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The meaning and background behind elaborate goal celebrations

He's barely been a Barcelona player a month and he hasn't even trained with them yet, still less played a match for them, but already David Villa has upset people in his new home city. Or least he has according to a few wooden spoon wielding, trouble-seeking stirrers who it might be best to ignore but who have, perhaps inadvertently, posed an interesting and potentially more important question. And, let's be honest, given us the excuse to have a bit of a laugh.

According to reports -- and let's say that again: reports that perhaps shouldn't be taken too seriously, which hardly seem to be reflecting a huge groundswell of angry opinion but which have nonetheless caused a minor stir ... anyway, according to reports, Catalans are annoyed with Villa. Not because he's playing for Spain -- after all, so are Xavi, Pedro, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, GerardPique, SergioBusquets, and AndresIniesta, plus Barcelona targets Juan Mata and Cesc Fabregas -- but because of the way he celebrated his goals against Honduras.

No, really.

Villa, you see, celebrated by performing a bull-fighting pass. At the same time as some lobbies in Catalunya are trying to ban bullfighting -- not so much because of the cruelty to animals, although that provides a handy ethical justification, a comforting patch of moral high ground, but because it is seen as a symbol of Spain, where it is known as the "fiesta nacional."

So far, so silly. But worse was to come. Villa himself has, probably wisely, said nothing. Maybe he thinks it's too ridiculous to waste his time with and he'd be right. But others have tried to interpret his celebration on his behalf. In his defense, they said, it was not a nod of support for bullfighting. It was, rather, a nod to his sponsors, a copy of a celebration he does in a special World Cup advert for McDonald's. So that's all right, then.

Er, hang on a minute, no it's not. That's even worse. Has it really come to this? Players selling themselves to their sponsors at the moment in which they are supposed to overcome with joy? Bah! Has soccer got no heart? Has it got no shame? Has it got no soul?

Not that it's just a question of money. For some old fashioned -- and let's face it, miserable -- observers, the game sold its soul years ago. For them, celebrations long since turned tasteless. You can almost see them in their blazers and cravats, jowls wobbling in righteous indignation: whatever happened, they ask, to a firm handshake and a jog back to the half way line?

It has been wiped out, that's what. And rightly so. Even if the choreography has become pretty silly, the old handshake was just as bad -- a repression of joy, a stiff upper lip when emotion should have taken over.

Besides, even if celebrations have become silly, and others, like Peter Crouch's Robot Dance or Ronaldo's lying on his back and waggle his feet in the air trick which he claimed was a cockroach but which the Alaves president said merely showed that he was "just a clown," are ludicrously cheesy at least they're more interesting.

Some are elaborately choreographed -- rarely more so than Aylesbury, nicknamed the ducks, waddle in formation across the pitch in an FA Cup game in 1995 -- some even have props. Just ask like Dani Alves, who gave fans a Christmas treat by pulling a Santa Hat from his shorts and dancing a little Christmas ditty. "It was starting to get a bit itchy down there but luckily, I eventually got the excuse to pull it out from my pants and show everyone," Alves said, turning all double entendre.

More to the point, celebrations have also provided some of the best images of the game, from Hugo Sanchez's somersaults, copied by a thousand death-defying leapers since, to Ryan Giggs whipping off his shirt and swinging it round his head, hairy chest out for all to see, from Johnny Metgod's finger jabbing, to Marco Tardelli's head spinning reaction to winning the World Cup in 1982, and hundreds of thousands more.

Like these ones ...

Arguably the one that started it all off, the original and still the best -- perhaps the most famous footballing dance of all time. Milla, a 38 year old who was only included in the Cameroon side on the say-so of the president of the government, who the rest of the team thought way past it, ended up being the star of the 1990 World Cup. Not just because of what he did on the pitch but because of that jig at the corner flag, often imitated but never bettered -- at least not in terms of sheer joy. Like David Villa, Milla became the star of an advert for an official sponsor of the World. But at least in Milla's case the goal -- and the celebration -- came first.

Some players hug, some players kiss, and some players do what Jose Antonio Reyes and Francisco Gallardo did back in December 2001. When Reyes scored a beauty, Gallardo decided to celebrate it in a very special way. Throwing himself down upon Reyes' Crown Jewels, he proceeded to impart some (pretend) oral pleasure on the unsuspecting striker. While the prudish newspaper Marca flew into a comic tizzy, splashing its front page with an enormous "INTOLERABLE", everyone else just rolled about, and innocent little Reyes was left plain confused. "I felt a little nip," he said, "but I didn't realize what Paco was doing." Yeah, that's what they all say.

A German with a sense of humor! When Klinsmann joined Spurs immediately after the 1994 World Cup he came with a reputation as a diver, the most heinous of crimes in English football minds. During one game in the U.S., a British commentator had accused him of being "taken out by the sniper in row z" and most people, fed by an irrational fear and loathing of all things German, loved to hate him. Soon they loved him. In fact, having assumed that Germans were humorless, functional creatures, many English people changed their opinion of an entire country based on this one moment. In his first game for Spurs, Klinsmann scored. And decided to celebrate ... by diving.

Klinsmann was not alone. Plenty of players, the sensitive souls, have dreamed up celebrations as a response to the nasty things that are said about them. Hundreds of players have done the old hand to the ear trick that says: "yeah, now what you tosspots?!" But if that shows a distinct lack of imagination, others have been more creative. After the press reported that Craig Bellamy had attacked Liverpool teammate Jon Arne Riise with a golf club during a team-bonding[!] trip, the response was inevitable. In the very next game -- against none other than Barcelona -- Bellamy scored. He celebrated with Riise and an imaginary golf shot. Better still was Paul Gascoigne's response during Euro1996 to reports about a pre-tournament trip during which England's players had allegedly gone out and got slaughtered in a bar with an infamous "dentist's chair," in which they sat while spirits were poured into their mouths. But the best has to be the time that Robbie Fowler responded to chants from Everton's fans accusing him of being a drug addict with a goal, celebrating by sniffing the line. Not that the awkwardly shifting Liverpool coach Gerard Houllier admitted as much, inventing some nonsense about a Cameroonian tradition as told by Liverpool defender Rigobert Song. Fowler, he said, was "eating the grass."

These ones were even better -- at least in terms of the message they sent out. Eto'o and Morales responded to incessant ooh-oohs from crowds by celebrating goals with monkey dances. "If they're going to treat me like a monkey, I'm going to dance like a monkey," said Eto'o.

It's not just the press and fans who get under player's skins, mind you. During one Premier League game, Hull coach Phil Brown was so upset with his players' performance that he decided to give them their halftime team talk on the pitch -- in front of the fans. Most of the players thought it a gratuitous gesture -- he had thrown them to the lions and achieved nothing. Except to lose the coach any respect he once had. The players got their revenge when Jimmy Bullardcelebrated by imitating their sack-bound boss.

Forget all the imitations, from thumb sucking to pregnant gestures, from balls up shirt to some even "giving birth" to it. They all feel horribly naff. With hindsight so does Bebeto's celebration in honour of the birth of his first child at the 199 World Cup -- not least because of the monster he unleashed on us. But at the time it was endearing. Charming, even.

But when it comes to goal celebrations what you really want is unadulterated joy. Huge piles of wriggling bodies are always great -- the USA's bundle after their late, late goal against Algeria was perfect. A personal favorite is the collective madness that followed Real Madrid's last minute winner against Espanyol in the 2006-07 season, a goal that allowed them to stay in the title race. It had Gonzalo Higuaín throwing his shirt into the air, Ruud van Nistelrooy picking it up and unfurling it for the fans and Fabio Cannavaro grabbing the corner flag and waving it about grinning like some sort of delighted simpleton. Few, though, express joy better than Martin Palermo -- a man who once destroyed knee ligaments after he celebrated with fans and ended up with a wall collapsing on top of him. No messing about, no choreography, no arrogance, just pure happiness. And a touch of disbelief. A kind of Oh My God Did I Just Do That? A feeling of being the luckiest man alive. Forget selling your soul to a burger bar, Palermo's celebration expressed an entirely different emotion and sent the opposite message. He might be ancient now but his face when he scored for Argentina against Greece could have been that of a six-year-old kid scoring the first goal of his entire life.

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