Bile and vituperaion, a.k.a. “L’Affaire Henry”

I’m going to begin this piece by saying what some of you already know, but for those who don’t: I love Les Bleus. I picked them to go all the way in 2006, and I will pick them again in 2010 (hey, that rhymed). I was thrilled when the goal was scored in extra time yesterday, actually screaming and falling off my office chair. There was even a big ‘ol lump in my throat from the joy, a joy tainted with sadness because this meant that Ruh-Roh Dumbassnech would remain as the France coach.

Then I saw the replay of the goal.

And I didn’t feel like crying any more. I wanted to hide my head in shame as a surrogate for Thierry Henry.

Then I came here, and the anti-France epithets were flying from some and frankly, I don’t blame them. The following morning, L’Affaire du Main is still the biggest news in the world of football, and why? Well, there are a host of reasons.

1. The footy press is English-based and for an unsettlingly large part, English-biased. It’s why the Prem is always the best league in the world, even after we spanked United like a tow-headed stepchild last year. It’s some of the reason why today, Thierry Henry is the most evil man alive.

2. Many don’t like the French. Not as a people, not as a footballing side, period. And speaking as a frequent visitor to France, you can see why sometimes. No kidding.

3. It violates the sense of fair play that the game is rooted in. It was a move that was cheating and as such, shouldn’t be allowed.

4. One of the game’s greatest strikers now has a tarnished legacy. Two World Cups, two great French players, two tarnished legacies, one from a head, the other from a hand.

Why do we care? Simply put, because Henry is one of ours, and a key to us achieving at least a measure of the success that we had last season. But also because this is a football-focused board that discusses aspects of the game that have little to do with Barca, such as fairness, bias and the state of the international game.

I don’t believe there is a fan of Les Bleus this morning who feels at all exultant. You can’t. And what if, by some miracle, France wins the Cup? What then?

But here’s the real question that is at issue, for me: What did Henry really do that was wrong?

Yes, he handled the ball in the technical sense of the regulation. This handling resulted in the control that allowed him to slide a pass to Gallas for the game-winning goal. If press reports are to be believed, he fessed up to the official, and was told that he wasn’t the official.

What then?

I have been a competitive cyclist for more than three decades. At my peak, I was one of the fastest guys in the country in match sprinting, a physical, aggressive discipline that is as gladiator-like as anything you will ever see in cycling, or most other sports. And I have knocked people down as a part of race tactics.

You don’t plan to, you don’t even want to, really. You’re bumping, slamming and sometimes head-butting, and if you’re the bigger, stronger rider, the other guy might fall down. It’s part of the sport …. or it was back then. The rules have since been cleaned up. Afterward, you walk over to the other rider and you say “Sorry, dude.” Sometimes, you’re relegated or you get disqualified. Other times, it’s considered a “racing incident” and the ride continues. You don’t really know at the moment. But what you do know is this:

You want to win, and you will run over your own mother if she’s in the way, to do so. Because you’re an athlete, and a competitor. Is it fair? Good question. It could be argued that in sprinting, it was part of the tactics, that what makes Henry’s act so awful is that it is never, ever part of tactics to handle the ball.

But in that split-second, when everything is on the line and you know that it is, what decision will you make. Any top-level athlete who doesn’t say that he would try to get away with it is a saint (precious few of those), kidding himself (lots of those) or a liar (plenty of those, too). In an everyday, non-competitive situation, I would never, ever think of knocking another rider down. Ever. My sense of fair play is too strong for that.

Competition is something different altogether. I’ll chop you like a lumberjack. It’s a player in the heat of battle. Messi has dived, Iniesta has dived, Ibrahimovic has dived, Eto’o has dived, hosts of other Barca players have dived. But one commenter wants to disown Henry now, saying that he isn’t one of ours, because he handled the ball? Really?

I compared Henry’s infraction to fouls during a match, shirt-tugging during a set piece or a professional foul that prevents a breakaway. Of this last, The Yaya did one this very season that almost assurely prevented a goal. And what did we say, then and now? Do the circumstances matter? To me and my sense of fair play, no. Whether it’s a match that you’re winning by 4 goals, or with 2 minutes left in a World Cup playoff match, it’s still a cheat. Preventing a goal by cheating is the same as scoring one by cheating. Sorry, but it is.

Does any of this excuse what Henry did? The first question is, does it need to be excused? Again, that depends. He says that the ball bounced up into him, and admitted to a hand ball. The British press says that Henry dribbled like a Harlem Globetrotter to play it to his feet.

I’m calling biased bullshit on both of them.

Henry was battling defenders with his arms out, when the ball was in play. If it bounced up into his hand, he wasn’t going to stop until the referee called something. It’s what any player would do. Diving? Give it a shot. If the ref gives it to you, bully for you, right? You share a sheepish grin with your teammates, take the penalty and celebrate the goal.

Is the Henry incident any different? Yes and no. Yes, because of the circumstance and the import. But also because it wasn’t as deliberate a cheat as a dive. The play took less than a second. What can you do in less than a second? Not much. Do you think that, when two people are battling you for possession of a ball that somehow finds its way to you, you would have the presence of mind to dribble the ball with your hand to control it, then make a pass? Really?


The quip is “It’s only cheating if you get caught,” which apparently isn’t true. But why all the outrage, and why is it being directed at Henry? Ramzi laid out a passionate post about fair play, and I agree with most of it. But when you are in competition, your mind isn’t right in a world-related context. It goes back to my comment about Sylvinho being “nice,” but how we really didn’t know. Because the nicest people become savages on the football pitch, and vice-versa. You are in a competition mindset, and you will do anything to win. Anything.

What fascinates me more is that the rage is being directed at Henry, and not at the ref who missed the call. A notorious footballing bad boy is quoted as saying that he wouldn’t do it, that if he couldn’t control the ball with his feet, he wouldn’t handle it. Really? I’m calling bullshit on that one, because nobody knows what they would do. That’s sporting reality. A poll, some years back asked athletes if they could take a drug that would guarantee them an Olympic gold medal but significantly shorten their life span, a great many of them said “Yes.” During my truly competitive years, I would have said “Yes.”

Because that’s how it is. Nobody knows what they would have done in Henry’s situation. Nobody knows the chronology of events that transpired on the pitch. Remember that we all have the benefit of seeing it in super slo-mo, from multiple angles. What the refs had the benefit of is real time, the same real time that had me running around the newsroom, screaming.

I can’t really say lighten up, because international football makes us all like that. All I can say is read this, and think about it. And discuss it, in the way that we all do so well.

Thanks for reading.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. I just posted on the last one…

    My biggest issue with many comments here is how they claim intention. His hand barely moves from its original position before the ball bounces. I’m not saying there definitely wasn’t any intention, but how are the witch hunters so sure? If anything I’d only guess there wasn’t much

    Did Messi have any intention with the hand of messi goal? His hand went up to slap the ball in ahead of his head directly into a goal. Are the same people here willing to call him a “cheat”?

    Many people posting are acting as if they’ve never played football. None of you committed a handball? When it happens to me I really don’t see it coming. My reflexes betray me and my hand moves towards the ball, and I’m not happy with it afterwards(I doubt there was much hand to ball in Henry’s case however). You’re sometimes giving everything you have to work towards winning, and the line between what you can and can’t give gets blurred in the moment. It’s most often not a conscious decision in a few hundred milliseconds. While fighting for an air ball, 2 or 3 times I found myself digging my elbow into an opponents spine. Again, I’m a little dissapointed I allowed it to happen because I hate that kind of play, bu I can’t guarantee it won’t happen as I’m oxygen deprived and my sights and my being is laser-focused on that ball in the air. I can only only imagine what playing at a pro-level would do to my split-second judgement with the amplified burden of what’s at stake.

    Everytime somebody commits a yellow-card worthy foul, they are breaking the rules, and they were trying to gain an advantage. Mind you, I did not yet claim they intended to hurt the player. They know you can attack the ball but not the player, yet they end up hacking down the player very frequently. What are they thinking? They’re not really thinking most of the time. They allow themselves a certain degree of physical aggressivness, which they know will very often lead to a breach of the rules (hitting the player), but they say so be it, the referee will stop me, or he will misjudge it and I will have stopped the player. By the flimsy definition here, all frequent yellow card earners (mascherano and the like) are cheats, they just got caught for it.

    The only thing I fault Henry for is the celebration afterwards. Then again so did Messi with our goal, it bothered me a little at the time as it did yesterday. But again, how many of you want to call Messi a cheat as well?

    1. Regarding the post-match feelings. I too, wanted to see this squad with 20 players in the champions league, a very large contingent of which is Arsenal/Barcelona (as I’ve said before, throw in a Ribery, Benzema, Evra, etc what’s not to like?), go to the world cup. But I wasn’t happy at all with what happened yesterday. As you said, one reason was that Domenech will likely stay in his job (although I’m still hoping he’llleave for sucha weak showing and putting france through the embarassment of squeaking by). Another is that they played so horribly. Tactically corrupt, everything was off and nothing was clicking, what’s the point of going to the world cup if you’re gonna play like this?

  2. Oh great now a Full post about this Dead corpse of a horse?

    No offense Kevin I am glad your so dedicated to this blog and I appreciate your hard work but I just want this topic to DIE.

    Let’s talk about more important matters like: is Ibra really going to miss the matches againts EE and Inter. That would suck. Or is this just a rag of a paper tryIng to sell Newspapers?

    1. Primer Toc RAC1 just said that Ibra is out against Athletic for sure. It is an elongation of the same injury, it remains to be seen if he will be available for Inter and EE.

    2. RAC1 just said that he is not playing on Saturday as a precaution and that the Barca medical staff is relatively positive he will be OK for Inter and EE.

      JESUS H, Crynaldo back, now Zlatan maybe out, just our goddam luck.

    3. i know. Sometimes though (sometimes ;-))newspapers exaggerate stuff. I hope he plays againts the EE sooooo Bad also againts Inter.

  3. Yes but the difference is that the likes of Henry came out to winge after Barca beat Arsenal in 2005 saying there was injustice and eto was offside. He often takes the high moral ground on racism in football and rightly so, but wheres his morality here. And Im not going to be some hypocrite who calls arjen robben, drogba or ronaldo a cheat when one barca player does the same. If you dont like the label cheater thats fine but its an act of cheating.end of story. If anyone thinks I feel too strongly that grand but maybe just maybe you won’t be so pc if it happens to your country.And Messi’s hand of god was cheating and thats what no action on maradonas goal led to- imitation.Stamp it out!! Messi and Henry are both extraordinary players and can score brilliant goals-its just sad he must resort to this.PS you brought messi up, not me.

  4. Nothing more I can same than what I mentioned in the previous post.

    If there is a post I would recommend that Kevin do not add to his writing portfolio it will be this. I can’t say who wrong it is. On all aspects, including the attempt to hide the incident by talking about English Bias, French hatred, referee responsibility and a doping infected sport where the most important thing is to reach first, regardless how.

    I won’t comment on this post more. I will wait for the next one as I am sure it will be up to the standard I am used to here. At least it will be better than this one, no matter what.

    Henry has to be ashamed, so as everyone promote unethical sport. Period.

  5. i think the best thing that came out of this thread and the previous was the nickname i had never thought of: Blobbie Keano. ROFL!

  6. As an amateur player ( of not great standard) I’m proud to say that now I’ve finished playing I NEVER deliberately handled a ball and if it hit me accidentally I let the ref know. I hope I’m not alone in this but it’s magnified X 1000 if you are being paid a fortune and are a role model to kids everywhere. Sorry but you have a responsibility to the game. I know most professionals would do it but that doesn’t make it right. I hate it when I see Busi diving , I find it harder (as he gets hit every week) when I see Iniesta going down too easily but I won’t condone it. I love it when I see good sportsmanship in other sports ( golf springs to mind here – they call a foul on themselves if the ball moves a millimetre ! and golfers are brought up to do that).

    I think Henry is a decent guy and I know he will wish this hadn’t happened but don’t anybody support it with talk of we would all do it. All cheats would and don’t kid yourself, if you would do it then you’re a cheat – and that never leaves you, either in your own conscience or in public perception.

    Btw, if Henry did report it to the ref and he ignored it then good on him and i take back what I said about him but it didn’t look like that on the TV.

    1. Jim, Henry did say that he informed the official and that the official told him he was not the ref. I guess the question is whether people believe Titi or not. If he tried to claim innocence I agree with what you’ve said.

  7. Well, I’d first say that most peeps have a problem with Parisians more than they do the French, IMHO…Even among the French, you know who you are, Parisians are considered the lowest of the low =)

    I love Titi, despite his blatant dive in 2006 at the feet of Puyol and despite this latest controversy…But, fair play is fair play, IMHO…He handled it and, IMHO, he knew what he was doing…Perhaps the first action was reflexive but he does get a hand on it a 2nd time to guide it to his right foot…Yes, it was bad and yes it will tarnish his legacy – fairly or not.

    I also concur that the ref is the real culprit, for me…He ‘missed’ it whether intentionally or not…I have a hard time believing it was missed, truly.

    Either way, Ireland didn’t fail to qualify because of that alone…Duff, O’Shea and Keane blew golden opportunities that would’ve made the Henry incident a simple footnote to the match.

  8. I laughed my ass off when that goal went in. International Football is crap, so get over it. Gross injustices like what the Irish were served last night are why football is so entertaining.

  9. Good post–I agree. Handballs are strange kinds of fouls, and an “intentional” handball is often far from intentional. It was the ref’s job to disallow the goal, and he did not, it’s as simple as that. I feel very, very sorry for Ireland–weren’t they the side that got screwed by Italy last time around (or was that Scotland)?

    1. Thanks, Alexinho. I hope that nobody thinks that I am trying to excuse away Henry’s play, or hide behind biased press and everybody hates France. Neither is completely true.

      Just trying to offer up a bit of perspective on a difficult situation.

    2. I really like this article, Kevin. Well done. It certainly is interesting how different handballs are perceived in the box. Fascinating stuff about cycling, too. I honestly had no idea how intense the sport was until last year when I started reading your articles/comments at the offside.

    3. Thanks, Aeneas. I even knocked myself down once, throwing hooks (swerving the rear wheel) at a guy. Got a too-big crossover on the front, and down I went. I even laughed at myself. 😀

      Like Lizarazu, I can’t celebrate Les Bleus making the Cup, out of respect and yes, shame.

  10. I think this whole mess is definitely blown out of proportion. North Ireland has a right to be pissed. Henry should feel bad. Dumbassnech should be fired (dating back to Kevin knows when). The world press should move on. Henry made one illegal move (or two) in a second. What about Gallas? He headed the ball in and he knew it was a hand ball? Even then, it is the WC playoffs and if both teams took care of business they would not even have had to play. Basically, North Ireland was screwed when UEFA announced seeding the playoffs. Now, France, the favored of the two, is in and club play resumes. Here is a question: who is a bigger “cheat” Henry or Weligton? Let’s compare one illegal instant action to multiple intentional acts. Fuck you Weligton.

  11. 2 words ‘Honest Pro’… they do exist you know, to say anyone would do it is stupid… football is exactly that… a game played with the foot, no hands, ever… i believe in the same situation most players would try to hook it back in with their foot, what henry did and the magnitude of the effect is something that will never be forgot in ireland, he has ruined his reputation and is not welcome in ireland anymore, i would actually fear for him if he did, now france will be at the world cup but i believe they will be the most unsupported team there

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