James Lawton: Henson beware: Botham had a unique ability to hit the tiles and the heights

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It is way too late for Gazza, probably for Gavin Henson and possibly even Danny Cipriani, who is a mere 23 years old.

However, for most anyone else involved in the celebrity-style risking of exceptional talent there is something they might do which could prove extremely helpful.

They could get hold of a new book that quite harrowingly at times explores the extraordinary achievements of arguably one of the three or four most charismatic figures ever to explode across the face of British sport.

The key point here is that beyond the extraordinary achievements of Sir Ian Botham, and quintessentially his Ashes-winning century at Headingley 30 years ago – "The Aussies said it was a slog and they were right, but it was a great slog" – the most striking fact is not his glory, and that there were times when it seemed to stalk almost his every stride on a cricket field, but that he survived.

This re-examined life of Botham thus has one overwhelming message. It is that only such a natural force of a man could have carried the burdens he placed upon himself – and then only just. Lesser specimens should simply not apply.

There is neither space nor time to list here all those who have embraced catastrophically Botham's view that he could live his life precisely as he wanted without forfeiting any of the gifts that had been given to him so bounteously.

Now, if we are looking for convenient bookends for the most forlorn examples of this sports celebrity syndrome we could start with the tragic George Best and get right up to to date with Henson's problems in Toulon and Cipriani's latest nightclub escapade Down Under.

In between, and throughout his amazing career, Botham broke most of the rules normally imposed upon themselves by epic achievers.

He was contemptuous of physical preparation, even at critical points of a story which frequently teetered towards both disaster and disgrace, and in his ill-starred reign as captain of Somerset one of his ideas for pre-match stimulation was large supplies of ice cream doused in tequila.

His drinking and larking and fighting, and his pomp and his insecurity, were rarely less than prodigious. An insomniac, he was frequently turned down by some battle-weary companion invited to share a final bottle of red to greet the dawn.

He performed heroics with hangovers which would have prevented most of us safely crossing the road.

He imperiled a remarkably resilient marriage. He lined up against himself more or less the entire cricket establishment. In Australia, while playing for Queensland, his lack of personal discipline shocked even the naturally anarchic natives.

In the end his huge physical and competitive strength was battered to breaking point but of course this didn't prevent him walking vast distances across the land, and the Alps, on behalf of a leukemia charity. This made him a rebel with a cause that he prosecuted with such passion that it overwhelmed some initial cynicism.

It is a staggering story, extremely well told by author Simon Wilde, but it does not always make the cheeriest reading.

This is because it is hard to keep out haunting images of all those talented celebrity sportsmen who could never last anything like Botham's outrageous course, who were unable to walk away to the enviable life of a working-class boy who had become a household name, a country gentleman, a giant in the cricket world maintaining a comfortably full-blooded life as a popular TV commentator and an after-dinner speaker rumoured to have earned a middle-sized king's ransom on the most recent Ashes tour.

Botham came through; he stayed on his feet, he emerged from all kind of distraction, not least the suggestion of his sometime agent Tim Hudson that he had the potential to become either a Hollywood star or a slugger/relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, or maybe all three at the same time.

But Botham survived because enough people – and not least his brainy England captain Mike Brearley – believed sufficiently in the strength of his nature.

Most astonishingly, Botham was able to take giant strides through the kind of self-inflicted mayhem that so shortened the career of Best and ruined Paul Gascoigne and now represents such a threat to the careers of such as Henson and Cipriani.

This was partly because his will was strong enough to keep at arm's length, at least for most of the time, the worst of his vulnerability.

Best was consumed by the dawning age of sports celebrity. Gazza was made dysfunctional by the glare of the spotlight. Soon after his emergence at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, when his career at Tottenham was in crisis, when he was too tired to train but not to record the prophetically titled Fog on the Tyne he was smuggled into the BBC studios in the boot of a car. He was told in front of the nation by Terry Wogan, "Don't worry about your critics, just make as much money as you can while you can."

You had to fear for Gazza then as you do for the likes of Henson and Cipriani today. Henson's latest crisis was provoked, with massive irony, by his sneering criticisms of Jonny Wilkinson, whose relentless marshalling of his talent down the years has represented an ultimate antidote to the disease of celebrity.

What might the hugely talented Henson have achieved with such a turn of mind – or Cipriani, who lost the chance of his first cap for England by appearing in a nightclub when he should have been in bed? Cipriani had a press agent before a serious foothold at the top of his game.

Botham was only slightly older when he was given a column in The Sun. He casually abused it, of course, just as he did his most prodigious talent. This didn't prevent him making 5,200 Test runs and claiming 383 wickets and becoming the world-beating all-rounder for which England, 20 years on, still pine.

How could he do it on a thousand follies, countless brainstorms, desperate angst, buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and ice cream and tequila? Because he was a natural born giant – and the direst warning to any pygmy rival mad enough to try to walk in his footsteps.

Ian Botham – The Power and the Glory, by Simon Wilde, Simon & Schuster, £20

It is time Wenger learnt that success postponed may be fatally delayed

A little while after high noon tomorrow they are staging at the Emirates Stadium a Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United. This is so much the least of it that it might just warrant a small challenge under the Trades Description Act.

What we have, in fact, is another moral investigation of two very talented but hugely separated football teams. They are divided by the understanding of their managers, at least publicly, of quite what constitutes a successful season.

Arsenal's Arsène Wenger (below) remains insistent that however distressingly negative the evidence, one season leads seamlessly into another and somewhere, some time, there will be success on the other side of the rainbow.

United's Sir Alex Ferguson, by way of the sharpest contrast, believes that it is essential to live in the moment; that success postponed may be fatally delayed.

It is not often that such radically differing views of football reality are shoe-horned into 90 minutes of potentially pivotal action. Or that we have quite such a powerful sense that one of the theories – Wenger's – has maybe never been closer to breaking point.

If United, who seem certain to return to London for the Champions League final next month, beat Arsenal for a third straight time this season they are just a breath or two away from a record-breaking 19th title. Arsenal's best hope is to postpone a moment of bitter truth. Either way, new owner Stan Kroenke will surely demand that Wenger reinvents both his team and himself, though not necessarily in that order.

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