Op-Ed: Unless You’re Messi, Act As If

First, let me get this out of the way.

I, nor you, are this guy on the right...who has every right to celebrate....but rarely does in an audacious manner.

My first touch is strong…..strong as in a cement brick hitting a supercharged super-ball that is. My high school school coach used to say to me, “Matt….you’d be All-County….if you had a foot.”

Had to put my soccer skills in perspective first.

I’m lucky enough–and longtime readers know this–to play on a rec league team with a fair bit of talent. I’m a complementary player, a pretty selfless (I pride myself on that) player and I don’t give up on defense. On the attack, I’m a decent passer–those skills honed through years of getting rid of the ball quickly because my offensive moves are about as creative as a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.


There’s a common axiom in business–and in sports too.

“Act As If”

Act as if….you’ve been there before.

If you’ve just become a CEO, act if you’ve been one before.

Sales guys preach this as well. That BMW a sales guy is driving? Well, it’s true many of them are going for the big spender-big ego-compensate thing, but another more meticulous and success-minded group wants to ooze that success when you meet them off-site. Act as if.

Act as if carries over to sports as well.

Larry Fitzgerald embodies it when he scores a touchdown. Minimal celebration.


Emmitt Smith, #2 on the all-time touchdown list, used to score and just flip the ball to the ref. Asked about his low-key post-touchdown routine, Smith once said, “I just take more of a business approach.”

Plenty of players embody it in soccer as well. I remember Dean Ashton–unfortunately now relegated to spectator by injuries–starting the 2008 season en fuego. He’d score, little celebration. This was a guy that was good, not great….but he was playing great so he acted as if he expected himself to be great. (Don’t ask me where the Dean Ashton reference came from.)

This past Sunday, our FC Black Sox team played a friendly against a top SF team. We’re a very solid team that predominantly plays in an 8-by-8 league. We decided, through a mutual player, to play an 11-by-11 friendly today–a chance to play “legitimate soccer.”

It was a good effort from our team and there was some good play on the field, on both sides.

But the game, as rec league matches often are, was over-shadowed by some physical play, trash talk and cheap shots, none of which was more ludicrous than the opponnent’s striker’s antics.

Upon notching a rather ho-hum goal, the striker paused, remembered he wanted to taunt (or celebrate if you will), went leaping, prancing and gesticulating, unleashing three Tiger Woods’ fist pumps, on his way back to the center circle.

It was in poor class and frankly it was childish. Beyond being merely a friendly and a rec league game, that type of celebration has an impact on the visage of the person and, perhaps more importantly, forthcoming actions against the team.

First, for the player–who had some ability–the action signals that this is the pinnacle of who they can be as an athlete, as a soccer player. Juxtapose that with the situation (rec league friendly) and you the player are saying your aspirations are minimal, that you don’t expect to score in a friendly against an undermanned, underpracticed side…..so that when you do it’s a big deal.

Next the reflection on the team is poor. It’s obviously poor sportsmanship, but beyond that, nothing incites an opposing team, to play well or unfortunately to play physically, than to be shown on or after a goal.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that all celebration is poor. Karim Benzema this past week choose not to celebrate when he scored for Real Madrid against his former team Lyon in the Champion’s League. Marik Hamsik choose to celebrate wildy when Napoli scored on the road early in their Europe League loss at Villarrel. It was in front of the Napoli fans and it was done in attempt to sustain momentum and the advantage on the road at the Madrigal.

The point is, be prudent and recognize that your goal celebration or whatever celebration on the field says less about revelry in many cases and much more about what you think you, or your team, is capable of.

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by drizzl on 2011/02/25 at 7:13 AM

    Sorry to pick nits, but I’m pretty sure Smith didn’t just give the ball to the ref after each TD. He kept every TD ball he had and auctioned them off for charity.


  2. Posted by MattFC on 2011/02/25 at 8:15 AM

    I usually really enjoy the articles on the site but this one sort of makes me laugh. I find nothing wrong with a little celebration no matter what the level of play. I played an attacking mid for most of my high school soccer career and can think of times that I just had an aweful day and netting a goal and doing a little celebration turned my day completely around. Even if it was just a friendly against another school. Just saying that maybe the guy is in a rough spot and the joy of putting one away was just what he needed to feel better.

    Although there’s always the possibility that I’m wrong and the guy actually is just an a-hole.


  3. Posted by EFG on 2011/02/25 at 8:25 AM

    While I get the overall reasoning of this Op-Ed, I don’t necessarily agree with all the points. While I’ve never wildly celebrated a goal, except maybe screwing around with my friends and it was never more than mimicking than the Luca Toni ear thing or Totti’s thumb suck, players should celebrate how they see fit.

    Goals in soccer are difficult to score and players should be excited that they scored. The entire toning down of celebrations with yellow cards is getting ridiculous – much like excessive celebration penalties in both college/pro football. Let players have fun and be excited about playing the game. If a player wants to lift his shirt up to reveal a message, I say let him. It was the passion and flair of the game that attracted many of us to it, let’s not take that away.

    That being said, the guy described above just sounds like a punk and he’s probably a punk in all aspects of life on and off the field.


  4. Posted by Sam on 2011/02/25 at 8:39 AM

    I too have faced the problem where someone was being such a prick that it made me question humanity deeply. I think that’s letting them win on another level. Not only do they have the advantage of winning through asshole-ry, but now you’ve got to sit and reflect about parenting, society, and the way that it seems that jerks are incessantly rewarded while nice people get continually beaten down.

    Best advice: don’t think about it, there’s always someone better than the guy talking trash to you.


  5. Posted by John on 2011/02/25 at 8:50 AM

    It’s was REC LEAGUE FRIENDLY people, not the champions league final. Be sure to enjoy scoring, but cmon… This is the equivalent of me talking trash and arm pumping to complete strangers upon rolling a 150 in bowling.


  6. If you don’t like people celebrating then don’t let them score.

    People play rec league to enjoy themselves, and to some people celebrating is part of the fun.


  7. I think the main point raised by this article isn’t whether celebration in sport is appropriate – but more how a player’s celebration style reflects on their attitude towards the game, and how that attitude rubs off on opponents. I’m always more intimidated by opponents who score or make a great play, acknowledge their success briefly, and get back to business. My favorite example is a player who scores a goal, grabs the ball out of the net, and jogs it back to midfield. Aside from saving time (obviously important at the end of a tight game), this gesture says to opponents, “I scored. I’m going to score again before this game is over. Bring it.” Brilliant.

    Personal preference probably has a lot to do with it, too. I like relatively unspectacular players: I enjoy watching Michael Bradley play over a flashier USA player, say, Clint Dempsey.


    • Posted by John on 2011/02/25 at 11:09 AM

      Our star midfielder last year did that (the grab out of the back of the net and run to midfield) routine, and we scored again within about 10 minutes or less.


  8. Posted by nelson on 2011/02/25 at 6:51 PM

    goals warrant celebration. i love it when tottenham scores and the players involved celebrate together. it’s super bromance meets team chemistry. I like when Edu dougies. I’m amazed at the stupidity of Nani or others who celebrate acrobatically. Why risk hurting your ankle or something crucial for soccer?

    However, I totally understand when playing pickup or rec as an adult how ridiculous some goal celebrations are. i think it’s when the player does the look at me my ego is bigger than me move that they’re bad. I appreciate dances and team celebration. But egoism and taunting just doesn’t fit in a gentleman’s sport.


  9. Posted by megabrain2.0 on 2011/02/26 at 8:50 AM

    I;m a defender. I score very rarely. Upon the occasions I have scored I celebrate, but I celebrate with my team (sprint directly to the bench/subs area, invite my teammates toward the corner for a celebratory huddle) Scoring and running straight back to your half is boring and shows that you aren’t having fun, you don’t feel comfortable in the spot light of goal-scorer. As a defender, my forwards scoring a goal is a chance for me to have a break and celebrate them as well as my hard work defensively. Celebrations build team morale and chemistry… I say YES to celebrations, just no taunting.


  10. Posted by Chris on 2011/02/28 at 9:24 AM

    In regards to Emmitt Smith, he showboated once in college and his parents were super, super pissed at him about it. He felt really bad about it, and he pretty much vowed not to do it again. Hence, his lack of a touchdown celebration.


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