Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Poor Ireland, Poor Me
Oh, Thierry. You are my favorite. So elegant, so fluid, so effortless. The game looks so easy when you play it. And you exude class. On the pitch, a leader and a player's player. And off the pitch, a spokesman for playing the game the right way, a figurehead in the fight against racism, clearly intelligent and thoughtful. So French, really, but in the good way: handsome, stylish, a cavalier attitude. Again, just plain classy. That is, of course, until now.
The scoreline says that Ireland lost this tie on aggregate, but I feel, quite selfishly, like the biggest loser here. My favorite soccer player of all time is the sports villain du jour, and Raymond Domenech remains gainfully employed (still, my God!). It's true that Ireland did themselves proud with that performance (they must be exhausted) and yet its impressiveness will be overstated and grow in memory thanks to Henry's Tony Parker imitation. That's how things work. The narrative is clear here, and soon all we remember are the headlines. The Irish were playing so well! (And yet they spurned their chances...) The French were folding! (But in extra time, they had what is 95% of the time called a penalty ignored...) AND THEN! Enter the villain. The ball was handled, the goal was scored, and the brave Irish wrongfully, horribly, sent home with nothing to show for their efforts. What's inside the parentheses will be long forgotten.
I am going to ramble now. Is it too much to ask that a player be completely honest in this situation? It may be. I don't know. Let's say that in the heat of the moment, Henry plays that ball with his hand and crosses it for Gallas to score. The French have been mostly outplayed throughout the game. They're going to be left out of THE WORLD F***ING CUP if they lose. How much flak from his countrymen does he take if he immediately runs over to the ref, holding his hand in the air, pointing to Gallas and says "disallow the goal, I handled the ball," and then France goes on to lose!? I honestly don't know. Of course, it's better if he never handles it at all, but as damning as the video evidence may be, nobody knows what's in his head. Is it better to be respected by the footballing community at large or loved, albeit secretly, by one's country? Because while the French fans and the French press can now play the role of the gracious, empathetic winner ("we always wanted to advance, but not like that - how shameful of Henry!"), you can bet they're much happier with this outcome than if the headlines were proclaiming one of the great soccer upsets in recent years. They're not the ones who will be waiting four more long years before a chance to compete at perhaps the world's greatest sporting event. I know that in a perfect world, Henry would have immediately run to the ref and told him to disallow the goal. And regardless of whether the ref listened, he would never have celebrated the way he did. We don't live in that world.
And now it's been admitted by the man himself. (Henry is far too smart to deny - he knows the camera sees everything.) But what does UEFA do about it? What does FIFA do? Hopefully, this gets video replay installed in these high-stakes matches and Platini's head out of his own glorious buttocks.
Oh, Thierry. All of this doesn't change the fact that for a number of years, you were the world's best pure goalscorer. And that you will be remembered as one of the all-time greats for both club and country. What it does mean, however, is that like Maradona, like Zidane, you get a big black stain on your record. Even Wenger couldn't bring himself to say it was you. He said "someone's hand" was responsible. If only it were just "someone." But now, when I say your name the listener (assuming he cares at all about soccer) will think two things: 1) what a player he is/was, and 2) what an cheat/fool/hothead (all three for Maradona, plus cokehead). That second part makes me sad. When I wear the jersey that has your name on it, will random people (some not even Arsenal supporters) still give me smiles and a thumbs up? I don't know if I even want them to. Alas, another hero lost...