Watching a rival player score against your own club is part and parcel of the game. And when the rival player formerly played for your club it can even deflate you as a football fan. However, watching them celebrate without a care in the world, taunting you with his new teammates can feel like a dagger through the chest before a fiery rage engulfs every cell in your body.
There are the select few who respect everything the former club did for them and refuse to celebrate in front of the fans. There are even those players the fans are happy to see score against their own club just because of the progress one of their own has made in the cut-throat world of professional football.
But every coin has two sides and these players made sure they sent a very clear message when they felt just scoring a goal against their former club was not enough...
1) Robin van Persie: For Manchester United vs Arsenal
After eight seasons and 132 goals at Arsenal, Robin van Persie listened to the ‘little boy inside him’ and decided it was time to move on. He had lost faith in Arsene Wenger’s project and moved on to a club that matched his ambitions.
At the time of his transfer, the Dutchman was in the form of his life having won the Premier League Golden Boot with 30 goals in the 2011/12 seasons. Sir Alex Ferguson whispered the right words and he was soon putting on a Manchester United shirt – the club Arsenal shared a heated Premier League rivalry with ever since Wenger took over.
Van Persie would score against Arsenal more than once. While he would not celebrate at the Emirates, he couldn’t hold back when he scored at Old Trafford in his second season. The boos from the Arsenal fans had spurred him on and expecting a player to stay silent following the vitriol and abuse hurled at him is unfair and impossible.
Known for his magic left foot, it was a header from a set-piece that saw Van Persie score and he reeled away with his arms raised to celebrate with Wayne Rooney.
2) Danny Welbeck: For Arsenal vs Manchester United
The one they let go. The deal the fans never agreed with. Danny Welbeck was one of Manchester United’s very own having grown up at the club, spending a total of 13 years. The Red Devils were in bad shape following the departure of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal’s arrival along with a star-studded cast of attacking talents saw Welbeck say, ‘Enough is enough’.
Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria were brought in for what is now silly money in hindsight while Wenger’s ears perked up when he heard Welbeck wanted out of Old Trafford. £16m exchanged hands and the Manchester lad became a Gunner.
Welbeck had a decent first season at Arsenal prior to his injury. The Gunners won the FA Cup that season but he had missed the final due to injury. However, he had scored the most important goal of the campaign to get them to Wembley – the winner against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the quarter-finals.
Welbeck’s goal is at 3:20.
3) David Luiz: For PSG vs Chelsea
David Luiz’s career has so far been akin to a yo-yo swinging between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. Having played for the Premier League side between 2011 and 2014, a world record bid (for a defender) of £50m saw Luiz switch London for Paris and he became an instrumental player in the Ligue 1 club’s project to dominate France and Europe.
While they did repeatedly conquer France, the Champions League turned out to be a much tougher task. But they did manage to consistently reach the quarter-finals and on one such occasion, they had Luiz’s former club to beat in the Round of 16 to get there.
With the tie tantalisingly poised at 2-1 on aggregate to Chelsea, it was Luiz who came to the rescue in the 86th minute. A corner saw him lose his marker before thumping a header goalward. Thibaut Courtois had no time to react as the ball came hit the underside of the bar before finding the back of the net.
In front of the away fans, Luiz did the traditional fist-pump before sinking to his knees in prayer – as he always does. He would apologise after the game, though.
“I said I wouldn't celebrate but my emotions – I couldn't control. Thank you to Chelsea and sorry I celebrated because I was so emotional.” – Luiz
PSG would soon go through on away goals in extra-time. Surprisingly, he would return to Chelsea for £34m in 2016 and even the fans had buried the hatchet by then.
4) Emmanuel Adebayor: For Manchester City vs Arsenal
When Arsenal were in the doldrums following their move to the Emirates Stadium, one of their biggest assets was a physical and powerful striker in Emmanuel Adebayor. The 2007/08 season saw the Togolese player score 30 goals across all competitions.
But his temperament and work ethic has always been questionable and, ultimately, so was his loyalty. When Manchester City entered the fray with mammoth bids to sign some of the Premier League’s best talents and the lure of high wages, he turned his back on the north London club and moved to the blue half of Manchester as Arsenal accepted a £25m bid.
When the Gunners visited City early that season, it was anything but a happy reunion. Van Persie was kicked in the face by Adebayor (a deliberate act that saw him receive a three-game ban for violent conduct) while Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas also accused him of various misdeeds during the game.
But it was the goal that saw all hell break loose.
An unmarked Adebayor scored with a resounding header and he celebrated the goal by running the full length of the pitch before sliding in front of the Arsenal fans in the away section. He would later justify his celebration because of the abuse he had received from the Arsenal fans following his transfer.
“I scored and wanted to show people it is not a good idea to abuse me. I really didn't understand it at all. I was running on pure emotion and when you take emotion out of football we are going to have a big problem.” – Adebayor
5) James Milner: For Liverpool vs Manchester City
In a team filled with superstars on astronomically high wages, James Milner was the player who worked his back off in almost every game to earn every penny that came his way. With the ability to play in midfield and the wings, Milner averaged more than 40 games a season for the Sky Blues – although many of those appearances came off the bench.
However, as one of the club’s most loyal servants entered the final year of his contract, there were still no assurances that he would be a starter come the 2015/16 season. Milner walked.
Liverpool came calling and he duly put pen to paper on a contract with the Anfield club when he was assured of starting games. To sweeten the deal, he was even made the club’s vice-captain.
Milner eventually got his revenge when the Reds faced Manchester City at Anfield. The Leeds-born player scored the second of three goals as Liverpool won 3-0 and his goal celebration saw him vent out his frustration and elation at the same time.
The City fans have given him some stick for the celebration but that did not deter him again in the 2016/17 season when he scored a penalty against City.
Milner’s goal is at 1:05.
6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: For AC Milan vs Inter Milan
Europe’s most famous journeyman Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played for three different Serie A clubs – Juventus, Inter Milan, and AC Milan. Having scored 66 goals for Inter before his ill-fated move to Barcelona, his transfer to AC Milan saw him lock heads with his former club time and again.
One particular Derby della Madonnina saw Ibrahimovic was up against Lucio and Marco Materazzi on a counter-attack before he was hacked down in the box by Materazzi. The Italian shook his head when the referee blew the whistle while Ibrahimovic stepped up to take the penalty.
With half the crowd whistling at him, the Swedish striker coolly fired it home as the goalkeeper went the wrong way. Ibrahimovic had literally started celebrating on his follow-through as he raised both arms into the air.
7) Glen Johnson: For Liverpool vs Chelsea
Glen Johnson will always be known as the first player to be bought by Chelsea in the Roman Abramovich era and had been regularly getting games at the start of his Blues career but he was soon frozen out before he moved to Portsmouth – initially on a loan deal before a permanent move.
However, the club’s troubles saw them accept a bid from Liverpool in 2009 and he moved to Anfield where he became a key member of the squad for at least the next five seasons. And in 2011, he had the opportunity to prevent his former club from gaining a foothold in the title race.
A long ball from Liverpool’s half found Johnson unmarked on the right side before he cut in to evade a backtracking Ashley Cole. Another dribble took him past Florent Malouda after which he beat Petr Cech with his left foot. The winner even saw Kenny Dalglish celebrate in front of the Chelsea dugout.