Thierry Henry has ridden a seemingly smooth path through a wave of criticism to be the sole survivor of France’s victorious 1998 team to travel to South Africa for this year's World Cup.
Henry, a widely-respected poster-boy in the world of football who has appeared alongside Tiger Woods and Roger Federer in adverts, was guilty of an outrageous handball that ultimately secured France’s spot at the June 11-July 11 finals.
France had struggled in their qualifiers and eventually finished second in their group behind Serbia, meaning they had to negotiate a two-leg play-off against Ireland in November to make it to the World Cup.
The French were losing 1-0 at the Stade de France, having won the first leg 1-0, when Henry in extra-time twice handled the ball before crossing it in for William Gallas to score what proved to be the decisive goal.
There was immediate uproar, but the result stood and Henry escaped punishment from FIFA, its disciplinary committee saying they were powerless to punish the striker because their rules forbade them to do so if the original misdemeanour had not been seen by the match officials.
“Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control,” the 32-year-old Barcelona striker said at the time. “Naturally, I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa.The ball bounced and it hit my hand. I am not a cheat.”
Henry was a precocious talent at Monaco, where he won the French league and broke into the French World Cup squad at age 20. Juventus swiftly came calling but the Parisian saw his career run into a cul-de-sac in Turin. After half a season Arsene Wenger came calling, prescribing a remedy of a move to Arsenal and a switch of role to centre forward.
In eight years with the Gunners Henry became one of the European game's top attractions. Barcelona were long smitten. At 29, the Frenchman decided it was finally time for a new challenge. He landed a La Liga winners medal in his first season before finally winning the Champions League.
That Barca's vanquished rivals were Manchester United only made the win sweeter.
However, despite his mediocre form with Barca this season, the stage is set not only for Henry to lead France out at a fourth World Cup but also bury a tarnished, previously squeaky clean reputation.