OK, cards on the table time: I’m an Arsenal fan who doesn’t give a rat’s arse about international matches (particularly the meaningless ones in which pivotal Arsenal players always seem to pick up injuries). For that reason I haven’t really become overly excited about the Thierry Henry incident in the World Cup Qualifier between France and the Republic of Ireland this week.
Trouble is, I turned on the radio this morning to find ‘they’ are still going on about it, and I must confess that it unleashed all of my latent Arsenal media paranoia. Even as I type, Five Live’s resident Mr Angry (Alan Green) is banging on about Henry’s trashed reputation and, you’ve guessed it, making the inevitable comparison with the Eduardo incident against Celtic earlier in the season. (In case you’d forgotten, Eduardo was the very first player in the history of the game to take a dive in the box, earning a penalty against a team who were already on the way out and who hadn’t managed a shot on goal for the first hour of the Emirates leg of the tie.)
I don’t know whether it’s simply because we football fans are automatically more sensitive to criticism of our own clubs (and their alumni) or whether there is actually a media agenda against Arsenal, but the charge list tends to point to the latter. Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney have all been notorious for tumbling in the box but have any of them been buried under the level of ordure Eduardo was subjected to? You could make an argument that this is because they are all English and are therefore the beneficiaries of a one-eyed, nationalistic media. But what about David Ngog’s laughable dive in Liverpool’s recent 2-2 draw with Birmingham City? Sure there was a bit of fuss for the following 24 hours, but nothing like the level of high-camp outrage that followed Eduardo’s fall.
And now Henry, in my opinion the greatest Arsenal legend of them all, finds that it’s his turn to feel the heat. There is no doubt that his handling of the ball in Wednesday’s match was wrong and it contributed to Ireland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, but can we seriously expect the reaction would have been the same had Robbie Keane pulled a similar trick at the other end? Or if Rooney had done the same for England in a similar set of circumstances? No, that would clearly have been the referee’s fault and we would have read acres of print about teams ‘playing to the whistle’.
I have a great deal of sympathy for the Ireland fans, particularly those who travelled to Paris and watched their team outplay the hosts for much of the game, and I whole-heartedly accept the caricature of Michel Platini’s UEFA as a shady, dithering bunch who were desperate to see France in South Africa next year at whatever cost. What offends me is the righteous indignation of the media (surprise surprise) over a player who will always be a legend to me, come what may, because of the many many great things he has done for the game over the length of his career.
And am I really bothered that the Spurs striker Robbie Keane won’t be going to the World Cup? I’ll let you make your own mind up about that one.