Chris McGrath: Wilkinson's new-age philosophy faces up to ancient truth of pain

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The Independent Online

Even Jonny Wilkinson must be tempted to kick the cat at the moment, but a couple of things seem likely to hold him back. Most pertinent, perhaps, is the question whether his other leg could bear the weight, following the latest, excruciating chapter in his injury saga. But he might also hesitate lest the cat turned out to be the one belonging to Schrödinger.

Thanks to Wilkinson's new autobiography, even tight-head props are becoming conversant with Schrödinger's cat. True, many of us remain bewildered by a concept that appears to have been jointly authored by Socrates, Heath Robinson and the Gestapo. The credit has instead been given to an Austrian quantum physicist named Erwin Schrödinger, whose hypothesis involves a cat, a steel chamber, a Geiger counter, and a flask of hydrocyanic acid. The question is whether the cat in the chamber is alive, dead, or even both at once. A personal temptation is to favour the alternative position, which is that the cat is bloody annoyed.

Wilkinson, anyhow, seems to have discovered a true epiphany in this same feline. Helped also by an interest in Buddhism, he has shed the corrosive, morbid obsessions of old, and those who know him say that he has achieved a marvellous equilibrium. Since his latest comeback, last month, the sacred nimbus he acquired in 2003 has seemed increasingly ethereal, that new mane of hair giving him a decided look of Aslan. No doubt there will be those in the clubhouse bar who cheerfully conclude that the man is off his rocker. But the reality is that Wilkinson has simply rebuilt the epic fortitude they have admired so long, putting all the jagged pieces back together so that they are as smooth and solid as marble.

Before disappearing into a ruck at Kingsholm on Tuesday, Wilkinson had kicked 14 out of 14 penalties this season. Sadly, however, no inner renewal can guarantee against the abiding frailties that menace every athlete. And the image of rugby's broken messiah hopping off the field – arms spread, cruciform, across the shoulders of his aides – distilled the dread that seemed to suffuse the sporting week.

At exactly the same time Wilkinson lay stricken, another model professional, Paul Scholes, was being carried out of a Danish arena on a litter after suffering a knee injury of his own. The next evening it was Didier Drogba's turn to fall before sport's capricious scythe, his authentic distress contrasting mercilessly with the melodramas he has sometimes perpetrated. Then, on Thursday, the quicksilver Harlequin, David Strettle – whose feet are the lightest in the business but also, seemingly, the most fragile – broke down yet again.

Danny Cipriani suffered a more grotesque injury than any of these in April, and there was an irresistible sense of choreography to the way he returned on the very day Wilkinson's dislocated knee was diagnosed. To some hope will spring eternal in Cipriani – whose recovery, two months ahead of schedule, is as freakish as his talent. But to others his first, crude setback only confirms his vulnerability to the malicious fortunes that have so persecuted Wilkinson.

It may well be that rugby players nowadays are too big, fit and fast for their mutual good. If so, they merely amplify the latent hazards embraced by so many athletes. Even those who lazily caricature all Premier League footballers as pampered, conceited louts (and for every Joey Barton there are several, say, Brian McBrides) must acknowledge how tragically thin can be the ice upon which they pirouette for our pleasure. All vanity, and all beauty, may ultimately count for nothing – whether in one, ugly moment or in the sort of insidious attrition that ended the career of Marco van Basten.

Fabio Capello himself sobbed freely in the dugout the day Van Basten, with a pulverised ankle, jogged round San Siro to wave farewell to the Milan fans. Yet several times already this season it has seemed as though the harrowing injury to Eduardo in February has made not the slightest difference to the sensibilities of his fellow professionals.

Tomorrow, Danny Guthrie is available again for Newcastle after serving a routine three-match suspension for the tackle that broke Craig Fagan's leg last month. In contrast to Martin Taylor, whose anguish was almost as plain as Eduardo's after his clumsy lunge, Guthrie's ambush was a matter of unalloyed savagery.

None of these could hope for a better paradigm than Wilkinson. Nor could he face a more sadistic test of his new, inner strength. Their calling has its own, daily paradox, in that even the most unbreakable spirit can only be housed in flesh and bone. So does Wilkinson live on, as a sporting icon? Is he dead? Is he both at once? Whatever else he might have gained from that blessed cat, the only thing he really needs is a ninth life.

FA should close door on Spurs for fans' vile Campbell jibes

It is hard to believe that any repression of free speech can desecrate human dignity quite as vilely as did those Tottenham fans who disgraced their club at Portsmouth last Sunday.

Sol Campbell's supposed apostasy in leaving Spurs for Arsenal in 2001 has caused a collective abrogation of civilised values no less infamous than the racist chants against Emile Heskey when England played Croatia last month. After Fifa fined the Croatian Football Federation just £15,000, there were many proper expressions of indignation. In the present instance, however, neither the police nor the Football Association have so far shown much appetite for setting a bolder example.

Hard though it would be on the decent majority, the FA should require Tottenham to play their next home game behind closed doors. Mind you, the way they are playing, few fans would seem likely to consider that much of a punishment.

Wenger on red alert for birth of Maradona's grandson


There is no more glamorous striker in Europe just now than Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero, who scored another brilliant goal against Marseilles during the week. Atletico Madrid's game against Barcelona tonight is duly being billed as a showdown between Aguero and his friend and Argentine compatriot, Lionel Messi.

And it is now being reported that Aguero's fiancée, Giannina, is pregnant – with a boy. If that proves to be the case, it is a very exciting moment for the science of eugenics.

Giannina's father is Diego Maradona. Little wonder if the Atletico chairman has joked about waiting outside the labour ward with a contract. Even if he has to disguise himself as a nurse, however, surely Arsène Wenger will get there first.

Darius Vassell missed a number of games after drilling through a toenail with a power drill to relieve pressure on a swollen toe. The DIY surgery ended with the infected toe requiring medical attention.

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