Such is sport’s ability to provide an alternative to the grind of Monday to Friday, nine to five, we often elevate its greatest individuals to a higher plane.
These are men and women who are immune to the rigours of everyday life, simply because they form such integral part of our own escapism. So when their vulnerability is exposed, it shocks us.
Alex Ferguson is 76 years old. He is as prone to the ageing process as anyone else. Yet when the news filtered through that the great manager had suffered a brain hemorrhage and required life-saving surgery, it hit hard. This is Fergie, the great survivor.
The thousands of messages of well-wishing and support, from the famous and the fans, epitomise his greatness. This was time for rivalry to be cast aside. Football fans have far more in common than that which divides us. We all wanted a Fergie at our club.
The hope, of course, is that Ferguson makes a full recovery and continues his long retirement.
Yet his health struggle should be a reminder that our sporting heroes are as human as you or I. That doesn’t have to alter our reverence of them, but it should remind us to cherish them while they are with us.
Sam Allardyce’s Everton tenure is becoming a piece of performance art.
Having been roundly booed and derided by Everton’s away support throughout the club’s away win at Huddersfield, the manager proceeded to tell the media this week that he has been guaranteed by Everton to be in charge next season before insisting that he has “captured the hearts and minds” of the majority of the club’s supporters.
If the first claim was questionable, given that Everton are reportedly looking at a number of replacements for Allardyce this summer, the second was ludicrous.
As an answer, chants against Allardyce could be heard regularly during Everton’s miserable home draw with Southampton. The manager can feign selective hearing all he likes, but it won’t change the reality. He is not wanted.
Allardyce might have to fake partial blindness too. After the end of the match, Everton’s players did a lap of the pitch in order to thank home fans for their support across the season.
Comically, most of the appreciation was offered to empty blue seats. Supporters had voted with their feet as well as their voices.
Everton’s only way forward is to make a managerial move before the World Cup, to address this damning mood. Fail to do so, and they slide closer to the bottom of the well.
Mourinho is a not a manager — or man — who has any problem apportioning blame away from his own door. After Manchester United lost their third league match to a promoted club on Friday evening, the manager was swift to attack Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial:
“For 10 months I get asked ‘why always Lukaku? Why always Lukaku? Why always this player? That guy doesn’t have a chance to start, the other one is on the bench’. You know why now.”
Ignoring the resentment such public chastisement is likely to have on the morale of Rashford and Martial, Mourinho is deliberately ignoring his own role in proceedings.
Martial has started four league games in over three months, while this was Rashford’s third in 2018. Does Mourinho really believe starving young players of regular minutes before lambasting them if they don’t perform is really the best approach?
That’s without considering what the purchase of Alexis Sanchez might have done to their confidence.
Rashford is the local lad done good and Martial the former European golden boy. In January, when they hoped for the trust of their manager ahead of a significant period for the club and a summer World Cup, Mourinho bought a readymade replacement for both.
It’s easy to see how this ends, Mourinho selling Martial to another elite club while talking up Rashford’s ability and his own faith in young players but simultaneously keeping him on the fringes of the first team.
Asked to choose between those two attackers and the manager, Mourinho might not like the answer provided by some United fans.
“We will score,” said Swansea City manager Carlos Carvalhal. “I am not worried because I have players who can score. Even if they are not scoring, we achieved goalscoring situations against Chelsea and Everton.
In the Chelsea and Everton games, we deserved much more than we got and I believe in my players and I believe they can score because we have got goalscorers in the team.”
It would be easier to take Carvalhal’s words on face value if Swansea had not just ended their third scoreless match in a row.
They have now scored twice in their last eight matches. More importantly, Carvalhal’s own tactics are not helping. He continues to use a three-man central defence despite it limiting Swansea’s attacking endeavour while hardly managing to keep them watertight.
It’s one clean sheet in the league in three months. Now back into the bottom three for the first time since February 2, Swansea must now either beat Southampton on Tuesday or draw the game and better Saints’ result on the final day.
Having got themselves out of trouble once this season, now Swansea and Carvalhal must do the same again.