Le Cheat? How Should The Irish React To Thierry Henry's New York Move?

Craig HutchinsonContributor IIIJuly 21, 2010

MONTCLAIR, NJ - JULY 16: Thierry Henry #14 of the New York Red Bulls practices with the team for the first time at Montclair State University on July 16, 2010 in Montclair, New Jersey.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

“How could you pay money to Le Cheat Thierry Henry after what he did to Ireland ?”

“Congratulations to the New York Red Bulls, you signed the biggest cheat in the game.”

“If the Red Bulls sign the cheat Henry I will never attend another game.”

The above quotes are samples of fan comments taken from the New York Red Bulls official Facebook page in reaction to the new signing of Frenchman Thierry Henry, obviously referring to his infamous ‘Hand of Gaul’ handball which led to France’s winning goal over Ireland in World Cup Qualifying.

It should also be pointed out that for every fan who wrote an attack on Henry, several others attacked that fan for their grudge against the Frenchman.

It’s undeniable that the Irish should be annoyed and upset that their team failed to reach the World Cup due to a goal that should never have been allowed.

But the big question should be; Is Thierry Henry the appropriate villain is all of this?

Cheat is a strong word, but in the modern world of super slow motion sports replays and extensive media coverage, it is a word thrown out almost flippantly nowadays. Henry has always denied being a cheat, after the game he was quoted as saying; “I am not a cheat and never have been. It was an instinctive reaction to a ball that was coming extremely fast in a crowded penalty area.”

Additionally, let’s look at the heinous crime he committed. Hand ball.  He didn’t take steroids, cork his bat, rub dirt on a ball, gouge or maim an opponent, assault a spectator, or spit on anyone. He touched a ball with his hand. By instinct, he claims.

If Henry is forever labeled a cheat for his handball, should we avoid a double standard and label every other player who has committed a handball a cheat also? If we did, would there be any player left who isn’t a cheat? Of course not. So the difference between Thierry’s handball and most other players who do it is that the referee didn’t call it.

Does that not make the referee the appropriate villain in this whole saga?

Immediately after the game, Henry admitted it touched his hand, apologized to the Irish, claimed he was embarrassed by the way his team won and suggested that it would be fair for FIFA to replay the game. What more do you want the guy to do?

HandofGaul.com, a website devoted to the incident, states how Thierry “shamelessly” cheated to win the game. Yet in all his interviews after the incident, he couldn’t sound more ashamed of what happened. He gives every indication that he wished the referee had called it or FIFA would have replayed it. They didn’t. And based on the can-of-worms FIFA would have opened by replaying a game that had refereeing mistake, it was the only sensible decision they could make.

So who is at fault? Thierry? The referees? FIFA?

None of them if you listen to ex-Ireland captain Roy Keane. Never one to shy away from controversial comments, he put the blame firmly on the doorstep of the Irish team themselves. Keane questioned how the Irish defense let Thierry goal-side of them and allowed the ball to bounce in a crowded penalty box in the first place. He also brought up an example of one of Ireland's previous qualifying games against Georgia, where the Irish were awarded a penalty that replays showed should not have been given. “I don’t remember the FAI after the game saying we should give them a replay,” Keane stated.

Didn’t we use the words "double standard" already in this piece?

This week, the majority of New York Red Bull fans are rejoicing that they have signed one of the best footballers of his generation. Should the Irish section of the fans join in this rejoicing?

Is Thierry a “shameless cheat” or simply a footballer who did something that just about every other player in the history of the game has done, only to have it missed by the referee?

The Irish are predominantly laying the blame with Henry, while most observers (particularly those in the game who know Thierry and his principle and character) lay the blame elsewhere.

The answer is not black and white; there is no definitive right and wrong; just fan opinion.  

Just chalk it up to another sports topic that can be debated for the ages.