Handballs and Hindsight Calls: The Thierry Henry Story

Happier World Cup days for Titi
Happier World Cup days for Titi

Thierry Henry handled the ball. We all know that. The rules state that you cannot do that. If you do do that, there are punishments to be handed down. Those punishments are also in the rules. Others are saying, basically, “What boggles the mind is that there are people who are disputing whether or not he handled the ball” but I’m just going to throw this out there: I’ve seen no one make that claim. Not even Thierry Henry.

Whatever you previously thought of Thierry Henry and whatever you think of him now, it’s fairly obvious that he’ll be ridiculed for a while and no doubt reviled in Ireland. I hope he’s already visited there because I don’t see him getting a visa now. The thing is, holding it against him personally is pretty silly. Do you hold Maradona’s Hand of God goal against him, treating him as a “cheat” instead of a visionary player? Sure, he sucks as a coach, but it’s doubtful anyone really holds that handball against him some 20 years on. Maybe a couple of people in England, but really, who cares at this point?

The sum of a career subtracted by one action does not make a person a miserable git–that’s a perfectly fine reaction in the immediate aftermath when you’re cursing at your TV, but let’s not get carried away with thinking that Henry is a cheat of miserable cheater proportions. He’s not doping and he’s not killing baby seals in the off season. Actually, I don’t know those two things to be true for certain, but I’m guessing he doesn’t do those things. If you still say that he’s a Cheater McCheaterston, fine, you’re right, he cheated. So did Lionel Messi against Espanyol. In fact, both Messi and Maradona celebrated their goals quite exuberantly despite knowing that they had been scored through cheating, so acting as if Henry shouldn’t have been excited to, you know, be going to the World Cup is absurd unless you pillory both those little Argies as well.

Don’t get me wrong here: I was rooting against France because I think French football is stodgy, boring, and badly managed and while the Irish aren’t exactly the flashy wunderkids of the world, they’d have been a welcome addition to the World Cup, especially in place of a team that had to cheat to get the best of them. But that doesn’t make Henry a vile, horrible, no-good bad guy.

There are people calling for France’s dismissal from the World Cup because of this, claiming it should be Ireland going instead. That won’t happen for several reasons, not the least of which is because it opens a Pandora’s Box of retrospective looks on the sport. But one suggestion that I think is pretty great comes from my friend and reader/commenter inNYC: ban Henry from the World Cup. Let France stay and keep Henry out of it while also fining the player the amount  of money he would have made were he playing in the WC. That, to me, is perfect.

You see, I in no way condone cheating (I’m a huge anti-Crynaldo guy, after all, because he’s a, um, cheating miserable git) so I think you should be punished when you do it. I’m a firm believer that I would have done the same thing in Henry’s position and I’m a firm believer that everyone else would have–and a firm believer that there’s no merit in the argument that “others haven’t done it” because, um, others have done it. But I’m also a firm believer that those who do such things–myself included–should be punished for those actions because it breaks the rules. That’s why I’m in favor of going back after matches and banning players who dive.

I’m not against opposing fans displaying signs that call Henry a cheater for the next couple of weeks, but what I am against is anyone using this to belittle him as a person. He’s a human being deserving of our sympathies and forgiveness just as much as anyone else. Perhaps the fame and fortune he has earned by being really good at kicking an inflated sheep’s bladder across a meadow has made him impervious to these types of thoughts, but that’s where the ban and the fine come in.

And so you don’t think I’m coddling Señor Messi, he should have been banned for a match after the Espanyol match and fined that match’s pay. How is it that the NFL has a better handle on this sort of thing than anyone else? A $250,000 fine for flipping some opposing fans the bird*? Why can’t FIFA step up and make an example out of Henry and still let France in (like they obviously wanted in the first place).

I also don’t live in some bubble world where I don’t read other writers, so here’s a link dump that you can wade through and judge for yourself if I’m making the right suggestion (I am, after all, dismissing the idea of a replay outright) or if I’m just some sort of thoughtless moron who can’t see the light of day on how Henry is a Tooly von Toolerburg and should be banned from life by being weighted down with concrete and dropped into the piranha-infested Amazon while covered in bacon.

  • Richard Whittall goes to town on the “do nothing whatsoever” crowd.
  • The ever-loquacious Fredorrarci comes at you with a reminder to keep it sane. And I mean loquacious in the positive aspects of talkative, by the way. Much like I like to think of myself. See, I’m at it again.
  • A fairly overly-self-entitled piece by Richard Williams in The Guardian makes me want to wretch a little because of the examples of “real men” he gives, but it’s well worth the read for the non-bile-in-your-mouth-inducing parts.
  • Chris comes up with a couple of worthy thoughts on video replay.
  • And leave it to James Richardson and company to make some puns out of the whole situation (and what’s up with the Irish Justice minister? Sounds like a real winner!).
  • And no, I don’t know why I linked just the names and not more relevant parts of the sentences, but it’s my blog and I can do what I want. Like link this. [Updated with an actual link!]
  • [Update: I didn’t realize Kevin was writing similar piece, but here’s the link and all that.]

*Favorite part of the video: “Who was that!?” That’s how well known one of only 2 original owners in the league is. Interestingly, the other original owner is that of the team he’s flipping off. Awesome.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Alex
    November 19, 2009


    Ibra out for Bilbao. Possibly out for Inter and EE.

    • November 19, 2009

      Yup. Terrible news.

      Barça news returns in a few hours, I think, once I get some work done and then tomorrow I get to do a preview! So excited!

    • tutomate
      November 19, 2009

      Alex is that the same update you mentioned in the earlier post or a newer new one?

      • Alex
        November 19, 2009

        Same update. The way the abbouncers were talking on RAC1 it seems very likely Ibra will play the Inter match, even though he may not be 100%. I would personnaly much rather have Ibra for Inter than EE. In fact, the EE match does not worry me whatsoever.

        • tutomate
          November 19, 2009

          I personally prefer to win Both :-). No but ID rather have Ibra fully fit for the EE game so he can scorch Cassilla’s hands.

  2. tutomate
    November 19, 2009

    OMG another post about this. I’m going to puke.

    • Kxevin
      November 19, 2009

      Sorry, tutomate. It’s the news, and the news cycle. We at this space are as big a part of that news cycle as anyone else. I think we’re done. I gave folks something to think about, and so did Isaiah. Now it’s on to worrying about what might be the two biggest matches of our season. Period.

      • tutomate
        November 19, 2009

        Sorry but I don’t consider this news anymore, it was news yesterday it was news 150 comments ago now its just endless back and forth bickering. No one here is going to convince anyone else about this matter, everyone, including myself, has already opined on the matter so lets move on to some real news.

        Who lines up against Bilbao? Henry probably wont play and Ibra is out for sure so who will be the 9?

        • Jnice
          November 19, 2009

          Probably be a front 3 of Pedro, Messi, and Bojan.

          • November 19, 2009

            That’s probably true, since Keita is injured.

            Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Chygrynsky/Pique, Maxwell, The Yaya/Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro!, Messi, Bojan.

          • tutomate
            November 19, 2009

            Keita is injured? Crap crap crap crap crap!

  3. November 19, 2009

    Just some remarks:

    – “Do you hold Maradona’s Hand of God goal against him, treating him as a “cheat” instead of a visionary player? ”

    * Yes I do. He cheated there and he has to be ashamed of it. Now let’s be specific: There is a difference between saying “Henry Cheated there”, and saying:”Henry is a cheater”. I am sticking to the first statement. He cheated there. Any justifications for that are more disgraceful than the act itself. Its applied on Henry, Maradona, Messi, and my father if he did it when he was young. The argument that he is not the only one who does it is a bit childish.

    – “I’m a firm believer that I would have done the same thing in Henry’s position and I’m a firm believer that everyone else would have–and a firm believer that there’s no merit in the argument that “others haven’t done it” because, um, others have done it.”

    * You do not know everyone so you can’t judge who will do and who won’t just because you would. There is massive number of players who wouldn’t have done it. The ones who would have done it are more, but if there is one person who wouldn’t have done it, then that’s more than enough.

    You guys are missing the most important point. It’s not who does it and who don’t. It’s how right is it to justify something like that.

    This show is more a kind of dark comedy. The same people who are showing how understanding they are because Henry did “what everyone would have done” because the most important thing is winning, are the same people who complain when other teams play a defensive game seeking to snap a win.

    May be It’s only me who feel there is a taste of humor in that. At least people are Ireland is not in the mood for that. Who was the man of the match by the way?

    See you in the next post (unless if its, again, about this…).

  4. Kxevin
    November 19, 2009

    My contention, Ramzi, is that nobody knows what anyone would do, until they are in that situation. I don’t think that anyone is trying to justify what Henry did, only to put it in perspective.

    I would say that he performed a procribed act, rather than “cheating,” a word that to me has more deliberation attached to it than a momentary impulse. Same, by the by, as a hard challenge, shirt pull or any of the other things that deny goals. Because whether you do something illegal to score or deny a goal, it’s the same thing.

    Nobody, but nobody is excusing what Henry did. It’s also pretty easy to sit in front of a computer, with the highsight of 20/20 and replays galore, and call him out. Not a judgment at all. It just is.

    For me, as I said in my post, I wanted to hide my head for him, but only after seeing the replay. Real time, it just looked like a great play, and that wasn’t even with the ref’s view, that had a bunch of players blocking a full view of Henry.

    I’ll buy outrage. I’ll buy chagrin and a host of other emotions. What I’m saying is that it isn’t as black and white as people are making it out to be. Calling Henry a “cheat” for this incident, as others have said, means that you have to add a host of players to that list, which would become a pretty illustrious one.

    If you say that he made an ill-advised decision in the heat of the moment, that’s still a pretty illustrious list of names and talents, right? One second. Depending on how fast you type, that’s about 4 keystrokes. What can you really decide in that time span?

    So I repeat. Neither I, nor Isaiah are trying to justify Henry’s actions. We are trying to put it in perspective, and give readers of this blog something to contemplate about the biggest story in world football, and one that involves a Barcelona player.

    Simple as that.

    • November 19, 2009

      Right, it’s a question of perspective and of attempting to show that the world is not, in anything, purely black and white.

      I’m not saying that because others would do it it’s okay–I’m saying that others would do so they shouldn’t be so harsh on Henry. Isn’t there a saying for that? I don’t remember it exactly, but it’s something along the lines of this example: The guy who most vehemently calls out people for looking at pornography probably has the biggest stack of nudey magazines underneath his bed.

      I’m a HUGE competitor when it comes to sports. I run hard and I tackle hard. Because I’m not that good, I don’t have to worry about being in a situation like Henry was, where the difference is millions of dollars for your home country and a spot in the World Cup. I call fouls on myself when I commit them (most of the time) and I give the ball to the other team when I kick it out of bounds and the ref signals the ball is for my team. But I play in rec leagues and winning brings no glory, so whatever, that kind of sportsmanship is easy, like Kevin said before. I can’t say, though, that I’m some pure spirit who knows only those saintly actions which are advocated in the “Fair Play” videos. I don’t know those feelings, but if I break the rules I should be punished for that. Henry should be punished as I said, but it should be done with the understanding that humans break the rules not necessarily because they’re evil, but because they’re human and competitive. I would have done the same and I would have celebrated and shit, I’d be playing in the World Cup. And I hope my kids, whenever I have them, are capable of understanding the nuances of life, that their father is not perfect, but that he’s trying goddamned hard to be a good person. And also win the World Cup.

      I find it kind of comical, in fact, that the Irish players are freaking out about this, as if none of them broke the rules during the match–which, incidentally, I didn’t watch, so I don’t know specific incidents–or that none of them have ever broken the rules and gotten away with it. That’s a load of malarkey. I understand them being pissed, I really do, and I would be pissed too, but there’s no conspiracy and there’s no way that Henry is a terrible person for this. Whatever, they’ll hold a grudge and that’s fine. The rest of us will get over it. In fact, I’ll get over all of it the instant I write my Ibra Got Hurt This Is Not Good post in a few hours.

      Ramzi, one direct response: Kevin and I do probably complain (or whatever you want to call it) when other teams play defensive, catenaccio style football against Barça, but I for one (and I can’t really speak for Kevin, but he’s spoken for himself already just above me) am not justifying what Henry did or claiming that it was right because winning is everything. Winning isn’t everything, but it does take some perspective to be able to approach these questions. I would also play the same way that teams play us (defensively, fouling) but, like with Henry, that doesn’t make it right. And if it’s not right, then I’m guessing it’s okay if I complain (or whatever) about it, cause, after all, it’s wrong. But yeah, I’d do it too.

      • john
        November 19, 2009

        Man, I’m bookmarking this post. And the last two as well. Not to be a d*ck (well, kinda maybe to be a d*ck) but you guys are supplying me with some excellent fodder. I.E. when Barcelona lose La Liga or get knocked out of Champion’s League due to an intentional (I’m not going to argue about it. It was, and that’s my final opinion) handball by player X that goes uncalled, and player X goes screaming, fists pumping towards the crowd, I’m going to have a hay day throwing direct quotes at all the inevitable outrage that will be expressed here. In your own words, you will all make player X seem like a victim of the harsh snap judgment of fans, a misunderstood, underrepresented soul who just did what he had to do…


        p.s. This subject has made me appreciate the hell out of Ramzi.

  5. jordi
    November 19, 2009

    The arseblog had his view on it.


  6. November 19, 2009

    it’s bad for the sport whenever players do things like this. I’ve personally never really been a fan of Henry (yes he was incredible at Arsenal, but that’s not the point). He always finds little niggling ways to bend or flat out break the rules in ways that are unnecessary, I’ve seen him stomp on goalies and make it look like an accident and I’ve seen him dive and handle the ball repeatedly, essentially f*** that sh**.

    I agree with banning Henry from the World Cup and letting France stay in, after all, Gallas couldn’t have known that Henry handled the ball, just like nobody else did until we saw the replay.

  7. Museum
    November 19, 2009

    So people are pretty confident that he did it intentionally? It seemed to be from one angle I saw, just curious what other people think.

  8. Kxevin
    November 19, 2009

    I don’t believe that he did it intentionally. There wasn’t time for that kind of consideration.

    Suggestions of banning Henry are absurd. Sorry, but they are. Do we ban every player who does something that results in a goal or prevented goal? Where does it stop? The only thing more absurd is the calls for a replay, which were actually going up before FIFA quashed such foolishness.

    As I said, live, I thought it was a really good play. In the slow-motion replay, the hand ball was clear.

    And there is the presumption that Henry cheated Ireland of victory, as if they were assured of winning the penalty kick phase. There was still more match to be played, and the penalties. Just a bit more perspective.

    People are acting as if Henry killed someone. He didn’t. He made a rash decision in the heat of battle. If Gallas doesn’t make the header, nobody is saying a word. Or what if Govou isn’t such a butthead and doesn’t miss the open net. But some will say that goal wouldn’t have happened because Ireland wouldn’t have been chasing the match. This game that we all love so is about what ifs. But fairness? Fairness? Let’s talk about fairness.

    Is banning a player fair for a ref not making a call?
    Is labelling a player a “cheat” and maligning an entire nation fair?

    As Lizarazu, no Les Bleus fans are supporting this victory. At least I’m not. You can’t. Not in good conscience. It sucks to go out that way. But have we really all forgotten what it was like to be labelled “cheats?” It wasn’t that long ago. There again, it was a refereeing decision, yet Barca was (and still is) tarred and feathered.

    Perspective, folks. Perspective.

    • Museum
      November 19, 2009

      Well, there is the Uzbekistan-Bahrain situation from 2005 to be taken into account. They ordered a replay there. It was a different situation that didn’t involve a judgment call, but at the same time, you could say the problem there was less egregious. And I do think if you can call it rash you can call it intentional. But I do agree with you that you can’t ban him and that it’s the fault of the ref for not making the proper call. I think adding a ref behind the goals might be a good first step to a better system.

      • November 19, 2009

        Recall that Platini has been an advocate of a behind-the-goal ref.

        I think that rashness doesn’t necessarily contain premeditation, as cheating does. Intent is a pretty difficult word to prove in a court of law, and just as difficult on the pitch. Recall that Henry said the ball hit his hand. I’m not sure that I buy that one either. As a matter of fact I’m pretty sure that I don’t.

        The Uzbekistan-Bahrain situation is indeed different, because it was a technical error rather than a decision. If you start replaying all matches whose result come from a ref’s error, where do you stop?

        • Museum
          November 19, 2009

          Cheating does contain premeditation, but I don’t know that it has to in every situation it occurs in. I don’t know how you’d prove it, I just saw one angle where it looked like his eye was on the ball and he brought his hand up to meet it. I actually got a text from a friend calling him a cheat, and I laughed him off and probably offended him a bit, but after watching several times I’m not so sure.

          But we’ll never get inside his head, and maybe it’s not the most important part of the conversation. Figuring out what the best move forward from something like this would be is probably a lot more important than figuring out how to define something in the past that can’t be changed. But what can I say, it’s interesting.

    • November 19, 2009

      Do divers get banned for conning the ref? (Yes) Should any attempt to con the ref result in a ban? (yes)

      Perspective in this case is obviously coming from a Barcelona fan who is obviously going to defend his player. You can swap “diving” into your argument easily. Is diving ever acceptable? No. Our goal should be to eliminate it from the sport, not apologize and rationalize it. That was potentially a 20-30million dollar handball for Ireland that Henry screwed them out of.

      • Museum
        November 19, 2009

        Reasonable minds could disagree, but I think diving is more of a philosophy, whereas handballs are reactionary. I think they’re similar, but crucially different at the same time.

  9. Diane
    November 19, 2009

    A ban isn’t the answer. We would have to go over all of the qualifiers to ban anyone else who cheated in order to get a goal — at least being filmed cheating. Or would it only be those that cheated intentionally — which is still up for debate in this case, or those that got caught on instant replay?

    When you go to a Barca match half the time you are holding your breath that Puyol is as far out of the ref’s line of vision as he thinks he is.

    It is a contact sport played at high speed with very little rest, clearly emotions run high, and common sense often runs low.

    Personally, I am more upset by the possible career-threatening fouls committed, and ignored/not noticed by refs, than this.

  10. Jim
    November 19, 2009

    If we can look back at Eduardo’s dive against Celtic and take action the same could happen with Henry. You’re reviewing to see if someone cheated. However, I reckon the worse punishment is the loss of his reputation whether temporary or more permanent.

    Anyway, I agree – let’s move on.

  11. Hand of Frog
    November 20, 2009

    This isn’t the first time that Henry cheats or act like a hypocrite. Remember his post match comments after the Arse-Barcelona UCL Final when he said we were cheaters and dived like women? Or when he faked a head collision against Pyol in Euro when Puyol only touched him in the chest. Of course I think if put in the same situation, most players would have done the same thing but at least say that you regret it after the match. What with celebrating like nothing and then sitting next to Dunne after the match as if he’s sympathetic. And no hint of regret in his comments after the match pushing the problems to the referee. I really like Henry the player, he’s a wonderful player to play for us but most probably he will be remembered as a “cheater” now, together with “choker”.

    • November 20, 2009

      I’d reckon that your chosen handle reflects your complete lack of bias in that final evaluation, yes?

      Recall how he walked off the pitch, in a manner that was not at all celebratory. And if you are going to list the players to overreact to injuries, let us know so that we can increase our available bandwidth. Because it’s going to be a long one.

      The folks of That Other Spanish Team sure do wish that Henry was a “choker.” They might have had a chance in their home leg of El Clasico last season. And thankfully, he wasn’t such a choker in the past, so that his Arsenal years could be covered in glory.

      Because as we all know, Zidane and Maradona, to name a couple of players with unfortunate incidents in their pasts, are now defined by those incidents, right?

      • Hand of Frog
        November 20, 2009

        I don’t claim to be completely unbiased Kxevin. I would say that I have a love/hate feeling for Henry. So I guess you could take this as how I feel towards Henry when I switch to 30%-hate-mode.

        That Puyol overreaction led to a goal so, not just a normal playacting.Now of course many players did these dirty but ubiquitous trick but consider this: playacting–>goal in an Euro QF(IIRC) + handball–>assist that grant WC qualification. I don’t think you can find many other famous footballers who can boast these 2 IMO.

        As for the choker-cheater comment, I refer to people in general. Zidane and Maradona(to a lesser extent) can escape their unsporting incidents mainly because they are so good they helped(sometime single-handedly) their national teams/clubs achieve unbelievable success. Zidane while having moments of absolute madness scored 2 goals in a WC final, a wonderful goal in an UCL final, somehow giving vituoso perfomances when people often tune in to watch the most. Maradona has the second goal in that England match to compensate for for his hand of God and many more crazy matches. That counts for Maradona the player though, nothing can helps Maradona the noob coach now.Henry doesn’t have such massive performance that can overwhelm this incident(IMO). Henry while being a great striker is no where near these two’s influence on teh pitch. Furthermore he acts arrogant which as Henry is currently a Barcelona player we don’t mind(I love henry’s celebration when he scored against Real Madrid) others don’t think so. And he sometime doesn’t smile after he score too! So many things to hate Henry right!!

        The choker stigma has long been attached to Henry. People don’t use it very often these days given that he’s won the Treble with us( including the UCL which is the only big trophy he lacks) but this incident will make some use that again. harsh but understandable.

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