James Lawton: Palacios’ conduct is a lesson for others
Wilson Palacios is known here only as a splendid midfield operator, quick and strong and with a fine eye for attacking opportunities who is spoken of with affection and admiration by the two English managers for whom he has performed with nothing less than good-hearted effort and great professionalism.
There is, however, some knowledge of where he comes from, which is very helpful in understanding how it was that his behaviour last weekend in the face of a terrible family tragedy shone with touching humility and stoicism and in such contrast to that of some of his more famous co-workers.
Palacios, one of five football-playing brothers who are now four after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of 16-year-old Edwin, is from Honduras, where more than half the seven million odd inhabitants live below the poverty line and the trials of life include being very careful about how you express support for a particular political party, on account of not wanting to finish up bullet-riddled in a neighbouring mangrove swamp, and hurricanes which periodically flatten towns, knock down bridges and spread disease.
This certainly puts into perspective Palacios's decision to wait out the night in the lobby of a Liverpool hotel until he deemed it an acceptable hour to wake his Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp with the news of the discovery of his brother's body — and seek clearance to fly home to be among his family.
Redknapp's account was, perhaps not surprisingly, touched with a degree of awe. He was a little stunned by the consideration shown to him by the 24-year-old player, and no doubt this reaction was heightened considerably a few hours later when he was informed of the alleged conduct of another of his players, Ledley King, outside a Soho nightclub.
Redknapp, who spends quite a bit of his time monitoring the condition of King's injury afflicted knees, can only have been further saddened by the charge that the England player, after throwing out racist insults, had been at pains to point out the sharply different wage scales enjoyed by a Premier League superstar and an overweight doorman.
Some Manchester United fans may also have noted a contrast between Palacios's control and the self-indulgent emotions of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, who between them couldn't muster a fraction of the respect for their manager Sir Alex Ferguson that the man from Honduras gave to Redknapp.
Of course the parallels here are far from exact and making a paragon of Palacios at the expense of the others is to create all kinds of hostages to fate. However, we have not been exactly inundated recently with evidence that the average football star has much sense of the world beyond his own generous slice of it.
Palacios's behaviour implied something quite different. It spoke of great respect for his manager and, perhaps, some idea of the magnitude of the good fortune that he enjoyed on his journey from the coastal town of El Ceiba, first to Red Star, Belgrade, where a satisfactory contract was not forthcoming, and then a trial at Arsenal and a firm recommendation from Arsene Wenger to Steve Bruce at Birmingham City. Bruce, who eagerly took Palacios to Wigan Athletic and then sold him to Spurs only with great reluctance, says, "Wilson is a tremendous pro, the kind of player you want to build a team around.”
The fact that the Palacios family paid a ransom demand of around £125,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to save the boy gives one insight into the harshness, and precariousness of life in Wilson's homeland. Others were available back in November 1981, when Honduras, the home nation in a Concacaf knock-out tournament, played their way, for the only time, into the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, along with fierce rivals El Salvador, with whom the world's only fully-fledged 'football war' had been fought 12 years earlier.
There were other factors, including border problems created by the civil war in El Salvador, but it just happened that matters boiled over at the time of a match between the nations and rioting by the fans. It was also true that if you wanted to see football as a metaphor for escape, and hopes, beyond a mean and dangerous life, those games up on the hill in the old stadium in the capital of Tegucigalpa in 1981 served well enough.
This all happened before Wilson Palacios was born, but then the odds are that as he sat in the plush chair of his superior Liverpool hotel, and waited for the dawn to signal the time to call his manager, he reflected that some things do not change. Not so much, anyway, that some men don't still have much better reasons than others to celebrate their good luck.