Tottenham midfielder Wilson Palacios will have shaken his head more sadly than most as news of the attack on Togo's team bus in Angola spread round the world on Friday. Palacios knows full well the risks that fame as a sports star can bring and only a couple of hours earlier he had been sitting in the comparative comfort of White Hart Lane discussing it.
The chatter among his team-mates after training was whether today's game at Liverpool would be called off. It soon was but such things matter less in the great scheme of things to Palacios since the personal tragedy last year that enables him to treat the sporting rough and smooth more equably than most contemporaries.
It would not have bothered him to be staying in a Merseyside hotel as originally planned yesterday, although it was there last May, prior to Tottenham's game at Everton, that a telephone call at 1am confirmed the news he had long feared: his teenage brother Edwin, missing for 18 months since being kidnapped by gunmen, had been found dead. Palacios waited in the hotel lobby with his suitcase packed until 7am before deeming it reasonable to wake the Spurs manager Harry Redknapp and tell him he needed to return to Honduras.
It is a country where abductions are rife and where the families of well-paid footballers are targets. The brother of Internazionale's David Suazo, who was also a cousin of Wigan's Hendry Thomas, was once kidnapped for three weeks. "It's something which is more prevalent because you're a well-known footballer," Palacios said. "It is a worry. We're hoping things are on the mend [in Honduras]. What we are aware of now is that maybe my family take a bit more care with the way they go about their lives. It's something which is on your mind."
The Honduran international, whose amiability off the pitch belies his mean streak on it, admitted he considered giving up the game. "I came close to retiring but I carried on mainly because my family and close friends told me to keep going." Strong religious faith, which never wavered, also helped. "Never do you doubt. You don't just give up. None of us is here forever and what happened to my brother was terrible but he's in a better place." As for the effect on him and his football: "It's been an extremely tough year, but all you can do is keep focused and moving forward. You have to remember that you're playing for a club by the name of Tottenham Hotspur and you've just got to continue day to day. Everybody's helped me, all the lads, the management and even the directors as well as the coaching staff. It's a nice chance to say thank you for all the help I've had."
If anything else helped, it was the fact that all this happened so close to the end of last season. By August, Palacios was back for an important campaign for club and country, which has so far gone swimmingly well. Spurs, given the positive start that Redknapp wanted, have sat for much of the time in the top four; Honduras, to national rejoicing that led to dinner with the country's president, squeezed into the World Cup finals for the first time since 1982.
Palacios will be a key player for them in South Africa, where being grouped with Spain, Switzerland and Chile was not kind. However tough Honduras find it, the country has suddenly become an attraction for British scouts. Arsenal were among the first on the scene and given their need for a driving powerhouse to complement the midfield passers, Arsène Wenger may regret allowing Palacios to move on after a fortnight's trial. He was generous enough to offer a recommendation to Birmingham, whose manager Steve Bruce became such a convert that he took Palacios to Wigan, describing him as "my best signing in 11 years of management". To Bruce's chagrin, Tottenham's money was too good for either the player or Wigan to resist last January.
Instrumental in their fine 2009, he consoles himself with this thought of his murdered brother: "Not just on the football field but everywhere, we know he is with us all the time."Reuse content