Pop the cham­pagne – we fin­ished sixth!

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Jim White Caro­line Sweet

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.

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