“If a sniper shot me, he would not have struck me down.” For context, this isn’t the tale of a British soldier evading the Japanese army in the Burma jungle, but a first-person recollection of the most infamous goal celebration in Premier League history.
If nothing else, Emmanuel Adebayor’s description of that metaphorical middle finger to Arsenal in 2009 proves his use of language was just as colourful as his antics on the pitch.
As newly-minted Manchester City faced the Gunners on an unseasonably warm September afternoon, Adebayor rose highest to convert a Shaun Wright-Phillips cross.
As the home sections of the City of Manchester Stadium – as it was then known – convulsed gleefully, the Togo striker shook off attempts at male bonding from his team-mates to taunt the sullen Arsenal supporters.
You can remember what happened next without visual aid; the 100-yard dash across the pitch, the euphoric knee slide and outstretched arms as scores of twiglet-limbed men with ginormous egos and hairline triggers offered Adebayor out for a scrap in the car park.
“I was in my spiritual zone,” Adebayor said in 2021. “Kolo Toure said to me: ‘I was looking at the pictures and you did not flinch once.’
“I did not feel human anymore. The abuse was too much. I was ready to die. I just looked at them and thought ‘There are things you do not do.'”
#OnThisDay in 2009, Emmanuel Adebayor produced one of the Premier League's most controversial celebrations.
He was handed a £25,000 fine and a two-match suspended ban.pic.twitter.com/HHJ8oYzYJl
— World Soccer (@WorldSoccerMag) September 12, 2022
Adebayor later recalled how his moment of immense gratification was fuelled by a miscarriage of justice.
“I remember getting to the stadium and Arsenal fans were there,” he told the Daily Mail in 2019. “All I heard was the chant ‘Your mother is a whore and your father washes elephants.’
“My father worked in currency exchange and my mother is a businesswoman. But this went on and on. So how can I reply? I didn’t have a voice to go against thousands of supporters.”
Crucially, in the same interview, Adebayor also admitted he never wanted to leave Arsenal in the summer of 2009, but felt Wenger pushed him out of the club.
“I did not just wake up one morning at Manchester City,” he said. “I had signed a five-year contract at Arsenal. I came back for pre-season and Wenger said ‘You have to leave’. I said ‘Why should I leave?’ I asked for one more year and if it does not work, I will walk off.
“He’s like ‘No.’ He said if I stayed he would not put me in the squad. When you hear that, you have to go.”
In an earlier interview with the Beyond the Game podcast, he said: “And the next day when I joined Manchester City I saw him doing a press conference in London saying that I wanted to leave because the money was big and everything and since that day that is where the hate for Arsenal came from.
“What was going through my head? A prisoner is out. A prisoner is free. I played for the club for three-and-a-half years, you bought me for £3m, I still have five years of my contract and you let me go for £20m more and you are telling me I am the one leaving for money and abusing me.
“I am not taking that so it was just to show them that the person you are insulting still has something in his locker.”
None of this motivation influenced the dour suits at the FA, who decided to fine Adebayor and hand the City striker a suspended two-match ban for his display of emotion.
He’d already received a three-game ban for violent conduct in relation to his alleged stamp on Robin van Persie. In a tersely-written statement, Van Persie said: “The contact was only centimetres from my eye. I have not received an apology from him, there were no words exchanged afterwards.
“He had his own agenda and that is bad for football. It’s bad for the game we all love.”
“I have no idea why he acted like this,” former team-mate Emmanuel Eboue said in the aftermath of the game.
“We always respected him. He didn’t do well because you have a lot of young people who watch the game and they see that, and it’s no good for football.
“What he did was no good for football. I am very disappointed about it, very disappointed.”
Even Greater Manchester Police criticised Adebayor for sparking the reaction of the Arsenal fans, with a spokesperson saying: “The player’s goal celebration caused the opposition fans to be aggravated and there was a crowd surge.
“One of the objects that were thrown caught a steward and knocked him out.”
Adebayor’s City career had already peaked; after increasingly diminished returns, he had loan spells at Real Madrid and Tottenham before a £20million move to White Hart Lane in 2012.
We’ll always remember his iconic celebration against Arsenal. We should also remember its problematic origins and chaotic aftermath.
By Michael Lee