Hand Ball Incident Not Henry's Fault

Joel LefevreAnalyst IFebruary 2, 2010

It's been over two month's since one of the most controversial games was played on a night full of drama at the Stade de France.  If you are Irish the night of November 18 is likely to stay engrained in your memory for a long time to come.  With a spot in the World Cup at stake France punched their ticket to the finals thanks to a goal from William Gallas after Henry had handled the ball of the Malouda free kick.  We all agree that it was a handball and that the Irish may very well have been cheated, however one thing that has shocked me over the last few months is how much criticism Henry has gotten and how little the refs as well as the Irish have gotten since then. 

The one person who I feel does not deserve all the criticism for this is Henry for several reasons.  Yes Thierry Henry handled the ball and yes it looks very obvious on the replay but being a soccer player myself I know that it is highly unlikely that the thought of handling the ball would have even crossed Henry's mind.  The game is just far too fast for a player to process that sort of thing in his head.  With that being said though it is a call that should have been made by the referee and the linesmen.  For those of you who say Henry should have gone to the ref and told him about the handball think for a second, if that was you would you honestly do that, likely not.  Should Maradona have asked the ref to disallow his goal in 86, should Grosso have pleaded with the ref to not give a phony penalty against Australia in 06?  Of course not, referees make mistakes and no player in their right mind would have the guts to go up to a ref and tell them they screwed up especially if it benefits their team. 

So who is to blame for this whole thing.  Well as far as Im concerned their are a couple people that deserve the majority of the criticism and I know for Irish fans this may seem harsh but I belive it is only right.  Number one culprit is Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given.  As a goalkeeper myself I know that a goalies job is to be aggressive, to communicate with his players and to direct traffic out there on the field.  Part of being aggressive means owning the box, any balls around the 6 yard box is keepers ball and no one elses.  Not only did Given stay on his line for the free kick but he also stayed on his line and didn't challenge the Henry pass accross that lead to the goal.  If Given is dooing his job the ball would never have gotten to Henry in the first place and their would have been no controversy to speak of.  That's just for starters, secondly if he had talked to his defenders and told them to clear the ball there may not have been such a wicked bounce.  Lastly if he had played the whistle like you are taught to do and tried to intercept Henry's cross he may have prevented the goal.  Yes it was a terrible call but what good will it do you to argue it while play is still going on?  And why is the ball bouncing around your area like that, that's a cardinal sin for a goalie or any player to ever let the ball bounce.

Now let's take a quick look at the officials the others repsonsible for the controversy.  Obviously referees are only human and mistakes are made but when mistakes are made don't we all have to face consequences?  Right or wrong, mistake or not it is a fact that their is not nearly enough blame put on a referee for a poor decision.  Instead players  and coaches choose to let it go usually saying we didn't play well enough and didnt deserve to win anyways.  Likely they are right in saying that but why do referees get a free pass and Henry is made out to be a villain?  They have a job to do like everyone else and if they make a mistake they should have some accountability for it.  If a player makes a critical mistake in a game he is held accountable by media, players, coaches and fans, why aren't referees treated the same way?  Nobody is perfect but until people start seeing the big picture and holding all those responsible accountable for their actions, we cannot move forward and prevent these types of things from happening again.

I understand for the Irish it is a bitter pill to swallow and I do feel for you, but I believe it's also important to get the whole story and not just look for a scapegoat.  Yes Henry did mess up but in the grande scheme of things Thierry Henry is not the man to blame.