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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Neal Maupay: Royalty among Premier League wind-up merchants

We all knew someone like Neal Maupay at school.

The kid who would flick someone on the ear and then run off cackling. The kid who would shout “bum” at random inopportune moments in assembly. The kid who would pull chairs out from underneath classmates as they sat down. There is always a Neal Maupay.

Sometimes Maupay wins, sometimes, as on Wednesday night, he loses. But he always tries.

As in, he tries to be the most awkward, irksome and devious opponent possible. He winds up players, he winds up officials, he winds up fans. And he does it all on purpose.

In case you missed it, Maupay was at his mischievous best at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Wednesday evening, mimicking Tottenham playmaker James Maddison’s darts celebration after giving Brentford an early lead, then just generally being a bit of an arse as he picked fights (not actual fights, obviously, this is football after all, just pretend fights) and made a nuisance of himself.

“He probably hasn’t scored enough goals in the last couple of years for his own celebration, so he probably had to copy mine,” Maddison said after the game.

The pair had a bit of a tete-a-tete, with Maddison ‘playfully’ slapping Maupay on the back as they exchanged words.

It was clearly not just Maddison who was irked by the Frenchman. Brennan Johnson and Richarlison both ‘did the Maddison’ when celebrating their goals in a manner that left no doubt that they were basically taking the mick out of Maupay.

And, in time-honoured fashion, it continued on social media afterwards.

“Went a bit early with that one,” Maupay admitted, the cheeky chappie that he is. “More goals and less relegations in my career than James Maddison. We go again Monday Bees.”

As pointed out by Gary Lineker on Match of the Day, he meant fewer relegations, but you get the point.

Maddison went for it, too, posting a picture of Maupay celebrating, then Maddison and Richarlison celebrating with the caption “a short story”, adding a laughing emoji to indicate that it was funny.

Team-mates and well-wishers chimed in with emoji replies of their own including Johnson, Jude Bellingham, Pedro Porro, Micky van de Ven, Emerson Royal, Jermaine ‘JJ’ Jenas, JD Sports, Marc Albrighton and Transfermarkt. They just couldn’t get enough of the banter. Oh and, of course, Luke Littler, for whom it must have felt almost impossible to not wade in, given this was a story about darts and Maddison.

What have we learned from this episode? Well, life is pretty futile. And that Maupay does his own social media.

But also that, well, beef in football is a good thing, despite the protestations of Ange Postecoglou (“I’m not a fan of it… I don’t like the whole bravado and pushing people around”), and Thomas Frank (“If they’re talking about darts celebration winding them up, then they have an issue.”)

Shithouses, wind-up merchants, whatever you want to call them, Maupay is not the first and will not be the last.

His record is already pretty fulsome, certainly enough to make him a strong candidate to be the Premier League’s most annoying player.

In October, when warming up as a substitute at Stamford Bridge, Maupay stepped onto the pitch and kicked the ball away, stopping Chelsea’s Cole Palmer from taking a free kick.

“It’s ridiculous, so unnecessary,” Scott Minto said when commentating for talkSPORT at the time, ignoring the fact it was pretty funny. Maupay was booked, but ‘had the last laugh’ when he came off the bench to set up Brentford’s second goal in a 2-0 win.

Mimicking goal celebrations is nothing new for Maupay — when Wilfried Zaha cupped his ear to the travelling Brighton fans in 2021 during the don’t-call-it-the-M23 derby against Crystal Palace, Maupay did the same to the home fans when he scored a last-minute equaliser.

“I am just being me,” Maupay said, which, to be honest, says quite a lot. “I do not plan celebrations, I just do it at the moment when I score. That is why my celebrations are good or funny to watch sometimes. It just happens.”

There you go. It just happens, Maupay was born this way.

Maupay cups an ear to the Crystal Palace fans (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

A year earlier came probably the most high-profile incident of Maupay’s career, not least because it came early in ‘Project Restart’ during the pandemic when everyone was watching at home on TV.

A Maupay challenge caused an injury to Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno (leading to Emiliano Martinez being brilliant and Lionel Messi winning the World Cup, of course), then he scored a late winner that led to a bit of a melee at full time (social distancing at its finest) as Matteo Guendouzi grabbed Maupay’s throat, later claiming it was a government-approved party (probably).

Maupay took the dignified moral high ground after the match, saying Arsenal “got what they deserved” and questioning whether they should learn to be humble.

After his next goal, Maupay produced a Kylian Mbappe-style ‘crybaby’ celebration, later saying it was aimed at Arsenal. “It was to give them a shout, really,” he said. Completely unnecessarily continuing the feud. Nice touch.

Leno was understandably enraged by Maupay’s actions in 2020 (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The Arsenal shenanigans continued after he had moved to Everton, with Maupay standing in Oleksandr Zinchenko’s way during a match in February last year, then falling to the ground in classic pantomime-villain style.

For his trouble, he got a finger in the face from Zinchenko and a booking.

He also angered Leeds fans when celebrating a Brentford goal in front of them, one that meant Leeds were not being promoted. He posted a picture of the celebration a year later when it looked like Brentford were about to catch up with Leeds.

That’s the thing with Maupay, it is never just a moment of off-the-cuff s***housery, then forget it and move on with life. No, he doubles down, he makes a note of clubs he has pissed off and makes a point to regurgitate it at a later date. It really is top-level.

Maupay was at it again in December with him and Martinez both throwing themselves to the floor during Brentford’s game against Aston Villa.

Brentford wished Martinez “all the best in your recovery” after Villa boss Unai Emery had insisted Martinez was “very mature” in his conduct. No wonder rugby laughs at football.

Maupay later said that Martinez “should be grateful” as he helped his path to become Argentina’s No 1 from the challenge that caused Leno’s injury.

It should be stressed that there is no suggestion at all that Maupay is not a lovely bloke off the field. On the contrary…

But when he crosses that white line he becomes… Maupay.

Where does Maupay rank in the Premier League’s most annoying players? Well, Martinez himself is right up there.

Historically you can look at your Robbie Savages, your Paul Devlins, your Luis Suarezes, your Diego Costas, your Craig Bellamys. Loved by their own fans, hated by everyone else. Richarlison gets a vote, not least for his keepy-uppies (he even did some in front of Maupay on Wednesday night), in fact so does Maddison.

But Maupay is doing a fantastic job of cementing his reputation as an all-round proper arse.

“I am just making memories and I just love it,” Maupay once said of his on-pitch persona. Yep, we all know a Neal Maupay, love him (if you are a Brentford fan) or hate him (everyone else).

(Top photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

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