FOOTBALL is full of what ifs.
What if Harry Kane got his sight lines marginally out when he lined up his belting first goal against Borussia Dortmund?
What if Frank de Boer had got his first point as Crystal Palace manager when Scott Dann had the chance to equalise at Burnley?
And, when it comes to the really serious stuff, what if Mark Sampson is telling the truth?
That Sampson’s account of his exchanges with Eni Aluko, who accused him of racism, discrimination and bullying, are correct.
That his recollection, his memory of the events leading up to Aluko’s complaint to the FA, is more accurate than hers. No one is accusing Aluko of lying and neither am I.
Katharine Newton, the barrister appointed by the FA to investigate Aluko’s raft of complaints, accepted his version of events over hers on balance. Nobody else seems to.
The England women’s head coach is fair game at the minute.
Anybody with a grievance against Sampson — and they are queuing up to bash him — is coming forward with another damaging allegation.
Drew Spence, Aluko’s Chelsea team-mate, joined in yesterday submitting evidence backing up her claims.
Sampson was cleared on all counts by Newton but no one is listening.
You can be sure, despite the butter-wouldn’t-melt approach he has taken since the allegations surfaced, life is pretty miserable for him right now.
His approach — deny, deny, deny — is not unusual or uncommon.
The FA have rallied in the kind of colonial way you would expect of an organisation heavily influenced by mainly white, mainly greying, mainly middle class employees.
They have handled this as badly as you would expect but there is no rulebook for handling and no right way of dealing with a subject as sensitive as this. Somebody will always feel wronged.
With Aluko’s direct allegation of racism — the inflammatory claim that Sampson made a joke about her family bringing the Ebola virus to England — Sampson’s reputation has been shredded.
The endless innuendo, the whispering, the doubting, will have far-reaching effects on his career aspirations. He is tainted now.
Sampson has not helped or endeared himself with his reaction.
His impassive, emotionally-devoid and frankly painfully stage-managed appearance at St George’s Park on Tuesday was, at best, odd.
He spoke as if he was wired to a lie detector, playing cat and mouse as if this was some elaborate game.
Sampson’s smug, sneering attitude towards legitimate questions about his alleged exchanges with Aluko are not helping. As a performance, it was far from impressive. Very few people accused of using language as offensive as that against a black, female footballer would react with ice in their veins.
Sampson, cool as you like, is sticking to the plan: say nothing and deny everything.
He even claims not to have an opinion on whether a “joke” about the Ebola virus, in any situation, is racist, unacceptable or plain insulting.
There are some inconsistencies but, three years on from the alleged “Ebola” incident in November 2014, Sampson cannot possibly be expected to remember every move, every conversation he has been involved in since.
Unthinkably, he says there is still a route back to the England set-up for Aluko under his management. There is nothing like saying the right thing in a difficult moment but that is ridiculous.
He has convinced himself he has done nothing wrong, dealing with the accusations by keeping things simple.
Whatever the outcome, he will always be remembered as the man accused of racially insulting England striker Eni Aluko and making an unacceptable remark to rookie full-back Drew Spence.
I cast nothing at Aluko — memories can be mistaken. What, though, if Sampson just has a better memory and has been telling the truth?
Virgil feels travel sick
VIRGIL VAN DIJK has already looked up the date of Southampton’s next Under-23 away game.
The defender, valued at more than £70million by Saints, was forced to play for the kids at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium in a 4-0 defeat to Aston Villa last Monday.
It is safe to say Van Dijk, denied moves to Liverpool and Chelsea in the summer transfer window, was far from happy.
The Dutchman, who has not played for the first XI since January, fears the club are deliberately making life awkward for him after he was forced to stay.
They put him on the team bus last Monday, telling him to play with the youngsters in a Premier League 2 match.
Saints’ Under-23s face Stoke at their Staplewood campus on Monday, but then have a 300-mile round trip to Aggborough Stadium in Kidderminster.
If he is forced to travel, expect aggro at Aggborough.
ONE of Roy Hodgson’s biggest qualities is his ability to manage the boardroom figures as well as the dressing room.
That delicate balance is difficult for any head coach but Hodgson is a master in the art of diplomacy with directors.
Now he is manager of Crystal Palace, his relationship with chairman Steve Parish will be the most important at the club.
Jose, hold your horses
THE Special One went way over the top when he accused his Manchester United players of finishing their 3-0 Champions League romp against Basel “playing PlayStation football”.
It was only last month, when they hit three in four minutes to batter Swansea 4-0, when he claimed he “let the horses run free”.
After burying Basel on their return to the Champions League, Jose Mourinho could have reined it in.
Gaz might run out
IVAN GAZIDIS is playing the waiting game at Arsenal as he considers a return to America with MLS.
The club’s £2.5million-a-year chief executive was marginalised in the summer when boss Arsene Wenger agreed a new two-year deal with owner Stan Kroenke.
Gazidis, 53, was in the mood for change last season but Wenger outmanoeuvred him when he went direct to Kroenke to discuss his new contract.
It undermined Gazidis’ position and the offer to return to the States is becoming more attractive by the day.
Keep up to date with ALL the transfer news and gossip on our blog