Siberian Soapbox

You can catch up on last week’s Siberian Soapbox if you haven’t read it, here.

Remember those old Mitre Pro Max footballs? The ones the Premier League used when David Ellery was still a thing? A bit like the Nokia 3310, they were actually pretty shite but for some reason hold an unwarranted affection. The point is, many a Yeboah off-the-bar-then wagging-finger screamer was struck with those bad boys. I tried naturally, but for some strange reason I could never quite pull it off.

My earliest memory of the frankly weirdly panelled ball was far less glorious – a penalty given against me. It wasn’t a school match, or even a proper game, but a loosely organised kickabout in the park. For those cultured non-league followers out there, it was within spitting distance of Altrincham’s Moss Lane stadium – Stamford Park to be precise, and on this particular day there were very few remaining blades of green on our Wembley. That made it all the better of course, since sliding challenges were allowed to, well, slide.

It wasn’t a rash lunger that did though. A shot came in and truck my hand before I could do anything about it, but nothing. Nobody said a word, and play continued. The thing was that it felt bad to sneak away with it, so I went up to the adult in charge and told him. In the way that seven-year-olds do, I felt like the game was of the utmost importance. The penalty was given, my teammates were grumpy, but fair play had prevailed.

OK, I admit it, there were flickers of a warm fuzzy feeling. The other team would have been denied justice, and it wouldn’t have sat well with me. Honesty is good, right? Consideration of others? Unless your name is Luis Suárez or Diego Costa, you’ll probably agree. I’d wager that some of you would concur it is always true. WRONG!

Recently Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored with a well-placed finish for Arsenal at Old Trafford. His transfer was barely mourned by Manchester United fans – despite his obvious technical ability – as he had never really held down a firm, regular starting place since joining from Borussia Dortmund. Of course the management played the significant role in that, but it remains true. A pleasant enough chap that never made an impression, his swap for Alexis Sanchez made sense all around.

Then the fucker lifted his hands in apology for scoring against his former club. Sorry, but that is so bloody ridiculous it offended me. In what possible sense did he think he had earned the respect and affection to the extent that United supporters would be angry at him celebrating? A bit harsh perhaps, but the point of apologising in any context is that it should be sincere.

I have absolutely nothing against the player or the man this incident aside. Not many creators have his panache on the ball, and he came across as a polite, educated fellow who endured a fruitless spell under Jose Mourinho with grace. I was happy for him when the Arsenal transfer went through as Arsene Wenger and his urbane continental style seemed to fit him infinitely more than the rigid tactical discipline demanded by everyone’s favourite greying Portuguese.

Then he lifted his bloody hands. When I confessed to my handball as a kid, it was a genuine and proportionate response to a misdemeanour. Insincere apologies are far worse than excessive exuberance in my books. I get that he was trying to show respect, but why? He is employed by Arsenal, not Manchester United, so his loyalty – as much as can be fathomed in this greed-filled moral abyss we call modern football – should be with them. It could have been a crucial goal, and deserved celebration.

Actually on second thought, let me take a tiny portion of that back. The real problem is the culture of doing this that has sprung up over the last decade or so. Now, it seems like it is something players are expected to do – again, why? I’m not saying there are no circumstances where it is appropriate. By that I mean that the fans and player feel the same weight of hurt; think Denis Law’s famous backheel for Manchester City at Old Trafford in 1974.

In all honesty, I don’t believe Mkhitaryan really felt deep down that United fans would have been enraged by a celebration. I think the reality is he felt under pressure to apologise because that’s become the accepted norm.

Imagine you were in his shoes; a glittering early career that had blossomed in one of Europe’s most exciting developing sides, hero status in his homeland, and a big move to English football set the stage for a grand flourish. The system he found himself wedged into, however, just didn’t allow him the freedom to create chances in his natural way, and he was increasingly overlooked by his manager. Suddenly an opportunity to join a more like-minded setup arises, and he breaks free from his prison.

Personally I’d go nuts if I had scored. If it had been against Dortmund or Shakhtar Donetsk, fair enough. Both clubs gave him a platform on which he sparkled and was worshipped accordingly. Football is about emotion though, and if you can’t celebrate a goal then let’s just pack it in.