Fawning over Lacazette’s ‘powerful’ statement & tenuous link to star performance undermine football’s already-phoney war on racism
Just before kick-off, the Gunners took the knee as their opponents Sparta Prague stood defiantly.
Rather than perform his protest act on the edge of the semi-circle, however, the Frenchman got as far as he could to the Czechs.
More or less on the halfway line, Lacazette looked his opposition – who have recently had Onrej Kudela banned for 10 matches by governing body UEFA, after being found guilty of racially abusing Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara – directly in the eye.
Alexandre Lacazette stared directly at Slavia Prague’s players as he took the knee before scoring twice in Arsenal’s 4-0 Europa League win. pic.twitter.com/lWLbmhzyno— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 15, 2021
With Lacazette particularly excellent by bagging a brace in the 4-0 quarterfinal second leg tie, the impact of the gesture has been predictably overblown.
One pundit said that he "became a symbol of Arsenal's strength as power of the knee rocked Slavia to their core", while fans on social media suggested that the tie had already been won there and then.
Arsenal fans can take a lot of pride in what Lacazette did tonight pic.twitter.com/jlvjUmdBNS— James Benge (@jamesbenge) April 15, 2021
Rangers also took a knee against Prague, and though none of their players put themselves in an advanced, more provocative spot, that didn't stop them from being beaten 2-0 at home and 3-1 on aggregate.
It had little effect in preventing Kudela from allegedly calling Kamara a "f*cking monkey" either, and Prague's ultras then brandishing a banner days later that branded him "just a n*gga".
This is not to devalue the taking of the knee as a whole, or compare it to other gestures.
But even Rangers themselves decided they would instead stand with bitter rivals Celtic in the latest installment of what is arguably football's fiercest derby, the Old Firm, in a rare show of unity against UEFA's lack of action up to that point.
However relatively light, punishment for Kudela followed, while elsewhere black stars such as Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha have also taken alternative measures.
“I think the meaning behind the whole thing is becoming something that we just do now. That’s not enough. I’m not going to take the knee,” he explained before becoming the first Premier League player to back out.Also on rt.com ‘Why must I kneel down?’ Premier League star Zaha calls Black Lives Matter ‘degrading’ as he slams football’s ‘tick box’ tokenism
“We are trying to say we are equal but these things are not working,” Zaha added.
“Unless there’s change, don’t ask me about it. Unless action is going to happen I don’t want to hear about it.”
A legend at Lacazette's club, Thierry Henry is currently deep into a social media boycott for the lack of action taken towards those who racially abuse others, in an indicator that things need to go beyond the knee.Also on rt.com ‘Using it as a weapon’: Arsenal icon Henry says he’ll return to social media only ‘when it’s safer’
And while we can safely presume that someone like Henry would have been proud of what his compatriot did, the fawning over Laca's protest does little to improve or challenge football's phoney war on racism.
The number 9 provided powerful imagery, but symbolism only goes so far.
There are sympathizers for Kudela among Slavia's number, although it seems doubtful Lacazette would have “rocked” them to their “core”.
And while the targetman has every right to use the debacle and his own action as fuel for an outstanding continental display, linking it to victory and gushing over yet more symbolism will hardly help football win the battle it faces.
By Tom Sanderson