Champions’ League final aftermath

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
May 19th, 2006 • 9:27 am

After 24 hours of reflection, we know have a cluster of good news and well-written articles by several pundits on the events at the Stade de France on Wednesday and their consequences.

First, the good news: Thierry Henry is staying. The reasons he gives for his decision are obvious: “I could not face leaving the fans. They are like my family.” Personal ambition is one thing. The emotional bond to a club and its fans are quite another. It always was doubtful that Henry would be able to recreate this in Spain with Barcelona. Well, he won’t even try.

In another bit of good news for English football, Didier Drogba is leaving. While the player had his qualities (mostly, his impressive physicality), he was a pretty poor finisher, and he just had an attitude that wasn’t right for the Premiership. And his departing words just confirm it:

It’s not a joke. I want to move on and avoid all the pressure and scandals here. Those things hurt my feelings. I want a place I can play freely without any drawbacks. You should know what a player goes through with so much pressure.

If he can’t handle the pressure, then indeed he should probably go. Presumably the sunnier shores where he’s heading will be more tolerant of his theatrics and attitude. That said, if he’s hoping to avoid “scandals,” Italy might not be the best destination at the moment…

Elsewhere in The Guardian, Niall Quinn is right to think that Arsenal should stop moaning about the referee, etc. It was understandable in the heat of the moment (and I did my share of it as well), but right now we just have to admit that Barcelona deserved victory as much as we did, and that Wenger simply didn’t have the equivalent of an Henrik Larsson on his bench to turn to at a crucial time in the game—or indeed a plan to deal with him when he came on. There is no doubt that he played a crucial role in Barcelona’s ultimate victory.

There were more bitter words from Jens Lehmann today, and of course he’s right to complain about the way the Barcelona players crowded the referee, asking him to issue a red card. Again, this is the type of attitude that seems to be more prevalent in Spain and Italy and, well, I guess it’s just part of their game.

But, as was reported elsewhere, given that the referee had blown the whistle before Giuly actually scored on the rebound, from a strictly technical point of view, he had little choice. The referee might have regrets about having blown the whistle so quickly, but once he had done so, he was stuck with a situation where he would have had to bend the rules in order to validate the goal and not send Lehmann off.

The fact remains, of course, that this decision ruined the game—and one wishes that, in the name of preserving the beautify of the game, the referee had had the guts to bend the rules a bit. We then might have had the game that Clive Tyldesley dreams of, which would have indeed been much more satisfying as the ultimate sports spectacle.

But it didn’t happen, and the Gunners just have to lick their wounds, and come back stronger next year. Henry staying is a huge boost, and now Wenger needs to build a team that will have the resources to deal with adversity that weren’t available to him on Wednesday night. It might just be a matter of bringing in a couple of more experienced players to strengthen the midfield and give himself more choice, especially in the event of injuries or unpredictable “personal” crises.

But there’s no reason not to think that this team cannot go places again in the near future. First, though, there is the small matter of a Word Cup to play… Hopefully Thierry Henry will have a good tournament and do enough to final clinch this title of “Word Player of the World” that has eluded him on several occasions in recent times. If he can channel his “rage” and get proper support from the French midfield, there’s still hope for further glory in this year 2006.

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