James Lawton: Please, Thierry, don't let 'Le Crackpot' force you out of the international game

Fans of the World Cup will see Henry's protest as evidence the event is not losing its lustre
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The Independent Football

Thierry Henry's rebellion against the somewhat unorthodox coach Raymond Domenech, who is said in some of the less reverent corners of the dressing room to be also known as Le Crackpot, reminds us that whatever else the French may lack it is not style.

As reported by the French daily Le Parisien, the cadence and expression of Henry's language was, quite predictably, rhythmic and rather beautiful in its all-embracing simplicity and clarity.

It was a reminder of the time he remonstrated by telephone with a colleague for suggesting that his commitment to Arsenal hadn't always been absolute.

After telling the journalist that he had written pretty much, he had to be excused, there was no way round it, a load of merde, Henry was appalled to learn that he had interrupted a family lunch in a London restaurant. "I am so sorry," he said, "please accept my apology – and bon appétit."

Impressive, don't you think, this ability to put aside an onrush of angst and return, however briefly, to life's civilities. Henry's compatriot, Eric Cantona, has a similar tendency. Though his rage can be terrible to behold he can also produce moments of great charm.

Once, Cantona controlled a cross with superb skill and in one flowing movement directed it to the corner of the net. Remarkably, the goalkeeper covered the ground and pushed the shot around the post. For a second Cantona's face was consumed with frustration but then he nodded, clapped his hands together and said, "Très bien, le gardien!"

Henry didn't quite manage such a grace note after interrupting the final training session last Friday, before a home draw with Romania at the Stade de France endangered the team's place in next summer's World Cup finals.

Still, his admirers would say that Domenech had done well to avoid such a direct challenge to his authority since he became French coach in the wake of Jacques Santini's departure after France's appalling performance in the 2004 European Championship, a blow to the nation's football pride after an equally dismal defence of their world crown in the 2002 tournament, when Santini's predecessor, Roger Lemerre, was fired for France's failure not only to win a game but score a goal.

Indeed, those who still like to think of the World Cup as the pinnacle of the international game will surely thank Henry for more than his elegant defiance of a Domenech regime that, despite France's appearance in the 2006 final in Berlin, has been marked from the start by evidence of strained, if not worse, relations between the coach and an extremely gifted group of players.

They will see Henry's protest as welcome evidence that the World Cup is not, in fact, fast becoming a distinctly jaded entry in the football calendar.

With the possibility of the world's two best players, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, being absent from next summer's tournament in South Africa because of the faltering qualifying campaigns of Argentina and Portugal, the likelihood that such a major force as France will leave Belgrade this week facing the need to qualify via the play-off route can only compound the worry that the great competition is threatened by an irreversible slide from its old peak of prestige.

This fear first surfaced menacingly in 2002, when many observers felt that too many star players came with a sharp sense that their careers were best served in a tournament like the Champions League rather than the World Cup.

This was suggested particularly by the French debacle. Zinedine Zidane had scored a superb winner for Real Madrid in the Champions League final at Hampden Park a few days before, but he arrived in the Far East both mentally tired and injured, as did Henry. Neither of these luminous performers grazed the surface of the great competition, no more than the essentially crocked superstars of England, David Beckham and Michael Owen.

Another indication that many in club football saw the World Cup as something of a dangerous irrelevance came when the president of the Italian club Perugia complained that South Korea's Ahn Jung-hwan, who scored the goal that knocked out Italy, had never displayed such application while on loan for his club.

In Germany three years ago Domenech faced the prospect of a World Cup without Zidane and the vital midfielder Claude Makelele before they were persuaded to do one more turn for their country. In Zidane's case it was a decision he might have been inclined to review after Domenech's comments following the Italian defender Marco Materazzi's verbal needling provoked the headbutt which brought dismissal from the final and shame to France's great player in his last international game. "Bravo to Materazzi," said Domenech, who added it was the duty of every player to undermine his opponent in any way he could.

Nor was Domenech's standing in the French dressing room especially enhanced when he suggested that one reason Robert Pires missed the World Cup was that he was born under Scorpio – a star sign he distrusted.

For the record, Henry's distillation of the team's concerns went like this: "Coach, I have something to tell you. I am speaking in the name of the squad. We are getting bored during your training sessions. In 12 years I have never seen such a situation. We do not know how to play, where to be on the pitch. We have no style, no guidelines. It is not working."

Player power, if this is indeed what Henry's stand represents, can rarely have been articulated quite so succinctly. What is certain is that it beats the hell out of getting your agent to ring a newspaper and be quoted as a "friend".

However, there is also a worry. Last night Henry was said to be considering his future with the French team – and, by extension, the possibility that he has played his last World Cup. It is perhaps another reason for the organisers to mount an advertising campaign to see South Africa, the wildebeest – and whatever is left of the world's greatest football tournament.

Quins find a new villain in latest act of the farce

It is not the easiest job precisely categorising George Robson of the well known sporting organisation Harlequins. Is he a born satirist, a man who has brought the art of parody to a near exquisite level, or does he walk away with the title of head-banger of the universe?

Given all that has passed in recent weeks, with his decision to headbutt Wasps' scrum-half Joe Simpson 40 seconds into the first day of the rest of English rugby's life no doubt most would agree he has made the latter award his own.

The trouble, of course, is that it is not remotely funny. It is pretty much beyond belief and you can only remind the RFU rulers of the game that so far their reaction to the Harlequins story is not the least wretched aspect of an affair that has set back the game far more than they seem to grasp.

The best instinct of the most serious critics of a game that seems to have completely lost its head, along with any serious grasp of the reality of its situation, has been to make the point that it has to reappraise its idea of itself more than ever before in its history.

But then there is the question of whether it has enough heart – or intelligence. George Robson's opening statement is not exactly encouraging.

Marathon charade leaves cricket gasping

Is anyone out there really interested enough in the ability of England cricketers to provoke an ember of the passion and interest created by the recent Ashes series to donate a bad penny to the profits of the interminable nonsense of the seven-match one-day series with Australia?

The myopic greed of the game is quite beyond reason.

Even the players, whose income has become so geared to the development of short forms of a game that its purest form is said to have entered terminal decline, seem to be struggling badly in the effort to maintain interest.

Andrew Strauss, such a brilliant leader at the climax of the Ashes, was utterly unconvincing the other night when he urged his batsmen to get down to beating the Aussies all over again. He was a tired man exhorting time-expired professional sportsmen.

It is a charade that speaks only of greed. Cricket needs a major rethink about what quite it is trying to achieve. Fifty-over cricket has already been pronounced dead. How long before the Twenty20 pantomime lurches into the same status? And then what will be left? Not much, you fear, beyond the bones of a great game that are currently being quite shamelessly picked clean.