Wednesday 13 December 2017

Vincent Hogan: Henry hand still colours future

Ireland's Greg Cunningham tackles Petter Vaagan Moen during their defeat to Norway at the Aviva Stadium last night.
Ireland's Greg Cunningham tackles Petter Vaagan Moen during their defeat to Norway at the Aviva Stadium last night.
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

The memory fell like a breath on our necks last night. Could it really be a year since we tumbled out into the remote blackness of St Denis, reeling from French sleight of hand? Thierry Henry's thievery coloured our immediate futures.

Today we have a glorious new stadium, but just the rumour of a team to fill it. Our two most senior players seem so superfluous to their clubs, they might as well spend Saturdays strolling the aisles of PC World or throwing their sleepy eyes over garden furniture.

Maybe half the team that took the fight so thrillingly to their hosts in Stade de France is, for one reason or another, currently incapacitated.

That said, we console ourselves that they still talk, at least.

Henry, today, plugs a hole for New York Red Bulls in that 'Antiques Roadshow,' otherwise known as Major League Soccer. They say he's never been the same since his hand-ball and the Big Apple is a kind of convalescence home for his ego now.

lost

In one sense, maybe poor Thierry represents America's sub-prime better than any glut of estate agent signs ever could. He is lost in his own private recession, no longer lionised and beautiful.

All those voodoo dolls made in his likeness have been stabbed to rag-balls now and those watching him shuffle about like someone in dressing-gown and slippers -- palpably playing support to a now middle-aged Juan Pablo Angel -- could perhaps be forgiven seeing a parable in his gloom.

For Thierry, poor chap, has the va- va-voom of Worzel Gummidge now.

And Raymond Domenech?

His story is pure vaudeville. In South Africa, the French team became the equivalent of a knot of rioters on a prison roof. The world accused them and, left to patrol the cramped space of their guilt, they had no appetite for the schoolmaster.

"Leave your egos at the gate," Domenech told them, all the time fingering the long plumes of his own.

France's summer story was, thus, reduced to a factory of mishap. The players mutinied and, by the time they fell through the trap-door of what was a palpably navigable group, Raymond looked like he'd swallowed a graveyard.

His last act at the tournament was to reject the hand of South Africa's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, the Brazilian just one of a great multitude moved to question France's right to a place at the banquet table.

And today Raymond seeks €2.9m compensation from the French Federation, who sounded like judges peering down their beaks at a recalcitrant George Michael when dismissing their old friend for "serious misconduct".

In a country where they take to the streets in protest at bad weather, Domenech is now seen as a daft reactionary.

So, how the world has turned in that blur of a speeding year.

France's first game of the post-Domenech era would be a turgid 0-1 defeat to Egil Olsen's Norway. This could almost be Egil's role in life. Stripping away delusion and returning football to a syllabus of structure and percentage.

Within 30 seconds last night, a long throw came dipping into Shay Given's box like something dropped from the hold of a Spitfire.

An immediate declaration of the terms of engagement then, all fantasy handed over like liquids at airport security.

Early goals are anathema to that kind of planning and, when Shane Long tugged Brede Hangeland into a schoolboy tumble just five minutes in, the Tipperary man's penalty pretty much re-wired everything.

Norway looked stunned and, for 15 minutes or so, Ireland went after them like harbour sharks.

Long was inches from a second goal and only goalkeeper Jon Knudsen's feet kept out Damien Duff's snap follow-up.

But then the Irish energy tapered and it wasn't exactly a bolt from the blue when Morten Gamst Pedersen swerved home a sweet 33rd-minute equaliser with, it might be said, slightly disconcerting ease.

It rained for the whole of the second period and, though Aiden McGeady's arrival occasionally quickened the pulse, the cries from the stand were never exactly urgent or primal.

This was moderate, low-watt business unfolding in a half-full stadium and overseen by two men who've lived through and forgotten hundreds of nights like this.

Olsen and Giovanni Trapattoni are the two oldest international managers in Europe and they monitored it all with weathered calm.

Neither was required in South Africa this summer and, as last night ran its course, the philosophy of Le Mondiale seemed to represent another world, a fantasy almost.

Still, Norway's winning goal bore a beautiful simplicity, Pedersen's low cross to the far post forced home by Erik Huseklepp, via Given's hand. Long almost rescued things with a late drive but most folk had, by then, slipped away to beat the traffic.

The year stole a lot of things from this little country and, maybe, Thierry just represented the big picture. A larcenous hand reaching where it had no business.

Now, France move on without him, Laurent Blanc's men gave England a bit of a lesson last night.

Nobody really won that night in St Denis. Nobody moved a single step forward.

Is a New York winter cold, Thierry?

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