A few weeks ago some newspapers and web-sites wrote about the 20th anniversary of the famous kung-fu move by Eric Cantona. The Frenchman, who had played for Manchester United, decided to take justice into his own hands and aimed a flying kick on the head of a Crystal Palace supporter who abused him on the national grounds. Cantona was suspended for nine months by the FA.
That got me wondering: what would have happened if Thierry Henry had done the same thing against PSV Eindhoven on that September night in 2002 when he was subjected to racist abuse? Perhaps the whole history of Arsenal Football Club would have looked like this….
“25th September 2002
In a match that could have been remember as the first Arsenal away victory in the Champions’ League in almost two years, the whole world was shocked by Thierry Henry’s violent conduct that saw the Frenchman receiving his marching orders and it remains to be seen for how long the best player of the reigning English champions would be out of football.
Arsene Wenger was one of the rare people who took the side of his striker: ‘I agree, there is no place for violence on the football grounds. But, haven’t we said the same thing over and over again about racism? Thierry Henry had been abused on racial grounds before he made that kick. The referee and UEFA officials should have stopped the game the first time when the abuses were thrown at Thierry. I would be very surprised if he receives a ban like Eric Cantona.’ Asked if Arsenal Football Club will impose a ban of their own on Henry like United had done with Cantona, Wenger responded: ‘I think it won’t be the case. There are different circumstances in this case.’
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Arsenal won the game 1:0 thanks to an early goal by Gilberto Silva but the phrase “a Pyrrhic victory” was made for the victories like this.”
“11th October 2002
Some would say history repeats as a farce before repeating itself as a tragedy but it seems that this time The Teacher of Life decided to skip the former. English football will be again deprived of its French genius after UEFA imposed a ban on Thierry Henry until July 2003 that will take effect in all competitions. The French striker has been shocked with his fine as well as Arsene Wenger. ‘It’s an absolute disgrace. We are talking how the racism should be kicked out of football and then they make a decision like this one. People who abused Thierry and abuse other players because of their race want to see Thierry and other non-white players out of football. Now they got what they wanted.’ Asked if it means Arsenal Football Club shouldn’t have given Henry a two-month-ban of their own, Wenger replied: ‘No comment for now. You will get a comment about that decision of the Board soon.’
As it stands, things might get even more difficult for The Gunners in the forthcoming period.”
“15th October 2002
Arsene Wenger has resigned as an Arsenal manager. Just when it couldn’t get more shocking than his press-conference when he announced the signing of Sol Campbell last year, the French manager reached another level. ‘I’m sorry to announce that my contract at Arsenal was terminated by mutual consent as of today. When you are a football manager, you have more than one role and some of those roles exceeds football as such.’ Those who know Arsene Wenger understand that he wasn’t happy at all with how Arsenal Football Club have reacted on the case of Thierry Henry. The French manager stands by his principles – just like he did when Nwankwo Kanu and Marc Overmars bypassed the rules of fair-play against Sheffield.
The rumours say that Wenger is not the only Frenchman who will leave Arsenal as Patrick Vieira has openly criticized the decision of the Board to suspend Henry.”
“30th October 2002
Arsenal Football Club have announced the name of their new manager. It wasn’t a big surprise when the name of David O’Leary, who still holds the record of the most appearances for Arsenal, was revealed today. Perhaps O’Leary himself was the only one surprised, he had a busy few months as he was sacked in the summer by Leeds only to reach the higher level by taking the hot bench of the reigning champions. ‘I’m thrilled with an opportunity to work for this club and I’ll do my best to retain the club at this level and to make further progress.”
“1st January 2003
The Spanish giants Barcelona have presented Arsene Wenger as their new manager. The French manager, who had resigned from the Arsenal post six weeks ago, has been given a difficult task to make things tick at Camp Nou.”
“11th May 2003
Arsenal won the game at Stadium of Light but they remain in the darkness after Arsene Wenger’s departure. Even without Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Lauren rushing out the exit door, the fact they have failed to qualify for Champions’ League is a serious blow for the club. Goals from Kanu and Ljungberg secured a 19th league victory for The Gunners but they remained fifth which means their bitter city rivals Chelsea won the last qualification place in the Champions’ League. O’Leary had a bitter smile on his face after the game: ‘We missed too many opportunities for Champions’ League football before today. That defeat against Manchester United at Highbury knocked us out of the title race.”
“10th July 2003
Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry rejoined Arsene Wenger at Barcelona. The French duo forced their way out of Highbury following the infamous incident in Eindhoven and the handling of it.”
“16th July 2003
Robert Pires couldn’t hide his delight after completing his transfer from Arsenal to Juventus. The French winger was part of an exodus of top players from Arsenal following their failure to reach the Champions’ League but those who know more suggest that Pires wanted to leave Arsenal from the moment Arsene Wenger resigned as a manager due to the club’s lack of support for compatriot Thierry Henry.”
“29th July 2003
Arsenal have completed a signing of the French midfielder Olivier Dacourt.”
“6th August 2003
David O’Leary couldn’t hide his delight following the arrival of Paul Robinson at Arsenal. ‘I spoke to Paul briefly and told him that Arsenal is a massive club with a big support.’ Gooners world-wide will hope Robinson won’t be a failure at Arsenal like his compatriot Richard Wright.”
“23rd May 2004
The grin on Arsene Wenger’s face said it all. It was only two years ago when he mentioned the possibility to win the league without a single defeat but nobody had foreseen that his prediction would be fulfilled with Barcelona. The Catalan giants completed the league season without a single defeat. The champions earned standing ovations against Zaragoza as well with an impressive 4:0 victory over the home side. Thierry Henry scored his third hat-trick of the season and won The Golden Boot with 36 league goals to his name.
Asked about the problems of his former club Arsenal, Wenger replied: ‘They [Arsenal] have a really fine young manager, a club legend, who can lead them back to glory. I understand that ending eighth doesn’t satisfy the fans but they have to be patient with David and give him and the players all their support.’
Only two years ago Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry celebrated a double with Arsenal. Now they are close to completing the majestic treble with the Champions’ League Final against Porto FC approaching. Eight days ago their former club lost at home against the relegated Leicester City and finished eighth, six points behind bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur and an enormous thirty-one points behind the league champions Chelsea.”
Fast forward to the future…
“24th March 2012
Arsenal and Aston Villa played another typical Derby of Fallen Giants. Two teams that haven’t finished in the top half of the table for years tried to bore their supporters to death. Even if the game ended 1:1, neither team deserved a single point from the game. Stewart Downing was the best Arsenal player again but it’s not like he had any competition. The winger scored a screamer after eleven minutes to give Arsenal a lead but it was the only convincing attack from the Gunners. The toothless hosts couldn’t keep the lead as Emile Heskey equalized with a header after beating Phillip Senderos in the air. Arsenal boss Sam Allardyce wasn’t too unhappy with the result: ‘We played poorly but we are close to secure another season in the top flight.’
Arsenal legends – like the Arsenal all-time top-scorer Ian Wright – have criticized the Board and Allardyce on a regular basis but it seems like time stopped on that night in Eindhoven.”
“19th May 2012
The third consecutive Champions’ League trophy for Barcelona as Arsene Wenger’s team performed a demolition job in the Final. Bayern München were not up to this clash as Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta all found themselves on the score-sheet before the break. The Argentinian scored another in the second half to round his perfect display.”
Some “what if’s” are really scary, aren’t they?