Saints and sinners

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The Independent Online

Stress, the psychologists always tell us, is relative: a captain of industry juggling a multimillion-pound budget and a corner-shop owner with a punitive gas bill are brothers under the skin. Certainly, looking at this afternoon's end-of-season Premiership encounter between Southampton and Manchester United it is difficult to know which of the two managers deserves the greater sympathy.

Stress, the psychologists always tell us, is relative: a captain of industry juggling a multimillion-pound budget and a corner-shop owner with a punitive gas bill are brothers under the skin. Certainly, looking at this afternoon's end-of-season Premiership encounter between Southampton and Manchester United it is difficult to know which of the two managers deserves the greater sympathy.

In the away dug-out, Sir Alex Ferguson, now finds himself employed by a club £300m in debt with an owner whose motives he has publicly questioned. On the home bench, Harry Redknapp will be painfully aware that nothing short of a win and the simultaneous melt-down of three rival teams will guarantee survival.

To point out that both men are millionaires, that their playing staff enjoy lucrative contracts, that sub specie aeternitatis the result matters rather less than Monday's weather forecast is to ignore the gladiatorial substitute that these things have become. Defeat for Southampton, after all, may cost the club £20m. For once the curmudgeonliness with which soccer managers are invariably taxed may be excused. This afternoon, at any rate, Sir Alex's facial contortions and 'Arry's pop-eyed expostulations can be acknowledged for what they are - the proud emblems of a precarious trade.

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