Nick Barmby might easily have joined Manchester United rather than Tottenham Hotspur when he left school and prefers to sidestep questions about the early-teens son he has in the Old Trafford system almost two decades on.
Now, as one outstanding career draws towards a close and maybe another starts, the 35-year-old sees none other than the Premier League champions standing this weekend between his home city club and safety. Not a bad final chapter in the story of Hull City's first year as a top-flight club, is it?
"I have been fortunate to play in some very big games in my career but this is right up there with them," said the man (below) bought in his pomp by Middlesbrough for £5.25m, by Everton for £5.75m and by Liverpool for £6m.
"All Hull fans probably had it in their mind that we would need something from the last game if we were to stay up and the stakes now are very high.
"Everyone knows what we have to do and, putting aside the fact I am from Hull, it's a massive game. It's disrespectful to talk about Manchester United perhaps playing a weakened team because they have fabulous players all round and Sir Alex Ferguson says himself this is his strongest ever squad." Twenty-three England caps decorate Barmby's football life but not too many days will have meant more to him than this one. His manager, Phil Brown, refers to the midfielder having almost needed carrying off last week when replaced after a contribution against Bolton Wanderers so whole-hearted that it virtually brought him to his knees.
The standing ovation he received there was a reminder, if any were needed, of why Barmby will be signing for another year on Humberside. And he is much more effusive about his own journey from the likes of local teams Springhead and National Tigers to north London around the time of Gazza, Italia 90 and all that, than he is about an offspring whose development years in the game he regards as a "private family matter".
"I was at United in every school holiday and they're the best club in the world," he added. "I really enjoyed it there and could have signed for them but went to Spurs for a week and going to play for Terry Venables seemed the right thing to do," he added. "I'm happy now for United to win... but hopefully it will be on Wednesday in Rome rather than this weekend."
Barmby was part of the Everton side who drew with Coventry City on the last day of 1997-98 and survived at the expense of a Bolton side beaten by two late goals at Chelsea. Never, given that he appeared in only six games when Leeds United took the drop from the Premier League in 2003-04, has he felt the full-on blow of relegation. And, in the amber and black of the club he supported as a boy, he has no wish to sample it now.
*Tomorrow's referee at the KC Stadium is Alan Wiley, who also took charge of Hull's play-off final win over Bristol City on 24 May last year.Reuse content