The Last Word: A rare Angel among the callous Saints
How Rangel's charitable gesture contrasts with the graceless world of men like Nicola Cortese
Sunday 20 January 2013
Modern football is so devoid of grace and goodness, despite its affluence and acceptance as a global phenomenon, that a single act of compassion and common decency has made Angel Rangel, Swansea's Spanish defender, a candidate for canonisation.
He was as surprised as anyone by the extent of the praise for his gesture, in driving for an hour though the snow in South Wales on Friday evening to deliver sandwiches, which would have otherwise been consigned to a refuse skip, to a charity shelter for the homeless.
It was a spur-of-the-moment undertaking, prompted by what was literally a throwaway line by a shopkeeper who served Rangel and his wife, Nikki, just as he was about to close for the night and dump food that would be beyond its sell-by date when he reopened.
Countless people, whose lives are not considered as notable or newsworthy as that of a professional footballer in an age of vacuous celebrity, are similarly selfless. Yet it was the timing of Rangel's action, and its incongruity given the perception of the modern player as an asinine, amoral opportunist, which had such resonance.
Rangel and Southampton's chairman, Nicola Cortese, are, in the loosest sense, economic migrants. Each came from Europe to forge a career in English football, and have worked assiduously to progress to the Premier League from League One. Spiritually, they inhabit different planets.
Cortese's sacking of Nigel Adkins, hours before Rangel's charitable endeavour, understandably enraged the football community. It was conspicuously callous and counter-intuitive, because of Southampton's run of only two defeats in 12 games, and will deepen disillusion.
It is not unusual for an incoming manager to prepare clandestinely for weeks to take over from the unwitting victim of his latent ambition. Few are as brazen or unguarded as Mauricio Pochettino, who admitted his part in the charade through an ill-starred interpreter.
Supporters planning to protest at tomorrow night's home game against Everton used social media to recycle Matthew Le Tissier's condemnation of Cortese as "not a very nice human being". The Italian, a former investment banker who has run Southampton since overseeing the clubs's acquisition by the late Markus Liebherr in 2009, is deeply unpopular among his staff.
Moralising here in the toy department is perilous, but in sport, as in life, we are judged not by what we do but by who we are. Adkins is a thoroughly decent human being. That, alone, will not get him his next job, but it is written in invisible ink on his CV. It will be a convincing point of reference.
Football is aggressively self- regarding, especially in the billionaire's ghetto of the Premier League. It sees itself as the centre of the sporting universe, the sun around which lesser bodies revolve.
As the sporting world peers into the heart of darkness and recoils from the cadaver that is Lance Armstrong, it can recalibrate. The thought took hold when I shared a radio programme with Scott Mercier, who left cycling rather than submit to Armstrong's doping programme.
Mercier spoke powerfully and passionately of "the ethical resurgence" slowly reshaping sport in North America. It remains grotesquely commercialised, but is starting to listen to its conscience.
The decision to refuse Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens entry into baseball's Hall of Fame because of their associations with the steroid era was a stunning rebuke.
Imagine a similar snub to David Beckham and Michael Owen (whose characters are unblemished, before m'learned friends get too excited) and you will have an indication of the depth of distaste.
Rangel is a credit to his family, a man who acts on his core beliefs. That does not make him a saint, but it gives him rarity value in the game that gives him a great living. For that, at least, football should be thoroughly ashamed.
Cameras in scrums – do not panic!
The Bufton Tufton Tendency, antediluvian committee men who still believe they are the guardians of rugby union's conscience, will not be happy.
Modernity, in the form of access-all-areas coverage, is the inevitable consequence of commercial reality in the small print of BT's new TV deal for the English game.
Rugby, like any sport, has a mission to explain. Its rules are so arcane and complex that even cauliflower-eared veterans are often dazed and confused.
I have no association with BT's plans although, in the interests of clarity, I host football vodcasts for them.
Change encourages insecurity, and will be difficult to leverage, but rugby will benefit from greater transparency.
It has already led the way with Ref Link headsets, which enable spectators to hear the referee during international matches. These offer insight for the uninitiated and the educated alike.
Whether Premiership coaches will be sufficiently trusting to share their gameplans, a tradition in TV coverage of the NFL, remains to be seen.
They are inherently competitive creatures, and a couple of bad results will jeopardise the concept of unprecedented scrutiny.
Cameras in the scrums? Interviews with players in the sin-bin? Small earthquake in Twickenham, no one really hurt.
Cut it out Rory
Rory McIlroy's bromance with Tiger Woods involves missing the cut in Abu Dhabi, and trousering a seven-figure appearance fee. He has 156 million reasons never to be normal again, but might care to study Woods and subvert their sponsor's slogan: Don't do it.
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