To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate – the Question Vexing Premier League Stars
The sporting domain has a tendency to produce the absurd. We rarely question these anomalies, like it’s a perfectly normal thing to play cricket 6 hours a day for 5 days, then decide to shake hands, pull up stumps & call it a draw. Or when in the middle of a session of cross-country skiing, it is a completely natural act to lie down, pull out a rifle and check to make sure that you’re still a crack shot.
But one of the nuances of sport i’m having great difficulty, well, celebrating – is the most Shakespearean conundrum to ever inflict a Premier League footballer; To celebrate or not to celebrate? That is the question they face after scoring against a former club.
The anti-celebration was made famous by the great Denis Law who, after 11 years and 171 goals for his beloved Manchester United, scored a cheeky back heel goal against them after switching to Manchester City in 1974. At the time he scored it, Law believed it to be the goal that assured United’s relegation to the old second division and he walked back to halfway with a look on his face that would have been more appropriate had he just been diagnosed with testicular cancer.
But today’s players are rarely faced with the conflicted emotions that Law dealt with, as the current climate of club merry-go-round has meant that a player’s focus is centered more around the paycheck & their own self interests than their devotion to the badge. Yet many of them still refuse to celebrate goals against former clubs, a phenomena often made even worse by a vomit inducing PR charade in the lead up that promises that on the off chance a player does score, they will most certainly not look happy about it.
Take Robbie Keane for instance. The only surprise with his recent loan move to Aston Villa was that he didn’t describe it a ‘a dream come true’. A term he has seemingly used in one form or another to describe his move to Coventry, Inter, Leeds, Spurs, Liverpool, then back to Spurs, West Ham, then to Celtic & finally over to LA Galaxy. As a young chap growing up in Dublin, Robbie Keane must have had the kind of dreams you get following a three course Peyote dinner in the middle of a Mexican desert.
But as Robbie slotted 2 goals against his very first club Wolverhampton, including the winner which pushed his former club even deeper into the relegation zone, he chose not to celebrate and traded his usual routine of cartwheels & show boating for a largely unconvincing display of excitement suppression as he jogged back to half way.
So it was your boyhood club Robbie, we get that. But what are we meant to think? What a stand up bloke. He must have real character. Sure he stuck that ball into the goal like a prison-fashioned shiv to the guts of the team that taught him precisely how to do so, but at least he looked solemn & regretful when he did it. The crowd at Molineux clearly wasn’t taking the bait as they continued to boo his every touch until the final whistle.
Maybe if Keane wasn’t just a footballing mercenary who goes through clubs like an angry golfer, they’d have given his display of good character a little more credit. But the truth of the matter is that everytime Robbie’s had a sniff of the almighty green throughout his whole career his been off in a flash, no show of loyalty and to put the boot in further he’s usually referred to the whole episode as a dream come true. Give us a break Robbie.
And what of Scott Sinclair’s quality finish against his former club Chelsea a few weeks back? He scored a cracker then immediately held his hand up apologetically as his Swansea teammates mobbed him leaving Sinclair looking like an unwilling participant in a game of stacks on. What was this apology all about? Sinclair played a total of 5 games for the Chelsea first team and failed to score a goal. Maybe that’s what he was apologising for. As a Chelsea player Sinclair was loaned out to a number of other clubs and was passed around like a Manchester United groupie who’d wandered in to one of Anderson & Ronaldo’s infamous parties.
So due to these extensive loan deals, if Sinclair decides he is not going to celebrate goals against former clubs he has to strike Plymouth, QPR, Charlton, Crystal Palace, Birmingham City and Wigan off the celebration list as he played more games for those clubs than he did in the Chelsea blue.
Some players decide to confuse the matter further by politicising the situation. Nicholas Anelka, who’s also had his share of clubs will celebrate goals against Liverpool and Manchester City but will not celebrate goals against Bolton & Arsenal. Likewise Carlos Tevez who takes great delight in knocking one in against United (and i dare say against City when he gets his chance in the future) but does not celebrate goals against West Ham.
Are these statements against the fans? Or against the board members of the club? Are they just ill-advised protests suggesting mistreatment? It’s all a bit convoluted and perhaps quite difficult to regulate as some of these journeyman players probably need a collection of post-it notes on their locker to remind them who they can and can’t raise the arms against if they find the back of the net.
Whilst Tevez certainly knew how to stir up Gary Neville & the Old Trafford crowd with his celebrations in sky blue, there is one goal celebration against a former club that truly stands out in recent times – Adebayor topping his length-of-the-field-ice-cream-sundae-sprint with a extra-large-serving-of-nuts-slide in front of the Arsenal fans who were given their just desserts. It may well go down in football folklore as the biggest and most blatant finger to a former club we’ve ever seen. Whilst he issued an apology after, in the eyes of the neutrals there was little doubt that a celebration like that was good for football, as it was a natural and spontaneous outburst which is everything a goal celebration should be.
With Bobby Zamora facing his old club Fulham this weekend, all will have a watchful eye on how he tackles this Shakespearean dilemma should he find the net. Let’s hope he chooses to play the villain Adebayor style as opposed to the transparent hero act seen from the likes of Robbie Keane. After all, there is nothing we love more than a bit of theatre in football.