There's a lot of agitation over loyalty in sports. It tends to be a bit lopsided -- fans are more worried about players showing loyalty to teams and to them than they worry about loyalty towards players, for the most part. For some reason that extends past a player leaving a team, into perpetuity, no matter how pleasant or acrimonious the departure was on both sides.
If you'll remember, this time last week we were celebrating an Arsenal victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, something that hadn't happened in almost a decade in any competition. The winning goalscorer was a one Danny Welbeck, former Manchester United player who was fairly unceremoniously dumped by United this summer. Arsenal were the beneficiaries. He hasn't been a world-beater here by any means, but I think he's done fairly well, and honestly was hoping he'd score at Old Trafford just to rub it in Louis van Gaal's face. He did score, and he celebrated like he'd just scored a goal against a professional soccer team. All was right in the world.
But now we have things like this. We have people like Jamie Carragher and Roy Keane offering opinions on whether or not he should be celebrating a goal against his old team. Hell, here I am talking about it too. For the most part, the reactions I've seen are pretty reasonable -- both Carragher and Keane seem to think he's done nothing wrong, and it sounds like plenty of Manchester United fans haven't taken issue with it. That's all good. But this isn't an extra pressure that should be put on the players to begin with.
Look at this, from the ESPN column:
Having scored for the first time since Dec. 28, Welbeck first went to the Arsenal fans, before he continued the celebrations with his current teammates.
After the match, Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker revealed that Welbeck was "hurting" in the dressing room and was "quiet" amid the Arsenal celebrations and, when he was interviewed, the ex-United man insisted his intention had been to be respectful, that he was still a fan and that he appreciated the reception he received.
I have to imagine some of that emotional turmoil is coming from an honest place: he's a kid who grew up in Manchester, he's been a Red through and through since childhood, and he loves that club. He's not there now, and you can be damn sure he didn't pull punches on the field. But I understand hurting as a fan after that, and honestly it's a little refreshing to know that Welbeck still has the fan's perspective after years on the other side.
But it bothers me a lot that the celebration he did was something that caused him to worry he wasn't "respectful." He didn't pull an Emmanuel Adebayor, and run to the United fans to pose in front of them. He didn't stare down Louis van Gaal. He didn't even kiss the Arsenal badge or anything like that. He was just happy. He celebrated scoring a goal with his teammates. We, as fans, shouldn't be making players feel bad for letting out a natural and healthy emotional reaction.
Look at David Luiz last week. When at Chelsea, he was a fan favorite. He left for Paris Saint-Germain despite loving it there, and it seemed like player, club, and fans had nothing but good feelings for each other. And then they played each other in the Champions League. He spoke before about the connection he still feels to Chelsea, and said he wouldn't celebrate if he scored against them.
But then in the 86th minute of the second leg at Stamford Bridge, Luiz did score. It was a goal to save PSG from Champions League peril, as it drew them level on aggregate and away goals and forced extra time. It was a massive clutch goal, and David Luiz celebrated accordingly.
And then he apologized.
I'm sorry for the emotion I showed...It was difficult because I was so happy to win, but I was also happy at Chelsea.
I said before I wouldn't celebrate but there was so much emotion, I couldn't control it. I am so happy to qualify.
All the supporters and every single person in the club tried to help me from my first day at Chelsea to the last day.
This is not a thing you should have to apologize for. This is not a thing that you should feel pressure to apologize for. Scoring a goal in soccer is an amazing feeling at any level, but scoring a goal to rescue your team in the Champions League has to be incomprehensible. And we're supposed to believe letting that out is negative? That it's disrespectful?
That same dumb argument could go the other way. I could say that Aaron Ramsey's no-sell celebration against Cardiff City last year was disrespectful to me as an Arsenal fan -- I don't give a damn about Cardiff, and our players shouldn't either. I could say Robin van Persie disrespected Manchester United fans by not caring enough about a big game to celebrate a goal against Arsenal.
It would be stupid. But I could say it.
Welbeck: "Did I [celebrate]? Once the emotion takes over, it's difficult to keep in. This club has meant so much to me and still does." #AFC— World Soccer Talk (@worldsoccertalk) March 9, 2015
The NFL regulates touchdown celebrations with a near-fascist bent. I hate it. Taunting is one thing, but it's really hard to play professional sports. If it wasn't, we'd all be doing it. Scoring a goal, hitting a home run, making a clutch three-pointer, scoring a touchdown -- these are all tremendous accomplishments. We need to stop regulating how people react to them just because it might hurt the feelings of a few fans.
In short, I want more of this, not less. No matter who the opposition is.