Some 15 years ago, there was Eric Cantona and his kung-fu kick on a jeering Crystal Palace fan.
Now we have the Bundesliga version of a Charles Bronson movie, with Hamburg’s Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero in the dock for throwing a plastic bottle at a supporter at the end of his side’s goalless draw with Hannover.
Showered with insults as he made for the tunnel – by-standers claimed the offensive remarks included “ Queer pig” and “Go back to Peru” – Guerrero found it impossible to turn the other cheek and with team-mate Joris Mathijsen acting as spotter, hurled his water bottle at the abuser, hitting the man flush in the face.
Hamburg immediately fined Guerrero 50,000 euros. A few days later a DFB disciplinary committee ordered him to pay a 20,000 euro forfeit, as well as suspending the miscreant for five games, effectively ending his season.
“Paolo made a mistake, no question,“ said Hamburg coach Bruno Labbadia, himself under fire for his team’s poor form since the turn of the year. “But everyone makes mistakes. He has apologised and the club has punished him for the incident. His pride was hurt. However even at times of real provocation, you have to control yourself.“
No such moral lessons or admonishment, though, from the Hamburg dressing room. “That throw was right on target,” declared rent-a-quote keeper Frank Rost. “The New York Yankees should draft him.“
Another German League footballer to insist on his right to retaliate is former Nationalmannschaft keeper Jens Lehmann, who at the grand old age of 40 has decided to quit the game. “This is what the family council has decided,“ he explained in his unique, slightly self-regarding style.
In a professional career spanning two decades, Lehmann’s achivements are numerous: 61 caps for Germany, the role of first-choice keeper at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 and domestic league titles with Borussia Dortmund (2002) and Arsenal (2004). Dedicated to honing his craft and only ever interested in the top step of the podium, he was the master of the penalty shoot-out – notably prevailing in Schalke’s victory over Internazionale in the Final of the 1997 UEFA Cup and Germany’s quarter-final elimination of Argentina at the last World Cup – and even managed a Bundesliga goal, heading in a last-minute equaliser for Schalke in a game with Dortmund in December 1997.
Unfortunately, Lehmann will be remembered as much for his hare-brained behaviour as his excellence in goal. Abrasive, eccentric and yet incredibly sensitive for one who seemed to love doling out home truths to others, he walked hand-in-hand with controversy throughout his sporting life, clashing with referees, opposition players, teammates, coaches, fans and ball-boys, making inflammatory comments in the media and duelling to the death with arch-rival Oliver Kahn for the national team number one jersey.
“I was raised in the Ruhr and there you have to fight,“ he once said. “Being relaxed never got you far. I absolutely wouldn’t know how to act differently on the pitch.“
Sums it up perfectly.