I was only 8 when Diego Maradona punched the ball over Peter Shilton’s head into an empty net during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico – famously known as the Hand of God which was the knock out punch to England’s hopes of progressing. Although Thierry Henry’s version, dubbed Hand of God – part deux, was an assist to the deciding goal vs Ireland, I still have the same bitter taste in my mouth (despite not being Irish). The consequences are comparable in that both England and Ireland suffered the same fait yet the key guilty parties for each tournament exit couldn’t really be any different in terms of their public personas. There is good reason why Maradona isn’t seen as the marketable vehicle that Henry is. Despite the obvious age gap and Diego looking like an old Italian mama, the former Argentinian great has had his share of off-the-field issues to deal with over the years – namely years of drug abuse which have led to serious health issues (and resembling the aforementioned old Italian mama). In contrast, Henry has had little more than a messy divorce through the tabloids shortly after his departure to the Camp Nou in Spain. Henry made a legendary name for himself at the Arsenal as well as with the English sporting media in general. Like Tiger Woods in fact, a bit of Mr. Good Guy image seeping from every pore – or so we thought!
Knowing Maradonna to be a bit of a rogue over the years and especially to have the bollocks to say that his blatant cheating was the Hand of God, I wasn’t surprised he did what he did to us. Henry on the other hand has shocked even the most cynical of football fans. In fact, for me it brings his character as a bloke into question. It was all right apologising after the fact and stating that Ireland deserved a replay despite knowing full well that FIFA would never go for that. Although claiming his handball was a “instinctive reaction”, it’s still mind-blowing that he didn’t confess to his sin when team-mate William Gallas headed the ball into the net a second later – instead Henry went skipping around the Stade de France like an Irish river dancer.
The backlash is no doubt diminishing his market value, both as a player and the power to obtain lucrative product endorsement contracts – or even keep a hold of the ones he’s got. Another knock on effect is that Henry fans will be distanced from two-way social media access to him – less, if any, genuine Twitter action (due to the his current status) with more disparaging fake Facebook accounts cropping up daily. As a result he will be painted by many as a tainted figure, a fallen idol even. Football fans have long memories and it will be interesting to see not if, but how loud the booing will be for him come next summer in South Africa.