At the weekend, Romelu Lukaku scored against West Bromwich Albion and, instead of wheeling off to the corner flag with his team-mates, all doing cartwheels and fist pumps and arms in the air pointing to their particular deities or deceased loved ones, he held his hands up and did none of those things, instead letting his team-mates do all the cheering for him. What he did is to do what is commonly known as a muted celebration and, for some reason, people hate it.
I kind of see where the muted celebration hate comes from as I’ve never had a fixed opinion on it until now. It can seem kinda stupid. You’ve just scored, which in football is a REALLY big deal considering statistically (yeah, I’m bringin’ stats in here), football has one of the absolute lowest average numbers of scoring moments per match [Figure 15 of ‘The Numbers Game’, Chris Anderson and David Sally].
And, you know, it’s not like most footballers actually CARE about their previous clubs, right? Because we all know they’re mercenaries. But… but footballers actually get a fair bit of stick for being mercenaries, so wouldn’t it make sense to praise them for showing that they do have actually have a heart? Even if footballers do care about their old clubs, though, do they really care THAT much that it stops them celebrating? Or are they just posturing, doing it for a bit of good PR?
Well, let’s look at Lukaku’s scenario as a starter. He joined Chelsea, his big break move, in 2011. He didn’t play a lot in that debut season at all, so much so that he didn’t lift the Champions League trophy when they won it that May because he didn’t feel like a real winner. It’s a similar story to one we’ve seen plenty of times before: a promising youngster joins a big money club with dreams in his head and hopes in his heart and he’s brought crashing back down to earth when he realises that he’s not actually as important to them as they said he was when they were trying to get him to sign a contract.
He joined West Brom on loan for the 2012-13 season. It was this season that properly put him on the map in the minds of most people. He played 35 times and scored 17 goals. It was enough to convince most people that he should be a key player in the Chelsea squad and it WOULD have been enough to get him there had it not been for Mourinho. West Brom probably invested the time in him that Chelsea almost certainly didn’t and they (WBA) would have been the first English club, the first club in a foreign country, to do that. West Brom probably means a great deal to him because of this and he probably has a lot of respect for the club and their fans, hence why he would feel bad about celebrating at their expense.
Now, I’ll generalise it to myself. If I scored against my former club, a club that I love, and I wasn’t so caught up in the moment that I was still aware of my emotions, I might feel bad. Not hugely, but a little piece of me might feel a little sad. It’d be kind of like scoring against a small child, in emotional terms, you can still celebrate, but you’d feel bad about it.
And at the end of the day, does it really matter if they celebrate or not? Why does it annoy you that a player chooses not to leap up and down because they scored against their former colleagues? This little article type thing was called ‘In defence of the muted goal celebration’ because I think that if I were in that position, I might not celebrate hugely either. But, even if you think that you’d do a full Robbie Keane-esque forward roll/pistol routine after any goal against any club, does it really matter if someone else would do differently to you?