Spontaneous or pre-planned? Clever or stupid? That is the debate raging in stands up and down the country after Everton midfielder Tim Cahill became the latest high-profile player to offer a controversial goal celebration.
Supporters were up in arms this week after the Australian celebrated hitting the back of the net against Portsmouth by mimicking his wrists being tied in a pair of handcuffs.
Cahill later apologised for any offence caused by his celebration which he dedicated to his brother Sean, 28, who is serving a six-year prison sentence for an attack on a man which left the victim partially blinded. He also claimed it was a "spontaneous and emotional reaction," intended only to signify to his brother that he was thinking of him.
That might have brought an end to proceedings had a photograph not surfaced of Cahill using the celebration after scoring for his country a month earlier.
Yet the incident is nothing new. Players cottoned on years ago that one of the ways they could express their individuality was to create a unique celebration. Hence, declarations of loyalty in the badge-kissing style of Lee Hendrie or cradle-rocking to signify a new baby, as originally performed by Brazil striker Bebeto at the 1990 World Cup and repeated more recently by Blackburn's Matt Derbyshire.
Former England and Tottenham Hotspur striker Jimmy Greaves isn't wholly impressed with the trend: "You score a goal and, really, celebrations should be made but they should be kept to a reasonable, sensible and intelligent level," he said recently.
Wise words, but he played in a different era and some celebrations really have entered football lore. Remember Nigerian Julius Aghahowa’s seven consecutive back-flips into a somersault when he scored against Sweden in the 2002 World Cup? Or Cameroon striker Roger Milla’s samba around the corner flag at the 1990 World Cup and the robotic dancing of Liverpool’s Peter Crouch during England’s 2006 friendly with Hungary.
Some have had fans scratching their heads in bewilderment, such as Argentinian striker Facundo Sava’s habit of pulling a Zorro mask out of his sock every time he scored for Fulham, while we all wondered what Carlos Tevez was doing with that dummy for Manchester United!
Recently, there has been a trend for players, including Villa’s Curtis Davies and Everton's Andrew Johnson, to make the sign of the letter A with their fingers — now widely recognised as an advertisement for a football development school for underprivileged children launched by Queens Park Rangers defender Fitz Hall.
Those, of course, were the good news. And the shockwaves felt by Cahill’s celebrations are minor compared to the furore when former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler mimicked snorting cocaine along the touchline against Everton in 1998.
Again, he later apologised "unequivocally" claiming his actions were "in the heat of the moment" and as a result of unfounded accusations in the press that he had been involved in drug-taking.
Meanwhile, Second City fans will recall the death threats posted to former Birmingham City player Paul Tait after he unveiled a t-shirt with a derogatory message emblazoned on it and aimed at Villa supporters during the Auto Windscreens Trophy final against Carlisle United at Wembley in 1995.
Of course, players can now be booked for removing their shirt or the corner flag during the moments following a goal, although I have never really understood why players can be booked for running towards their own supporters.
Previous generations of fans will remember the days when players like Colin Bell warmly shook the hands of an opponent after scoring a goal. And many will say that today’s overpaid prima donnas are not clever enough to think about their actions before they perform a stunt which, given the coverage of today’s matches on television and on the internet, will soon be beamed into front rooms all over the world.
Others will believe players have gone out of their way to plan a celebration which will actually thrust them into the spotlight and the premeditation of designing a t-shirt is surely proof of that. But, to my mind, the euphoria when a player scores a crucial goal and rips his shirt off is still as spontaneous and exhilarating as it ever was — even if it will only get recognition in the referee’s notebook.
My favourite celebration of all time? Jurgen Klinsmann’s sprawling dive on his debut for Tottenham against Sheffield Wednesday in 1994 — a move which has been emulated on playing fields and playgrounds ever since. The German arrived in England with a tainted reputation for being a 'diver', conning referees into giving free kicks. His celebration was wonderfully self-deprecating.
A close second would be Eric Cantona’s celebration after scoring for Manchester United against Sunderland in 1999. He simply turned to the United fans, collar up, chest puffed out to soak up the adulation. No words or gestures were necessary — his arrogance underlined his ability and showed that wild gesticulations are not always necessary.
Players of today, take note!