew what he was doing, it was not accidental and as a result France and not Ireland will go to the World Cup.

I hope the incident does not cost Hansson, who refereed the game superbly, his place in South Africa because no referee could have been expected to spot Henry's sleight of hand.

FIFA has resisted calls for video technology but there must be something wrong when millions of people watching the game around the world knew Henry had deliberately handled the ball but the match officials were unaware.

Even if the fourth official had seen Henry's offense on a monitor in the technical area, in law he could not have informed Hansson. With so much at stake FIFA must realize that match officials need help — not for every tackle or offside, but for match-deciding blatant acts of unsporting behavior like this to ensure a natural sense of justice.

After all, FIFA's motto is "Fair Play."

Will Henry care about his tarnished reputation?

Unlikely.

His handball set him up for a fourth appearance in the World Cup finals, sadly proving cheats do prosper.

* * * * *

ARSENE WENGER calls it Black November.

In the ideal world of club managers there would be no international friendlies. They would probably even scrap the World Cup if they could, but so-called meaningless friendlies would be banned.

It is difficult not to sympathize with the Arsenal manager who will be without the services of Robin van Persie until the New Year after the striker sustained an ankle injury playing for Holland in a friendly against Italy last weekend.

Van Persie was having the best season of his Arsenal career, benefiting from the transfer of Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City, and playing in a central role rather than from the left. Eight goals and eight assists have contributed to the Gunners' best-ever start to a Premier League season goals-wise but now Arsenal will be without van Persie for six weeks.

Arsenal is also missing striker Niklas Bendtner for another two to three weeks after undergoing minor surgery on a groin injury he picked up playing for Denmark in a World Cup qualifying tie against Hungary last month.

This leaves Eduardo as Arsenal's only recognized, experienced striker for Saturday's game at Sunderland as domestic football returns after a two-week international break. Arsenal also saw Kieran Gibbs limp off during the England Under-21 European Championship tie against Lithuania on Wednesday — the Gunners are already without first choice left-back Gael Clichy for two months because of a back problem.

Gibbs was hoping to make the most of Clichy's absence, but his injury in the line of international duty has put that on hold.

"In England you get the injuries in November, every year," said Wenger. "You know that in December you can win or lose the championship.

"It's the volume of games. It's a period where players have played international games and are at the end of the group stage of the Champions League. Some of your players will have had 20 games."

While friendlies represent the only opportunity for managers to give fringe players a run-out, it is difficult to justify two such matches in five days as a handful of sides battled it out in the 2010 World Cup playoffs.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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