MARTIN SAMUEL: One rule for Thierry Henry, another for defenders

23 November 2009 03:41
It would be easy to board the bandwagon and depict Thierry Henry as the biggest cheat in football.

Easy to call for him to be banned from the World Cup for an offence that, if spotted, would have been punished by a yellow card. Easy to pronounce his good name gone for ever, his presence in South Africa next summer a hollow disgrace.

Were it not for one thing. That in his entire time as a professional footballer, no defender has ever gone to the referee, as Henry was supposed to in the Stade de France last week, and owned up to a foul on him that had not been spotted.

Protests: Irish fans march on the French Embassy in Dublin

Not one admission of a sly, unnoticed shirt pull in the penalty area. No sneaky little ankle taps, no pushing, no tackles that arrived a split second too late. We expect a level of integrity from Henry, from all forwards in fact, that is not applied throughout the rest of the game.

On Saturday, a great many commentators stated that Hull City should have had a penalty late on against West Ham United but not one condemned Matthew Upson, the defender, for not telling the referee that he had his arms all over Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to prevent him jumping.

'I appreciate the score is 3-3 and my team are fighting for their lives in this division,' Upson could have said, 'but it is only fair that you award a penalty to Hull because clearly you missed this blatant attempt to cheat on my part.'

So, while many have taken to despising Henry for what he did against the Republic of Ireland last week, I am afraid I cannot.

He was the inspiration for an Arsenal team that, on their day, played the greatest football I have seen from an English club side and I cannot simply erase that because he cheated in one game. As if he is alone in perpetuating football's culture of dishonesty.

Tap in: Henry (left) watches as Gallas (right) nudges the ball home

Whenever Diego Maradona's name is mentioned everybody screams cheat. So what of the anonymous band of cynics that as good as kicked him out of football? Were they not cheats, too? And when a forward gets away with a handball or an avoidable fall, is there not a part of him that regards this as payback for all the times a defender has cynically escaped the system?

The fact is we love creating monsters. In the fall-out from the World Cup play-off in Paris, the actions of the reviled Henry were compared unfavourably with those of honest men.

These paragons of virtue included Paolo Di Canio who, playing for West Ham, picked the ball up on seeing Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard down injured, rather than attempting to score. Over nine years Di Canio's altruism has grown in the imagination until it is forgotten that, far from being a certain goal, Di Canio had an Everton player in front of him, an Everton player closing in on him, and another protecting the goal line. The ball was crossed high and slightly cut back so, to score, Di Canio would have had to pivot and take the shot on the volley as an overhead kick from roughly 14 yards. It was a fine gesture but no tap-in.

Ultimate sporting gesture: Di Canio (centre) checks on stricken Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard after the  Italian's now infamous act of sportsmanship

Interesting, also, that it should happen at Goodison Park. It is hard to imagine Di Canio doing it at Anfield; indeed, in all likelihood he wouldn't have been within 200 miles of the place.

In the four-and-a-half seasons Di Canio played for West Ham, he had the opportunity to play 17 league games away from home against teams that finished in the top four; he made it to five. Between January 30, 1999 and May 11, 2003, Di Canio played one league game at Arsenal the penultimate match of the 1999-2000 season when the league had already been won by Manchester United weeks previously one at Liverpool and one at Old Trafford.

In the interest of honesty: Would you confess to speeding if the camera hadn't flashed?

He did not play a league game away at Newcastle United. He missed every game away to Leeds United in the three seasons the club were strong, finally making it to Elland Road on February 8, 2003, when Leeds were in freefall amid financial crisis. In his first season, Di Canio played away at Wimbledon, Southampton, Aston Villa, Leicester City and Everton, but missed games at Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.

No doubt he had his reasons but, as Di Canio's contemporaries may have speculated, not every suspicious act is picked up by television camera. It is easy to demonise one player for a moment of moral turpitude but cheating takes many forms.

Maybe Henry should agree to confess all to referees the day every motorist who goes flying through a dormant speed camera pops down to the nick at the end of his journey and asks for three points to be put on his licence.

I still think an attempt to change the culture of football by returning it to the honour system asking a player outright if he was tripped, or if he handled the ball on the way to goal, and then applying a heavy punishment if he is later found to be lying is the way forward.

I understand the cynical view that players would deceive to gain an advantage in the moment and to hell with the future, but suspect this would become less of an issue over time as players saw the negative consequences of lengthy suspension and the positive benefits of a cleaner sport.

The main flaw, pointed out by a colleague from Germany, is that the system requires only the forwards to act on oath. Defenders must be asked: 'Did you make contact?' as often as forwards are asked: 'Were you tripped?' for it to be fair.

And there is the double standard at the heart of the backlash against Henry. We expect forwards to live by a different moral code, to confess to dives and handballs, while the players we know to be doing most of the cheating look on doe-eyed, as if butter wouldn't melt.

 Sullivan's offer looks very easy to refuseIt has been a busy week for the Potless Millionaires Club. David Sullivan and David Gold, the former owners of Birmingham City, have announced they want a 50 per cent stake in West Ham United, and are prepared to pay nothing for it.

Apparently, they get half of the business from beleaguered owners Straumur and West Ham receive in return wait for it their expertise. Would this be the same expertise that saw Birmingham promoted in four seasons and relegated in three, before the club was sold to a man who has now called in the fraud squad?

Sullivan and Gold appeared to do a decent job at Birmingham but let's not get over-excited.

Waiting game: David Sullivan

The club were relegated to the third tier of English football before their revival and since then have lurched between promotion and relegation with a team propped up by loan signings.

They lost their best manager, Steve Bruce, in a botched takeover bid and are now owned by Carson Yeung, whose first move, having initially talked about millions to spend in the January transfer window, has been to involve the Economic Crime Unit of the West Midlands Police.

Still, it shows the state West Ham are in that Sullivan's plan was welcomed by one supporters group who talked of needing someone to take the club to the next level. Presumably, this is from absolutely boracic to merely strapped for cash.

How can a man who wants a half-share for nothing be the answer to a financial crisis? Does that mean his bid could be topped by two punters who clubbed together, put in a tenner but only wanted a 25 per cent stake?Sullivan thinks Straumur should be responsible for the debt, and an anonymous source this whole transaction appears to be conducted via anonymous sources suggests he will put in £40m of his own money for team-building purposes.

Don't you love that phrase? Whose money is he supposed to put in, then? The old lady next door? The Christmas Club from the Royal British Legion? Incredibly, this is described as a take-it-or-leave-it offer. Decisions, decisions.

 No time for a drinks breakRemember the build-up to the recent game between Chelsea and Manchester United, when all the talk was of the mutual respect of the two managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Sir Alex Ferguson, and how they would be sharing a fine bottle of red wine after the final whistle?

Then Chelsea won 1-0 thanks to a goal Manchester United felt was unjust. 'It was not much of a game, but we did not even manage to see each other at the end for the toast,' Ancelotti told an Italian newspaper, in all innocence. No, funny that.

 Ecclestone is undeserving of British supportBernie Ecclestone says the British Racing Drivers' Club has 19 days to save the British Grand Prix. That's handy, as it seems like 19 years that this interminable tale about the future of Silverstone has been running. It is ironic, then, that Jenson Button's bold decision to sign for McLaren and go head to head with Lewis Hamilton next season is going to ignite British interest in the sport like never before. Ecclestone, with his petty squabbles and score-settling, is scarcely deserving of such a fan base.

 Ferguson did Capello a favour by proving Foster's frailtyBen Foster is very disheartened by his present status at Manchester United, and feels it could harm his England career; but he had his chance. When Edwin van der Sar was injured, Foster was given the opportunity to become United's first-choice goalkeeper and instead performed so erratically he was relegated to third place, behind Van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszczak.

Testing times: Ben Foster is battling for a spot at the World Cup

In this way, United did Fabio Capello a favour. Foster demonstrated frailty under pressure and is therefore not the answer to England's goalkeeping dilemma. Capello learned more from his United displays than from that friendly in Qatar.

 Semenya's details must be made publicResults of the scientific tests conducted on 800metre runner Caster Semenya are to be kept private. While doubts about her gender and its influence on her athletic ability remain, a spokesman for the sports ministry of South Africa said the outcome is a confidential matter between patient and doctor. The precise details, yes, but there are questions that need to be answered due to the high-profile nature of the case. Semenya is a world champion at 18. She is expected to be a significant figure at the 2012 Olympics and beyond. So if she runs in public, the public is entitled to know who they are watching.

 Fit and proper personStephen Vaughan, owner of Chester City, is the first businessman to fail the Football Association's fit and proper persons test. And it only took a £500,000 VAT fraud and disqualification as a company director until November 2020 to do it. No flies on them, eh?

So nobody needs a slap, on the wrist or anywhere else. If themanager tells you to suck it the best policy is to take it on the chin.

 Where do they plant their seeds?Slovenia qualified for the World Cup by defeating Russia in a play-off, yet have been placed in the fourth pot of seeds for the 2012 European Championship, beside the likes of Belarus, Cyprus and FYR Macedonia. That is the fun thing with UEFA. You could live to be 90 and never work those seedings out. (At club level, Tottenham Hotspur are currently ranked above Juventus, Middlesbrough above Celtic and Newcastle United are 45 places superior to Rubin Kazan, who have just successfully defended their Russian title.)

 How Henry became a pariah: From pin-up to figure of ridicule across worldPlay it again! As the football world turns on cheat Thierry Henry, furious Irish demand World Cup rematchHenry is no longer a national hero in France - cheat should hang his headMcCarthy: No chance in hell that I would have sat there with Henry

 Explore more:People:Martin Samuel, Paul Gerrard, Steve Bruce, David Sullivan, Carlo Ancelotti, Matthew Upson, Edwin Van der Sar, Tomasz Kuszczak, Alex Ferguson, Diego Maradona, Bernie Ecclestone, Fabio Capello, Caster Semenya, Lewis Hamilton, Thierry Henry, Ben Foster, David GoldPlaces:Chelsea, Paris, Liverpool, Dublin, Leeds, Birmingham, South Africa, Russia, France, Cyprus, Slovenia, Germany, Republic of Ireland, Qatar, United Kingdom, Goodison ParkOrganisations:Royal British Legion, Football Association, British Racing Drivers' Club

Source: Daily_Mail