Armchair Pundit

Is showboating acceptable?

Alex Chick

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United Arab
Emirates winger Thiyab Awana has enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame after
his bizarre penalty against Lebanon went viral.

Awana approached
the ball as normal, before spinning 180 degrees and backheeling the ball past a
bewildered Lebanese goalkeeper.

The internet
might have loved it, but his manager Srecko Katanec certainly didn't,
immediately hauling off Awana, who had just come on as a sub.

Afterwards, Katanec
explained: "This penalty, I didn't like it. We must respect players from
other teams. In future you don't know what football will give you
back," Katanec said after the game.

"He's a young guy
and he knew he made a mistake immediately. I just want him to show respect, not
just on the field but off it as well."

Was Awana guilty of disrespect, or was this
just a piece of audacious flamboyance at a time when his team were 5-2 ahead
(the match finished 7-2)?

Where exactly do you draw the line?

Many sports set huge stall respecting your
opponent and not making him or her look foolish.

In America, teams that run up the score
unnecessarily are actively frowned upon - such as the New England Patriots.

Teams winning comfortably are expected to
take their foot off the gas, send in their second string and cruise through the
remainder of the game.

This has always seemed a little strange to
me. Surely it is more humiliating - not less - if your opponent stops trying
and still wins comfortably with a bunch of stooges?

Isn't it a sign of respect for your adversary
if you give 100 per cent throughout? I would have thought so, but the US sporting
culture insists the reverse is true.

Likewise sports such as golf and cycling have
a complex code of conduct that ensures participants do not make each other look
foolish, and transgressors are roundly condemned.

Which is not to say the above sports are beyond
reproach - a cyclist will wait for a rival who has fallen, but he might cheat
him by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Football is rather more ambiguous when it
comes to showboating - principally because we love it.

There is nothing as glorious as a nutmeg, a
dragback or any piece of skill that leaves a defender on his backside.

And as far as penalties go, there is plenty
of form - the 'Panenka' chipped spot-kick is named after the Czechoslovak player
who used it in the Euro '76 final, while Zinedine Zidane dusted it off in the
World Cup final (very nearly messing it up).

There was also considerable praise for
Ezequiel Calvente's magnificent feat of deception for Spain U19 last year.

However, the thing with the 'Panenka' is that
- with some notable exceptions
- it is a pretty effective way of taking a penalty.

Goalkeepers usually dive, so as long as you
give the ball a bit of height you've got a good chance of dinking it into the
net.

Calvente's was also superb - powerful,
precise and taking the goalkeeper completely unawares.

And that's why I have a problem with Awana's effort. This penalty was quite
clearly silly. It was weak and poorly controlled. The only thing it had going
for it was the element of surprise which was, in fairness, considerable.

But it was certainly not a good penalty.

Anything that reduces your chances of success
in order to make your opponent look stupid - does that not cross some sort of
line?

So it was with Robert Pires's legendary botched
attempt to pass to Thierry Henry from the penalty spot.

Inexplicably, Pires managed only to graze the
ball with a stud, and farce ensued as Manchester City cleared.

City were only 1-0 down, but rather than
celebrate their opponents' failure to put the game out of reach, they were
furious that Arsenal tried such a thing with the game still in the balance -
witness Danny Mills's memorable X-rated tirade at Pires.

Their pride had been dented even as their
chances of victory increased. Arsenal would rather do something audacious and
cheeky than guarantee three points.

Johan Cruyff, whose famous one-two with
Jesper Olsen

the Arsenal players tried to recreate, embodied the thrillingly cavalier
approach that entertainment was more important than victory.

He once claimed that when his team were
several goals to the good, he would actually try to hit the post rather than
scoring. Not out of respect to the opposition, but because he enjoyed the crowd's
'oohs' and 'aahs'.

Ultimately, however, if anyone has a problem
with showboating, it should not be the person on the receiving end, but the
perpetrator's manager.

That
is surely why Katanec punished Awana - because such an attitude could only
erode his team's future progress.

It
is, to a large extent, why Cruyff's Holland never won the World Cup, and why Arsene
Wenger's refusal to put the Pires-Henry incident down to anything but a
"lack of confidence" points to the loss of Arsenal's winning
mentality.

Football
tends to have an 'anything goes' approach to showboating, even if you can end
up like Brazilian forward Kerlon, whose 'seal dribble' usually ended in
senseless violence
.

Kerlon's experience at the hands of enraged defenders
mirrors the reality - there is no need to make a moral judgement, because more
often than not the natural justice of football ensures that, in the long run, it
is the show-off when ends up face down in the mud.

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