“You’re blowing it now son”
Five little words uttered by Angelo Dundee which Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the greatest strategists ever to grace a boxing ring, credits with inspiring him to success over Tommy Hearns.
Sometimes, in the brutal and unforgiving world of professional sport, it’s not the ability folk possess in their feet or fists which drags them across the finishing line.
Guts, sheer guts, also do.
Sheffield United, who enter their penultimate match of a gruelling campaign battered and bruised by a series of off-the field events in recent weeks, find themselves in one such situation now.
Having spent the past eight months befuddling opponents with a dazzling combination of artistry and firepower, Danny Wilson’s squad are the Leonards of League One. Who will emerge as their Dundee?
Okay, so United’s situation is not quite as desperate as the one the former five weight champion of the world faced entering the 13th round of his historic fight with the Hitman in Las Vegas over three decades ago.
They entertain Stevenage tomorrow second in the table with only two games left to play and knowing that a win, depending upon Sheffield Wednesday’s result at Brentford, could be enough to settle the contest for automatic promotion before the final bell sounds.
But United are shorn of Ched Evans and possibly Richard Cresswell, who have supplied over 40 per cent of their goals in the competition this term, and it would be foolish to acknowledge why many feel the pendulum is swinging towards Hillsborough.
Likewise that Wilson’s players, despite the manager’s best efforts to convince otherwise, looked emotionally drained when, 24 hours after seeing Evans jailed for rape, (a conviction he is now seeking to overturn through appeal), they meandered towards defeat at MK Dons.
United’s minds were on something and most of us can hazard a guess as to what. It wasn’t the challenge ahead at stadium:mk.
That is not an excuse. Nor an attempt to make light of a terrible situation.
Simply an acknowledgement that football, for all our obsession with tactics, formations and technique, is essentially about humans.
Which is why, despite their 27 victories and 88 goals, the most impressive aspect of United’s efforts under Wilson so far has been their resilience.
Their ability to produce results at places like Notts County and Hartlepool knowing that one slip could deal their hopes of returning to the second tier a potentially fatal blow.
Just like Leonard who, having been beaten by Roberto Duran in June 1980, vanquished that defeat five months later by belittling a man so fearsome the late Joe Frazier once likened to Charles Manson.
United, like Leonard, know they have the talent. That destiny lies in their own hands.
And, as Sugar’s story proves, it doesn’t need a tub-thumping speech to remind them of that.
Ultimately, though, they need to discover that inner-strength themselves.
Because that’s what champs do.