Brian Viner: Inside story of Fergie, Coolmore and the Rock would be a surefire best-seller

'Imagine it: Barbara Cartland meets Dick Francis meets John le Carré'
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The Independent Online

In the world of élite sport, not much happens by accident. Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are new best friends, the latter pulling for the former at the Ryder Cup despite being European himself. But don't try telling me that their encounter at Flushing Meadows two weeks ago wasn't engineered by a shrewd executive at Nike, their mutual sponsor, probably with half an eye on a future advertising campaign.

In fact, their mutual admiration society gives me an idea for a television series myself. Woods suggested last week that Michael Schumacher, rather than himself or Federer, is the best sportsman on the planet. So get Schumacher, Federer and Woods to commit to spending a few days together, in which Schumacher teaches Federer and Woods how to drive fast, Federer coaches Woods and Schumacher on the tennis court, and Woods tries to improve the golf games of Federer and Schumacher.

How interesting it would be to see these three remarkable men performing away from their areas of expertise, and to eavesdrop over dinner as they discuss the mental fortitude required to get to the top of their respective sports. The programme could test them on their first day on the court, course and track, then again on their last day, and the one who had made the most progress would get $1m (£540,000) for his charitable foundation.

They wouldn't be able to call it Superstars, of course, that title having been bagged some time ago - and somewhat fraudulently, too. I'll grant you that J P R Williams, Kevin Keegan and even David Hemery might once have been described as superstars, but Tony Knowles? Anyway, maybe they could call this one Megastars. And in return for the idea I'll settle for one per cent of the advertising revenue.

It is always intriguing when close friendships develop across sporting divides. There are tons of newsprint devoted every year to friendships and enmities within the same sports - the tricky relationship between Sir Alex Ferguson and Gordon Strachan was the preoccupation of the media last week, while this week the focus shifted to alleged dealings between Sam Allardyce and various football agents - but we don't hear much about the relationships in sport that are, as it were, interdenominational. Allardyce himself almost engineered an interesting one, inviting Lee Westwood to Bolton's pre-season training camp, although Westwood declined.

Sometimes, simple sexual attraction is the key; Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall spring, or in his case lumber, to mind. But sexual attraction doesn't explain why Phil Taylor and Ricky Hatton are such great mates; at least, I don't think it does. I'd love to hear them discussing the common ground between darts and boxing. There might be more of it than we think.

Sometimes it is the common ground that generates the friendship. It was no great surprise that a hard-drinking brace of Ians, Woosnam and Botham, became close friends. Ditto Ernie Els and Andrew Flintoff. And Sam Torrance got pally with Ferguson following a half-hour phone call before the 2002 Ryder Cup; Torrance, leaving no stone unturned as captain, had sought Fergie's advice on how to encourage a team ethic among a bunch of men with notably different cultures and languages, as well as personalities.

But it is Fergie's friendship with John Magnier and J P McManus, and their subsequent acrimonious falling-out over the stud rights to Rock Of Gibraltar, that is for my money the most fascinating of all contemporary relationships between men from different sporting spheres.

Plenty has been written about it, and yet not nearly enough. A definitive book on the affair would be a surefire best-seller. Imagine it: football, horse racing; Ireland, Scotland; huge wealth, passion, intrigue, bitterness, recriminations, secrecy; and an extraordinarily well-hung hero. Barbara Cartland meets Dick Francis meets John le Carré. Unfortunately, the probability of litigation, launched either by the so-called Coolmore mafia, or by Ferguson, or indeed both, perhaps means that it will remain one of the great untold sporting stories of our time.

All of which brings me to one of the best-told sporting stories of our time, the friendship between the supreme athlete Jesse Owens and the supreme boxer Joe Louis chronicled in Don McRae's superb book In Black & White, a winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year a few years ago.

It's hard to imagine the burgeoning friendship between Woods and Federer sustaining an entire book, but McRae had gold in his grasp and used it brilliantly. Because what Owens and Louis had in common was skin colour, which in that era meant a lifetime of racial discrimination. They dealt with it very differently, but it meant that they shared something visceral as well as their exceptional talent as sportsmen.

Happily, times have changed. When we look at Federer and Woods, we don't see a white man and a black man, but two of the most exceptional sportsmen of all time, who are also pretty impressive as human beings. I have sat in press conferences with both of them when they have been compared with the other, and they both seemed genuinely flattered. It's an oddity of sport that the nearer you get to the mountain top, the more humility you find.

Who I like this week...

The former Wigan and Great Britain rugby league star Andy Gregory, who was attacked by a 12st Rottweiler while out walking his own two dogs, and punched it repeatedly in the face until it let go of him. Like the burglar who unwisely broke into the home of former Everton player Duncan Ferguson, and was duly beaten up, the Rottweiler showed pretty appalling judgement by picking on Gregory, who was never intimidated on the rugby league field and was certainly not going to let it happen down his local park. All the same, the 45-year-old former scrum-half was left with several puncture wounds and some serious bruising. There has been no report on the condition of the Rottweiler, but I'd like to think it's got two black eyes, a broken nose and a post-traumatic stress problem.

And who I don't

Craig Bellamy, who got into a slanging match with Terry McDermott in the tunnel following Wednesday's game between Liverpool and Newcastle United. Apparently, Bellamy started calling the former Anfield favourite names, a situation which for a couple of grown men smacks depressingly of the school playground. But then the 27-year-old Welshman has never given anyone much reason to think that he is a mature and responsible member of society, and Rafa Benitez, his manager, is surely deluding himself if he thinks his personality's going to change just because he's joined the club he supported as a boy.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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