Pop the champagne – we finished sixth!
Roy Keane was not happy. On Sunday afternoon, television’s “Rantmaster General” turned his full-beam disdain on Aston Villa. Over pictures of Dean Smith’s players giving a raucous rendition of
to celebrate their Premier League survival, back in the Sky studio Keane rolled his eyes theatrically. He could not have been more scornful had he been a curtain-twitcher spotting a neighbour heading off to the supermarket without a face mask.
“Imagine if they actually won anything,” he said, derision dripping from his voice as the Villa squad committed their great escape to memory, eagerly filming each other on their phones.
It is just as well then that Keane had not seen what was going on at the same time in the Tottenham dressing room at Selhurst Park. After spending the last 10 minutes of the game taking the ball towards the corner flag to ensure a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, the Spurs players were then keen to snap each other in bouncing, celebratory mode.
Even Keane would have to acknowledge that at least Villa had something tangible to mark: against all expectation, they had kept their club in the top flight for another season. Spurs, meanwhile, had finished sixth. A year after appearing in the Champions League final, qualifying for the Europa League was enough to get the players to commit the moment to social media.
And it is not just Keane who would have been tutting. In doing so – even if they later claimed they were just saying goodbye to club stalwart Jan Vertonghen – the Spurs lads were ignoring the instruction of their previous manager. After Arsenal’s players – a bunch never shy of selfcongratulation – issued a collection of pictures of themselves memorialising victory in the north London derby in December 2018, Mauricio Pochettino unleashed his inner Keane and told his charges there would be no dressing-room selfies until they actually won something. But Pochettino has long been dispatched from the premises and 18 months later sixth place is deemed sufficient to bring out the cameras.
Society has long been divided between the ascetic and the hedonist, between the dour and the expansive, between the Roundhead and the Cavalier. Now in football how much you mark the moment has become a litmus test of your moral fibre.
It has to be remembered that, when it came to celebrating, Keane practised what he preached. After he was suspended for the Champions League final in 1999, he stood at the back of the on-pitch celebrations following United’s come-from-behind victory. Sheepish and embarrassed in his club suit, he preferred to let those who had actually contributed cavort – plus some who had not actually contributed (mentioning no names … David May). In similar circumstances in 2012, John Terry, on the other hand, inserted himself front and centre into the pictures.
Keane was not alone on Sunday in suggesting that caution should be applied before getting out the bunting. While acknowledging there was some merit in gaining Champions League qualification, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard put the achievement in context. “At this club we should be winning titles,” he insisted. Similarly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer preferred to describe his team gaining third place as the start, rather than the end of the process. This was no time for selfies.
It makes you wonder who will prove the more successful: Spurs for enjoying the moment, or Chelsea for maintaining restraint; Aston Villa for having a bit of fun, or West Ham for letting the same accomplishment of staying in the top flight pass without the Neil Diamond singalongs.
One thing we can be sure of: Roy Keane will not be the only one who reckons that, when it comes to the Premier League, only at Anfield is there justifiable reason for champagne corks to be popping. Though doubtless he would shake his head at the very thought of fireworks.