Henry’s infamous handball to tee up William Gallas for the goal was a devastating moment for players who were then arguably at their peak under Giovanni Trapattoni. However France Football correspondent Philippe Auclair argues in his new biography of Henry that the villain of the piece suffered too.
“It was a moment of injustice: injustice towards a fine, superbly organised and combative Irish side for whom qualification would have been fair reward, but injustice, too, towards a magnificent player whose previous on-field behaviour had been almost blameless, and who was vilified to such an extravagant degree that he found himself turned into a figure of hate, even in his own country, for a ‘crime’ he had the courage to confess almost immediately after he had committed it,” Auclair writes in Lonely at the Top.
Auclair paints the picture of an honest player who, for all his achievements at club and international level, couldn’t be defined by one image. For all the wrong reasons, that changed with one movement of his arm.
“‘Up to the infamous ‘Hand of Gaul’ incident that might well, in the longer term, define him in the collective psyche — far more than the titles and honours he’s coveted and collected so assiduously — Henry’s career had been almost devoid of public controversy,” Auclair explains.
“He had never been labelled a ‘cheat’ before. He didn’t dive. He never waved imaginary yellow cards when he had been fouled but that evening in Saint-Denis, Henry cheated, perhaps for the first time in his professional career.”
For Henry, who Auclair describes as someone “who craved praise as no other footballer I have ever come across did”, coping was tough.
“Henry himself felt worse than lonely: abandoned. Abandoned by the very people who, thanks to him, would be travelling to South Africa the following summer. It is not his team-mates or his manager [Raymond Domenech] that Thierry had in mind: the former had sympathised with his plight, the latter told reporters that he was so upset at the vilification of his skipper that he ‘hadn’t slept for two days’.
“Henry was thinking of the men who ruled the FFF [French Football Federation] , such as its vice-chairman Noel Le Graet, with whom Thierry had spoken for half an hour the day after the game.
“Le Graet denied the captain of France had been fed to the wolves, a point of view that might have carried more weight had the administrator not expressed it from the French West Indies, where he had repaired for a holiday almost immediately after the match.”