PL25: Adebayor wins it, then loses it against former club Arsenal

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a provocative goal celebration that nearly sparked a riot.

Given this game’s contentious and convoluted back-story it was always going to generate a great deal of headlines. Even a scrappy, largely uneventful 1-0 would have dominated the news cycle for a good few days. As it was, six goals and Emmanuel Adebayor half-stamping, half-raking his boot down a recent team-mate’s face were all buried below the fold, shunted into almost insignificance by a crazy, unforgettable goal celebration.

It was September 12th 2009 and newly minted Manchester City sat atop of the Premier League having undertaken a summer shopping spree the likes of which English football had never before witnessed. Determined to launch themselves into the top four manager Mark Hughes had been afforded limitless funds and from the moment the window opened he wasted little time in hoovering up the best domestic talent available. Gareth Barry arrived from Villa. Roque Santa Cruz hobbled across from Blackburn. The problem lay in that some players weren’t strictly available in the traditional sense. A protracted squabble eventually secured the signature of Joleon Lescott from Everton but prompted ill-feeling from Merseyside. The same went with luring Carlos Tevez over from Old Trafford though that spat was thoroughly embraced by the blue half of Manchester. Running concurrent with all this was a major feud brewed up with Arsenal after Hughes decided the club needed more firepower in the form of Adebayor despite already boasting Tevez, Craig Bellamy, Benjani, Robinho, and Santa Cruz in their attacking ranks. A hefty fee in the region of £25m unsettled the player and caused acrimony between Wenger and Manchester City, a tension that still bubbles away to this day.

As far as the player was concerned whatever grievances the Togolese striker held towards his former employers all came spilling out on this Saturday afternoon. Together with the always industrious Craig Bellamy he forged a strike-force of fierce intensity for City that day that the Gunner’s back-line simply couldn’t compete with and by the time the highly controversial incident occurred, City were 2-1 up and threatening to pull away. Indeed, by the time it happened Adebayor had already raked his studs across Robin Van Persie’s grounded face, attempted similar on Fabregas, and had allegedly slapped Alex Song.

In the 79th minute Shaun Wright-Phillips turned his full-back and was fouled in the process. Referee Mark Clattenberg played an excellent advantage and the diminutive winger looked up to consider his options before pinging an inch-perfect delivery onto Adebayor’s head. From the instant that the ball nestled into Almunia’s net an exorcism took place within the towering forward; an outpouring of joy and belligerence that propelled him into arcing his celebratory run away from the nearby City contingent, out-sprinting the attentions of his team-mates as he did so. Then he was away, haring down the pitch at a speed no-one believed possible. It took a few seconds to cotton on to what was happening and where he was going. He was going to incite, to gloat. Throughout the game the away end had sung defamatory claims about his mother and insisted his dad ‘washed elephants’. Now it was pay back.

We have all, at one point or another defended a footballer’s folly. It’s a passionate game with emotions running high so of course there will be occasions when a player does something silly; lashes out. Yet there were 17 full, ticking seconds from Adebayor scoring his fourth goal in four games for City and enacting an exaggerated knee-slide right in front of 3,000 cage-rattled Gooners. 17 seconds is long enough to come to your senses and when the consequence of his actions brought ripped out seats and wanton antagonism his punishment was expected to be severe.

It wasn’t. In fact the forward’s three-match ban that was soon-after dished out by the authorities was solely for his assault on Van Persie and nothing more. For inciting a near riot and doing more damage to north/south relations than Cersei Lannister there was merely a fine equivalent to a quarter of his weekly wages along with a suspended two game ban.

What happened next

Adebayor finished the season with 14 league goals but it wasn’t enough to propel Manchester City into the Champion’s League. That had to wait for another year.

The Gunners endured a frustrating campaign ultimately ending up 11 points adrift of champions Chelsea. The knives began to sharpen for Arsene Wenger.