Sport Soccer

Sunday 17 December 2017

Stephen Hunt: Public spat contrasts sharply with Rio Ferdinand’s public pain

Rio Ferdinand with his late wife Rebecca
Rio Ferdinand with his late wife Rebecca
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

It is embarrassing. It is petty. It tarnishes the FAI, it tarnishes Everton, and it tarnishes the supporters from Ireland who support Everton.

Why don’t Martin O’Neill and Ronald Koeman just man-up, pick up the phone and sort it out privately? It didn’t need to get to the stage where it is public and out there for everybody to see.

It is their business. They get paid to look after the coaching and football side of their teams and they should be able to keep their differences private and sort them out. I cannot see any benefit in carrying it on and letting the ill-feeling linger.

John Delaney has a role to play here too. Koeman and O’Neill might be the two most powerful guys in the two companies, but you cannot let them carry on like this.

They are two very stubborn managers who will not want to concede anything in this row. It would be to the benefit of Everton and Ireland to maintain a good relationship and sort this out, but it won’t be easy. I have always said the best managers are stubborn and I can’t see Koeman or O’Neill backing down.

While Koeman and O’Neill were playing out this circus in public, Rio Ferdinand was also going public, but in a very different way.

Ronald Koeman had ANOTHER pop at Martin O'Neill after defeat at Anfield

When Ferdinand was at his peak with Manchester United he used to wreck my head with the way he celebrated a United goal and wanted to be the centre of attention.

He’d usually be the last to join the celebrations, as the centre-back, and it seemed every time he arrived on the scene, he would leap on the back of the huddle of players and raise his hands to the crowd as if to say, ‘Look at me’.

There were parts of last week’s documentary, Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, on BBC1 which felt a bit like that. Nice house, lovely kids, place in Portugal, trips all over the world. He has done well out of the game and he’s comfortable showing it off.

It was brave to open his life to a film crew. But the documentary wasn’t about Rio Ferdinand. It was about delivering a message, to people in similar, if not much worse situations, that help is available.

I am a firm believer Ferdinand has got his rewards from football for a reason. It was not handed on a plate to him. Ferdinand got to the top of the game through hard work and dedication and sacrifice. Don’t be fooled by the talent of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. They worked hard to become the best players in the world.

Ferdinand was one of the best English defenders in the Premier League era. He is blessed that he happened to be fortunate enough to do it when the game paid him very handsomely as a result.

The film took him back to the flats where he grew up in London and it proved how dedicated he and his family were to his football career. And he had to stay very focused to move away from a difficult environment. He knows how tough life can be.

It showed how powerful footballers can be in portraying a positive image of the game. Players are human. They care, and want to do good things for the fans, beyond just playing, and give something back to those less fortunate.

By bringing in other dads, Ferdinand was able to reach out to men who could share his pain and showed they’re not alone. It brought home to any father in a relationship how he would cope.

The media are very quick to criticise footballers and scrutinise their lives and lifestyles and jump all over them if they step out of line and rightly so in some instances. The occasional idiot brings it on himself.

I felt it at the Cheltenham Festival this year. As ever, I went down for the crack, entertainment and hospitality and mixed with other ex- and current footballers. But I couldn’t relax — constantly people were watching us. It was all down to those lads who’d urinated in glasses and chucked them from the balcony. They let the whole game down and we were all tarred with the same brush as a consequence. That’s what the top echelons of the racing world thinks of the modern-day professional footballer and their crowd.

The programme was powerful, and makes you realise there are people in every walk of life, suffering under similar circumstances as Ferdinand, who don’t have the money to pay the bills and won’t be able to afford the luxury holiday to help ease the pain. It hit everybody who watched it. And my main thought as I watched was there are so many bereft parents out there who are left to look after their kids, with no money and very little support. It’s heartbreaking.

And it was hard to watch Ferdinand trying to cope with his grief and trying to bring up his kids. Hopefully someone out there, who recognised his story and his pain, can take something positive from it.

It was airing while I was at a game and social media was like wildfire, so as soon as I got back to the house I put it on. My wife had already watched it, and she very rarely watches any football-related documentary. She found it touching and moving, and Ferdinand came across well, as a really genuine fella, and a loving dad. “But it proves money can’t bring you happiness,” she said.

We’re coming to the time of year when players are being told of their impending release by clubs, or whether they will get a new contract. It is a really hard time for players of all ages, but especially the younger ones who are not being kept on by clubs, many after several years with their academies.

A young lad I know has just been released. He’s from a nice background and I’m really fond of him and I have a responsibility to find him a club where he will get the best opportunity to succeed.

Seamus Coleman will be spending some time in Ireland now as he starts the long journey back to full fitness and getting his career on track again. It will have been a long first week. No-one wants to be in hospital, coming to terms with such a serious injury on your own for hours.

But he is surrounded by the right people and in the right place to forget about football for a while and enjoy his family. He can’t do much more right now so has to make the most of it. When the hard work starts, Seamus will be ready.

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