TIME for some sympathy for the devil, me thinks.
Emmanuel Adebayor’s stamp on Robin Van Persie would hardly have been deserving of the name in the oval ball game but, still, that sly and nasty little kick was, in the vernacular of the round ball code, properly diabolical, even if the player continues to protest his innocence. Yeah, right.
Much more understandable, by contrast, was the rush of retribution which took him from one end of the pitch to the other, as the Manchester City striker celebrated scoring in the 4-2 win against his former club Arsenal.
The Togo international has refused to apologise for that, too, citing abuse from Gooners as the justification for what he called 10 seconds of “running on pure emotion.”
Was it smart? No. Provocative? Indubitably. But it was also something quintessentially human, a powerful sensation which the Germans have dubbed Schadenfreude – or, loosely translated, joy at the misery of others.
And it’s especially potent when those others were just recently revelling in heaping misery on you. The vast majority of us will never get to experience the feeling of being public enemy number one, so perhaps we should pause to reflect on how cool we might be under that kind of pressure, how calmly we might turn the other cheek after being verbally slapped on the side of the head for a good hour and a half. Ah, but professional footballers are well paid to put up with that sort of thing, you say.
Well, no, actually, they’re not, they’re paid to be good at football. Which Adebayor demonstrably is, otherwise we wouldn’t even be having this debate.
The rest of it merely comes with the territory, including that powerful human urge to settle a score after getting a score.
Of course, context and consequence are important, and doubtless there is not one among us who, even at the risk of sport being sanitised to the point of terminal blandness, wouldn’t have preferred to see Adebayor behave more like the Messiah and less like a naughty boy. Isn’t that so?
Happily, only the teacup has been damaged by the storm surrounding his goal celebration, although I’ll grant you that if enraged Arsenal fans had invaded the pitch and tried to tear him limb from limb, we might be writing a column of the Plan B variety.
Anyway, before they get too carried away on a flight of moral indignation, Arsenal players, fans and management – and not forgetting certain former players turned pundits – might like to recall how perfectly decently they behaved themselves when Ruud Van Nistelrooy famously fluffed a penalty against them for Manchester United.
But then, as ever, what goes around, comes around. The same Van Nistelrooy is the star of an amusing YouTube clip from a 2006 World Cup qualifier between Holland and Andorra which, you won’t be surprised to learn, the former won 4-0.
On this occasion, it’s an Andorran, Antoni Lima, getting up close and personal, literally laughing in the face of the Dutchman after his penalty had struck a post.
Six minutes later, Van Nistelrooy duly finds the back of the net but neither the simplicity of the close-range finish nor the lowly status of the opposition prevents him from immediately seeking out Lima to celebrate right under his nose.
With the Andorran goalkeeper rushing in to protest, Van Nistelrooy’s colleagues wisely bundle their team-mate away, although not before the referee has brandished a yellow card.
Petty, undignified stuff from such a household name? Absolutely. But also entirely understand-able and even worth it for the crestfallen look on the face of Lima, the expression of a man who has just learned a harsh lesson about the heat and the kitchen.
John Giles, commenting in the wake of Adebayor’s lap of dishonour and Gary Neville’s no less triumphalist war dance on the sideline at the Manchester derby, made it clear that he has little time for excessive celebrations of any kind.
Better, he argued with a touch of old boy sniffiness, that footballers direct the effort they expend on planning choreographed celebrations into the rather more worthwhile business of working at their game on the training pitch. Which rather misses the point that since it’s a goal they’re celebrating, they can’t be doing too much wrong in training to begin with.
For sure, some of the more contrived routines have been simply preposterous, from Gazza’s dentist’s chair to Robbie Fowler’s white-line snorting, but it would take a stony heart not to smile at Roger Milla’s corner flag wiggle in Italia ‘90, the Aylesbury boys doing their duck-walk or even Jurgen Klinsmann sending up the reputation which had preceded him by introducing the dive ‘n’ slide to English football.
Mind you, I’m probably closer to Giles in preferring less is more, if only on aesthetic grounds, including signature celebrations from his own era, such as Denis Law with arm raised upright, fingers tight around the cuff or ‘Sniffer’ Clarke with arm up but always bent at the elbow.
And, in more recent times, there was Eric Cantona, chin up and chest out, doing his Ozymandias thing: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
But, unlikely ever to be eclipsed in the annals of goal celebrations, was Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli’s self-described “exploding volcano” after he scored to help Italy beat West Germany in the World Cup final of 1982.
Not planned, not contrived – just a spontaneous and wonderfully demented expression of sheer, unbridled joy. Now that’s what I call running on pure emotion.
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