It was everyone’s favourite glamorously-bespectacled ivory-tinkling songsmith Elton John who first told us that sorry seems to be the hardest word.
Apparently it’s a point that he really wanted us to take notice of too, so much so that the ginger maestro felt the need to team up with primary-coloured identikit boyband Blue shortly after the turn of the millennium for an entirely over-produced and completely unnecessary reboot of his 1976 hit. Think LeBron James’ Space Jam in the key of G.
But clearly old Reggie could never have legislated for a free-wheeling apologist of Bruno Fernandes’ ilk. For the Manchester United midfielder, it would appear that sorry is quite some way from being the hardest word – in fact, one could argue that he should think about using it a whole lot less.
Ever since his stoppage time penalty against Aston Villa on Saturday knocked the Hubble Space Telescope off its orbit, the Portuguese star has been on the kind of timid charm offensive usually employed by beloved family pets found sat in a pile of sofa cushion entrails.
Taking to social media after his miss, Fernandes dedicated six paragraphs to letting United fans know just how sorry he was. Six. Quite frankly, that’s ridiculous. There are some scandal-doused politicians who go their whole professional lives without uttering six syllables’ worth of apology, let alone a whole six paragraphs.
And again, just so we don’t lose sight of the fact, we’re talking about a very, very early encounter in a 38-game title race in which Man United are still only one point adrift. This is hardly end of the world stuff.
Granted, Fernandes is allowed to be remorseful for failing to salvage a point against Villa, and sure, the chances of him taking the next spot kick with a certain five-time Ballon d’Or-winning compatriot huffing and puffing down his neck now feel slimmer than a cigarette paper, but c’mon, seriously? A little perspective wouldn’t go amiss. Even Bruno is only human, he’s allowed to make a mistake without it descending into an online circus.
As with anything posted to an A-list athlete’s social media feed, there is, of course, a decent chance that the player himself had nothing to do with the actual penning of the statement. At the very least, there’s a strong possibility that he was advised to make some kind of grovelling beg-pardon by a shiny, faceless PR firm with enough fingers in enough pies to make Sweeney Todd blush. Perhaps that makes it a little bit worse.
Incredibly though, Bruno’s apology wasn’t even the most nauseating thing about the daft affair. Shortly after his post on Instagram started doing the rounds, Man United themselves weighed in with a lovingly-crafted graphic showcasing the scores of condolences he had been sent by his teammates, alongside the caption, “United, always”. It's a shame the club weren’t so big on the notion of unity when they tried to break away and form a European Super League earlier in the year, but hey ho. At least Joel Glazer’s apology came in at a weighty 14 paragraphs.
United are making a habit out of this performative online fraternity too. It was only a couple of weeks ago that they pulled a similar stunt when Jesse Lingard’s godawful back pass consigned the Reds to a shock Champions League defeat at the hands of Young Boys over in Switzerland. The caption: “Win together, lose together. Keep your head up”.
Much like the saccharine, schmaltzy Facebook posts your aunt shares from which these tweets seemingly take their inspiration, the whole thing just rings a little bit hollow.
It speaks to growing trend of faux emotion in football – everybody wants to have the highest of highs, and increasingly, it would appear that some parties are trying to elevate them that little bit further by making every minor hiccup out to be the lowest of lows. It’s mountains out of molehills stuff – or at least it would be if we were heading in the other direction.
Obviously, it goes without saying that supporting the mental well-being our professional athletes is a wonderful thing. The outpouring of love and encouragement for Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, and Marcus Rashford in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 final was a beautiful, heartening reminder of just how important it is to treat these young lads as vulnerable humans rather than unfeeling androids.
But constantly trying to graft huge swathes of inorganic emotion onto every little setback will do little more than hasten an inevitable slump towards insincerity – and then we’re right back to square one.
Fernandes is a supremely talented footballer, and as his most envious of critics will hurriedly point out, an unparalleled penalty dispatcher too. One fluffed spot kick will not define his career, nor will it define United’s season. He will bounce back from this – obviously – but he probably would have done so just as effectively without the soap opera melodrama that he and those around him have needlessly drummed up. Not everything single thing has to be the spark for a massive redemption narrative.
For everybody’s sake, and chiefly the player’s, there are times when it’s okay to just leave it be.