As a left-winger for the Baniyas Sports and Culture Club and the United Arab Emirates national team, Theyab Awana would not necessarily be thought of as a candidate to sear his name into the global footballing consciousness; however, following an exhibition game against Lebanon on 17th July 2011, this is precisely what he has accomplished.
The match was a warm-up for the UAE’s 2014 FIFA World Cup two-legged qualifier against India, and with the Emiratis already 5-2 up against weak Levantine opposition, Awana stepped up to take a 79th minute penalty. However, instead of deploying a conventional technique, the UAE number 13 rotated during the final phase of his run-up, ingeniously knocking the ball into the net with his heel.
It was a stunning moment, but if anything the reaction of the Emirates’ footballing establishment was even more shocking. Srecko Katanec – an ex-Yugoslav international who is a former manager of the Slovenian and Macedonian national squads, and presumably no stranger to flair – substituted Awana immediately, while team manager Esmaeel Rashed termed the action ‘disrespectful’ and warned: ‘There are many forms of punishment. We could send him away from the team. We could make him pay a fine.’
In the end, no further disciplinary action was meted out to a repentant Awana, but for Mediolana this incident is all too symbolic of so much of modern football, a sport which at times seems devoid of skill, originality and joy. That a young player can be reprimanded for doing something unexpectedly brilliant is nothing short of perverse, and the conclusions that could be logically inferred frightening. Would Antonín Panenka‘s breathtaking chipped winning penalty for Czechoslovakia against West Germany in the 1976 European Nations Cup final be deemed permissible by such standards? Would the arbiters of ‘respect’ annul Hélder Postiga‘s sublime, nerveless slow-motion spot-kick against England at Euro 2004?
Indeed, when colourful play is effectively criminalised by managers and bureaucrats, why need football bother itself with embellishments such as Zinedine Zidane’s ‘Marseille Roulette‘, Johan Cruyff’s ‘Cruyff Turn‘ or the ‘flip-flap‘ so beloved of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ronaldinho? We could then inhabit a soccer universe whose parameters are defined by the ilk of Charles ‘Charlie’ Hughes, the erstwhile Director of Coaching at the English Football Association, who promulgated the gospel of scoring goals with a maximum of three passes in the build-up. It would be more efficient and perhaps ‘respectful’. But would it be football?