Thierry Henry is one of the greatest players to ever play in the premier league. Arsenal’s leading goal scorer and the man who fired them to the Invincibles’ title, he is loved worldwide. Apart from the Irish. Why?
103rd minute of the 2nd leg of the 2010 World cup playoffs. France and Ireland have level on aggregate, 1-1. Florent Malouda takes a freekick close to the halfway line. French players inside the Irish penalty box, looking to score and take lead. Malouda lobs the ball in the box, it hits Thierry Henry on his arm close to the 3-yard box. Henry, handles the ball with his left hand and passes to William Gallas. Gallas heads the ball in, 2-1 France. The referee had allowed the goal to stand, much to the disbelief of every Irish man on the planet and everyone watching the match. Even the commentators couldn’t believe it. But, the goal stood and France went on to qualify for the 2010 world cup.
The Backlash and Disbelief
The English speaking media labeled Thierry as “Lé Cheat.” The FAI planned to take legal action against FIFA but FIFA paid $5 million to literally forget the incident. It was labeled as loan for the FAI, if they qualified for the 2014 World cup, Ireland would have to pay back the $5 million but if they didn’t, they could keep it. The FAI was happy with the deal and accepted it, not taking any further legal steps. The subsequent failure of Ireland to qualify for the 2014 world cup meant they kept the $5 million.
Shay Given said in the Ray D’Arcy show-
“I was actually shocked. I looked to the referee just to take a free-kick as it was that blatant. As Jim Beglin said in the commentary that it was a double handball. It was so blatant, I’m taking a free-kick. I looked up and the Ref’s pointed to the halfway line and I thought you must be joking. I looked to the linesman, he’s running to the halfway line. I thought to myself it can’t be happening, it was so blatant. I thought that we might get a replay or something but as you know in the sport, the referee’s decision is the final decision.”
Arsene Wenger, in an interview, said regarding the incident-
“I believe it creates a lot of problems. First of all, it’s embarrassing. I support France and it’s embarrassing to qualify the way we qualified. It creates many issues, the biggest one is how can football sort out this kind of problems and ensure that this doesn’t happen again?”
Thierry Henry later publicly apologized.
Playing the Devil’s advocate
David Beckham said in an interview with Sky News- “I don’t think he meant it. It’s a shame to see Ireland go out, they’ve got such great fans but these things happen in football. Whether it’s right or wrong but I don’t think he meant it.”
When asked if he would’ve confessed to the referee, Beckham added,
“Who knows in that situation? You’re playing in a world cup qualifier, it’s such a heated emotional moment. You don’t know what you’re doing in games, I’ve been involved in big game moments and I’ve reacted to certain things. I’ve looked back at them and thought, “Wow I was wrong to do that” but I’ve looked back at it and I don’t think Thierry meant it.”
Are Ireland right to hate Thierry Henry? Yes.
Did he mean it? He did.
Thierry Henry meant that handball and anyone perhaps in his position would’ve done the same. What he did, he did for his country. It was all about getting into the World Cup, to play in the World Cup at any cost.
Luis Suarez did something similar next year, at the World cup. In the Quarter Finals against Ghana and he has similarly gone on to receive hate from the Ghanaian fanbase.
Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ wasn’t different either.
These incidents, they make up football. These incidents will continue to happen as football has never been a game. A moment, where you can deliver glory to your country at the price of millions of broken hearts, Thierry seized it. An iconic, dark moment in the history of French football, one where they’re ashamed but glad at the same time.