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Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

Triumphant return fitting for Henry


LONDON — There are moments in football that remain in the memory. Your team or country has won a major honor, perhaps a goal by a home-produced striker or maybe a debutant's hat trick.

Christopher Davies

Thierry Henry has given his adopted country enough memories to fill a DVD, but the spontaneous explosion of absolute joy after he scored Arsenal's winner in the F.A. Cup tie against Leeds, goal No. 227 for the Gunners, will be high in the book of remembrance of every Arsenal supporter.

Showing the clinical finishing that made him the club's leading goal scorer, Henry stroked the ball past Andy Lonergan 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute. Henry thumped his chest and ran toward Wenger, who is not a man to show emotions with players. Or anyone.

The pair embraced in the most public show of warmth and affection seen at Emirates Stadium, the manager and the player he helped to make a world-class striker hugging each other as the Arsenal fans welcomed back their hero with a similar fashion. Synchronized spontaneity.

After a stint at Barcelona, Henry opted for the backwaters of Major League Soccer in the United States, but his return to his spiritual home made him realize where his heart was. "This is the first goal I have scored as an Arsenal fan," he said.

Cynicism can be rife in football but there can be no doubting Henry's honesty or his genuine affection for the club and manager who made him a superstar.

Many questioned Wenger's wisdom in signing Henry, 34, on a two-month loan from the New York Red Bulls but he needed cover for the African Cup of Nations-bound Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh.

"Thierry still has class and quality," said Wenger. "He is an exceptional player. I don't worry about him at all."

Arsenal relied on Henry for goals during his first spell at the club but now it is impossible to overstate the importance of his heir apparent, Robin van Persie, who scored 35 league goals last year.

Henry will be used mainly as an impact sub in the coming weeks and he could hardly have had more impact than when he started his second coming against Leeds.

* * *

NO PLAYER scored more goals in the Premier League than Carlos Tevez during his two years with Manchester City, but the Argentina international has become the forgotten man of English football.

For legal reasons, Tevez has apparently been paid his £180,000 a week salary by City during his well-publicized absence since September for not doing his job. It certainly beats working for a living.

Talks between City and AC Milan about a transfer broke down on Thursday. City paid almost £50 million for Tevez, but the player's refusal to warm up and by extension come on as a substitute against Bayern Munich has had a knock-on effect even the striker's advisors could not have imagined.

The fact that Tevez has earned £2.5 million softens the blow.

* * *

ENGLISH FOOTBALL has a new obsession: consistency. The wise men on television tell us after every game: "All we want from referees is consistency." Columnists have been tapping away about the same thing. The critics are consistent in asking for consistency.

After the two-footed challenge by Liverpool's Glen Johnson on Manchester City's Joleon Lescott last Wednesday, which referee Lee Mason did not consider a red card offense, the BBC's panel of experts used the C-word many times. "That was worse than Vincent Kompany's tackle on Nani and he was sent off. All we ask for is . . ."

You know the rest.

In fact, all they are asking for is that the 19 referees on the elite list who officiate in the Premier League to agree on every challenge. To see every incident in the same way.

To research consistency I checked the player ratings in different newspapers this week, and do you know what I found?

Inconsistency. One reporter thought Liverpool's Jay Spearing had a 5-10 game, another rated his display as a seven.

Human beings, whether they are referees, reporters, fans or managers, will never agree on the decisions of a match official, which are subjective. Planet Football was split 50-50 on whether Kompany's challenge was worthy of a sending off. Referee Chris Foy did and maybe he would also have dismissed Johnson. On the other hand Mason might not have shown Kompany a red card.

A few years ago, I attended a UEFA referees' seminar, the top 30 officials in Europe present, including Pierluigi Collina, Urs Meirs and Anders Frisk. They were shown a DVD of various challenges in real time, admittedly not from the referee's angle but we all saw the same incidents.

After each tackle the referees were asked whether they thought it was a free kick, a yellow card or red card. There was not a single challenge on which everybody agreed.

Many is the time I have watched football pundits, with no sense of irony, arguing about a decision after a game, opinion split on whether the player should have been sent off. The same pundits who subsequently demanded consistency from referees.

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


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