The fall and fall…

18 06 2010

There was something almost poetic about it last night. As his team struggled to a 2-0 defeat, Thierry Henry sat desolate on the bench, huddled up against the South African chill. The irony is that Henry’s plight mimics his country’s almost exactly. Here was a player, once the best in the world, who now struggles to command any authority either on the pitch or off of it. That Domenech, the under pressure French coach (who incidentally is leaving after the finals) chose to ignore Henry when his team were so struggling to show any form of creative intent is a sign that, despite picking him for one last hurrah, Henry’s international career is all but over.

Lacking the pace which once made him so feared, Henry must now rely on his close control and speed of thought. But increasingly the signs are that even these are deserting him. A peripheral figure now at Barcelona, the rumours abound that he will move to America to see out the remaining few years of his career. Of course Wenger spotted this a long time ago, and sold him (to much consternation from the Arsenal fans) to Barcelona, much in the same way he sold Vieira a few years before. Wenger had spotted that both were at the top of their career hills. The only way was down. Indeed for Henry, his one significant moment for club or country in recent times was the infamous handball against Ireland last autumn. That is what he has become.

Yet many do not despise him for that handball. There is, I feel, more a sense of pity growing for him. People are feeling sorry for him. Once the outstanding player in England and Europe, Henry would score goals for fun, and make very able players look foolish. Now his star is waning, to the point of going out. The parallels are there to be seen. France, for so long reliant upon the skill of Zidane and Henry and who won the World Cup and European Cup in two balmy years for French football, and who only lost the last World Cup on penalties, are now struggling to get out of their group, having struggled to get into their group in the first place. Where once Zidane lit up the pitch, Ribery now fails to do the same, despite being the stand-out Frenchman. Where once Henry terrorised defences, Anelka, Cisse et al now have all the scariness of the Easter Bunny. France just are no longer a force in world football.

Don’t get me wrong, the players they have are good players. They are not world-class though, even the talented Ribery would not get into most world XI’s. The manager is pretty rubbish, and it seems a minor miracle that he has stayed in his job so long. When he had Zidane and co to inspire his team it was easy for Domenech. Now it isn’t. The next manager is going to have a tough job restoring France to former glory.

I don’t lament the fall and fall of France. I do lament the fall of Henry. It should not be¬†forgotten¬†what he gave to football. An integral part of Arsene Wenger’s fluid passing footballing team for many teams, Henry scored all sorts of goals, and dazzled crowds across the world. The end of his career is nigh, but we should all remember his impact upon football. And, despite his handball, Henry should be remembered as one of the great sportsmen, on and off the pitch. The trouble is, that one moment in Paris last year will tarnish how he is remembered by the sport. It shouldn’t, but it will.


Handling the Problem…

20 11 2009

The whole Thierry Henry/handball/Irish thing continues to rumble on days after the match finished amid high emotions. The trouble is, everyone is looking to blame somebody. For me, Henry cannot be blamed. Yes, he handled the ball, and if the referee had blown up then he would have been caught and he wouldn’t have made a fuss about it. The handball is within the new spirit of the game, win by any means, even if it means cheating (be that in the form of a dive, a handball or any other means). Henry cannot, in all reality, have been expected to give up the chance of his last World Cup when it was apparent he had got away with his act. Nor would he have been able to show his face in his own country any time soon had France gone on to lose. Henry did what any other player, across the world would have done, he carried on. Neither the English nor the Irish can have any complaints as both know that they would have done the same had the situation so arisen.

The referee is most obviously to blame, both he, and his linesman failed to spot the handball. In their defence, they were both hampered by bodies in the way. Yet they failed to do what they are being paid for, and as a consequence, will probably not go to the finals. Much like Ireland, their opportunity was taken away when the decision was missed.

Some have sought to blame FIFA, and personally I think that their late decision to seed the play-offs was a disgrace. Once so called ‘big-guns’ had failed in the qualifying rounds, FIFA acted to ensure that the countries that would bring in the most money from TV rights etc were aided as best they could be. Portugal and France qualified, Russia, despite this help, failed. I cannot help but wonder if the same decision would have been made if it had been, for example, England instead of France. I somehow doubt it. I personally think Sepp Blatter is a fool who is destroying football rather than developing it, and the actions of FIFA in this instance leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Amidst all this, England are struggling to maintain a serious bid for the 2018 World Cup. With their heirarchy in apparent disarray and the bid still stalling (apparently), I’m not too sure that any British bid is likely to be successful whilst Blatter is at the helm and anglophile Platini is involved in UEFA. Whilst the clowns are in charge of the circus, the show falls to the ground. International footballing bodies need to take a good long look at themselves, and then those in charge do the honourable thing and step down, so that people who understand the sport can save it from sporting ignomy.

Money Talks…

17 02 2009

The news today that three high profile English rugby players are moving to France next season comes just a day after speculation Jonny Wilkinson may also be a target for the French clubs. If the three players in question (James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer) are being honest, they are moving to France not for the quality of rugby (which is good, but, I would suggest, only on a par with English rugby), but instead for the amount of cash they can earn playing there. French rugby, unlike in England, has no wage cap, which means the clubs can afford to pay as much as they can afford. Which therefore means they can attract better players to their clubs, players who are trying to earn enough money to help them when they retire at 35ish.

I can completely understand both sides of the coin here. The three players are trying to look out for their futures. That’s fine. The English leagues are trying to look out for the clubs and the fans alike. Which is also fine. The trouble is, the two cannot overlap, unless the wage cap that exists in England, exists worldwide too. Which is obviously never going to happen. The fear is that rugby will become more like football, with players moving to the highest bidders rather than playing for the love of the club or the sport. English rugby has tried to prevent this, which is why there is not the same level of investment in rugby as football, as teams and squads are limited by the cap, and there is nothing anyone can do to overcome this.

The downside is that high-profile players will become more and more keen to play abroad, where they can earn more money. The English leagues are slightly forcing the hands of players who need to earn as much as they can while they are still playing. There becomes little choice once you know a French club will pay you much more to play for them.

So what can the English RFU do? Not much I would suggest, other than hope that players brought through the ranks at English clubs show loyalty to their clubs. I would think though, that there is little hope of this being successful. Therefore, the only option which becomes available to them is to remove the wage cap and risk falling the same way as football has.