The Limey
Friday September 18th, 2009

Manchester City's headline-grabbing 4-2 home win over Arsenal last weekend delivered more talking points than a double-bill Oprah healthcare special. City struggled to contain a probing, possession-heavy Arsenal offense. But on the break, the speed of Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips pierced a dispersed Gunners defense three times over a frenetic 10-minute second-half spell.

This was a seminal result in the emerging story of a long-awaited re-arrangement of the English Premier League's upper echelons and should have left the masses looking ahead to third-place City's grudge match at second-place Manchester United on Sunday (8:30 a.m. ET, Setanta USA). Instead, even the front pages featured the antics of Adebayor in his first match against Arsenal, the club he acrimoniously left in July.

On Thursday, Adebayor received a three-match ban for raking his studs down the face of Robin van Persie, with referee Mark Clattenburg decreeing that, had he seen the incident, he would have sent Adebayor off. (Click here to see the "stomp.") Furthermore, City has until Sept. 30 to appeal a further charge of improper conduct for Adebayor's sprint the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of Arsenal fans after scoring the goal that put City up 3-1. (Click here for a fan's-eye view of that incident.)

The degree to which Adebayor incited the resulting melee amongst the away fans has been the talk of the U.K., even dividing Team Limey, which has taken to throwing Shakespearean insults at each other. Misbegotten rampallian lewdster Ben Franklin offers the case for the prosecution:

After the stick Adebayor received from his own fans last season, and the manner of his exit from Arsenal, it wasn't surprising the big Togolese national-teamer played like a man possessed against his former club. For Adebayor's first transgression -- the stamp on van Persie's face -- the striker quite rightly has been suspended, which puts him out of Sunday's Manchester derby.

Van Persie's initial challenge immediately just before Adebayor's misdemeanor was certainly poor, but replays show Adebayor's response was far more aggressive. His foot clearly changed direction toward van Persie's face as he came down from riding the Dutchman's challenge, nowhere near the ball, which Adebayor claims he was trying to kick. Furthermore, suggesting the challenge is any more acceptable because of van Persie's initial tackle is, frankly, indefensible given the seriousness of Adebayor's foul. City's announcement that the club and Adebayor accepted the charge of violent conduct confirms the righteousness of the charge.

Adebayor's relationship with the Arsenal fans soured dramatically last season. He scored 30 goals in all competitions during 2007-08 and became a firm fan favorite. However, devotion turned to disparagement as he spent last summer flirting with European rivals AC Milan in a blatant attempt to engineer a new contract. The ploy worked, with Adebayor doubling his wages to $130,000 a week.

The striker repaid the club's generosity by playing in an increasingly lethargic, lazy and uninterested manner throughout the '08-09 season. The fans who had paid their hard-earned money to watch a player who had doubled his salary playing in such a way riled them and, quite rightly, led to an increasing level of audible displeasure towards their once-beloved forward. The situation became untenable for both club and player and led to Adebayor's move to City.

Adebayor's actions in running the length of the pitch to celebrate to in front of the supporters who had turned against him last season was foolish and sparked a near riot as fans surged forward to confront him, throwing a variety of objects towards him. The main victims of Adebayor's ridiculous celebration were the security staff, who had to hold back the baying Arsenal fans from climbing onto the pitch, and who were in the direct firing line of the objects being thrown, with one steward knocked unconscious for his trouble.

A statement from Greater Manchester Police accepts that it was the fans that threw the missiles, but it was Adebayor's provocative actions that make him directly responsible. Take into account the state of Adebayor's relationship with the Arsenal fans, the already heated atmosphere in the stadium and his behavior leading up to his goal (the van Persie stamp and other assorted dubious challenges on his former teammates, including a stamp on Cesc Fàbregas that probably also would have earned him a red card had it been seen).

Adebayor had to be fully aware of the reaction such a confrontational celebration would provoke and its potential consequences. Adebayor therefore should be found guilty of the charge of 'improper conduct' he has hanging over him.

Meanwhile, Franklin's bawdy, fat-kidneyed mate Jon Pickstone believes that, like when Gary Neville celebrated in front of Liverpool fans, Adebayor, who was booked at the time, should receive only a token fine, preferably donated to the St. John's Ambulance team at City.

A further suspension would send out the wrong signals. Crowd trouble could be incited if protagonists believed it could result in the authorities penalizing the object of their ire. But most importantly, to suspend Adebayor would be to erroneously apportion the balance of blame.

Yes, he may have acted selfishly, childishly and unsportingly, but celebrating a goal should not be seen as provocation for a violent stampede, an attempted pitch invasion and to throw objects at ground-staff -- actions that cannot be condoned nor justified. Plus, the reaction of Arsenal fans was surely partly driven by that goal condemning them to defeat. Would they not have laughed it off had they been heading for victory?

Adebayor's stamp looks purposeful in slow-motion replays, enough so to prevent City, fearful of an elongated suspension, from appealing. Yet the player and club did protest his innocence, arguing that he landed unfortunately after riding van Persie's illegal two-footed lunge. Though the balance of probabilities is against Adebayor, the evidence is inconclusive.

Adebayor's celebration followed a torrent of abuse from Arsenal fans, including the arguably racist "elephant song." "There is only so much abuse a man can take until he reaches breaking point," Adebayor told The Sun. And compare his, albeit provocative, slide on the ground to van Persie's goal-scoring celebration involving swearing and gesturing offensively at the City fans. Because, unlike the adjacent Gooners, those City fans didn't react violently, and van Persie escaped with a letter warning him of his future conduct.

Football is theater and, through his celebration, Adebayor provided the perfect antagonist, the ideal pantomime villain, for a thrilling showpiece match. Hurt makes the good times sweeter, and such entertainment and raw emotion makes for a spectacle. Unfortunately, the Arsenal fans made a spectacle of themselves.

Now about that little game. With Adebayor playing, City winning at Old Trafford was a real possibility. Now, with Carlos Tévez, Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz injured, and reduced to playing Bellamy alone up front, those odds are much longer. Bellamy's main assets are his speed and work rate -- he is no target man. With Bellamy pushed further forward, we expect Mark Hughes to name Pablo Zabeleta as a second defensive midfielder alongside the combative Nigel de Jong. If so, this will confirm City's tactics of sitting back and breaking quickly, Stephen Ireland bursting through to support Bellamy in the box.

There's a slim chance Tévez could be fit to face a hostile Old Trafford crowd, but this doesn't faze Sir Alex Ferguson. "I am not bothered whether Tévez plays or not," he told reporters. "Manchester City's best player won't be playing. Adebayor is their star player, there is no question about that."

United should sneak it. Wayne Rooney has been at his bustling best all season, and with Dimitar Berbatov and Anderson finding form in the 3-1 win at Spurs last weekend, the team's attack looked formidable. Following Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, Rooney has returned to his favored forward role and he may prove too hot to handle for City's newly formed center-back partnership of Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré. Conversely, their counterparts, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are, together, water-tight.

In the weekend's other standout game, top-of-the-table Chelsea hosts a Tottenham side that also has made a flying start to the season, and is being taken increasingly seriously as a possible top-four finisher. Spurs' Big Four credentials will be tested for the second time in just more than a week after that home defeat to Man. United. Jermain Defoe will be looking to get one over on his England colleagues at Chelsea after continuing his electric start to the season against United, scoring on an audacious overhead bicycle kick, his eighth goal of the season.

Send us on your views on where you stand on the Adebayor debate that has sliced Team Limey in two, and any other nuggets of banter to the usual address:

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