IN a ruthless world where relegation from the Premier League can wipe off tens of millions from a club’s balance sheet and lead to players having to take a hefty pay cut, compassion for others can be rare.
For Sone Aluko, however, there is no doubt that, as desperate as he is to see Hull City claim all three points today, such an eventuality would leave him feeling sorry for former team-mate George Boyd, now of Burnley.
“He is a really good lad,” said the Tigers striker ahead of what is arguably the club’s biggest game since winning promotion from the Championship two years ago.
“I have not spoken to George for a few weeks, but he is a good friend.
“At Hull, he was also a good team-mate as well as a good player. Of course, we both know what is at stake (today) and, outside of this game, I would wish him well. You never want to see friends get relegated. But, if it is him or me, it has got to be him.”
Anything but an away win today and Burnley are down, regardless of how results elsewhere pan out.
The Clarets will head east in poor form, their last 14 games having yielded just one win. Boyd clinched that solitary victory, his sweet finish ensuring Manchester City left Turf Moor empty handed in mid-March.
It continued what has, despite Burnley’s struggles, been a fine season in Lancashire for a player who left the KC shortly before the end of the summer transfer window.
Aluko added: “He is a good lad and a good team-mate to have. He is a good player as well. A top player, in fact.
“He works hard, he is good on the ball and he is a good person to have in the team.
“He is a very likable character, so we were sad to see him go. That’s football, changes happen in every transfer window.
“The amount of incoming players we had here, he never really had a chance to show how good he was, but he is a top player and he has proved he can play at this level.
“Although I want to get three points against him and his Burnley team, if Burnley do go down it will be sad to see a friend get relegated. But that is football. I am sure he will bounce back.”
Aluko played a key role in the two recent victories that breathed fresh life into Hull’s own survival fight.
Against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago, the Nigerian international bordered on being unplayable and he put in a similar display in the 1-0 triumph over Liverpool four days later.
Despite that, the 26-year-old may today give way to fit-again top scorer Nikica Jelavic. Manager Steve Bruce has admitted the decision is a big one, not least because the Croat is only just back from knee surgery and a five-game absence.
Regardless of whether he starts or not, Aluko is in no doubt as to the importance of today’s clash.
“There is lots of respect,” he said. “I respect (Burnley boss) Sean Dyche and what he has done with the team, how they go about things. They are very organised and they really work hard.
“You know you are going to be in a game against them for the full 90 minutes, so I respect that.
“Burnley needing to win will maybe work in our favour. We know they have to come out and attack us, but I think Burnley would do that anyway.
“Everyone needs to win and everyone wants the points. We will be going for it the same way they will, even though we don’t have to win the game like they do.
“We want the points to be safe as quickly as possible.”
Asked if the build-up had been similar to last May’s FA Cup final, Aluko, who came off the bench with 15 minutes of normal time remaining against Arsenal at Wembley, said: “The Cup final is purely a one-off game, the hype around it is different.
“You can feel the hype around the city. This game is an important game because we’re playing a team that are scrapping for survival and near us in the league.
“As our final two games age against Tottenham and Manchester United, people are seeing Burnley as the easiest one to win. But football is not like that.
“We are in good form. We took a bad hit on Monday (in losing 3-1 at home to Arsenal) but, before that, performances had been a lot better and we had two big results against Crystal Palace and Liverpool.
“The position we have put ourselves in has made this a big game, but if it doesn’t happen this game there will still be two more games. It is not a cup final in that respect, even if we do know it is a massive, massive game.”
Aluko was one of seven players on duty against the Gunners on Monday night who played for Hull in the Championship.
A burning desire to avoid returning to the second tier is firing the push for safety and the striker, who joined on a free from Rangers in the summer of 2012, believes the core of the team having been together for such a long time is a big factor in Hull’s favour.
“A lot of clubs have it,” he said. “The spine of the team doesn’t change too much. We have been fortunate because there is such a strong team spirit around that core.
“We really get along well and it drags us through some games. At half-time against Arsenal when three goals down, we were saying, ‘We can’t get beat 4-0 or 5-0’.
“I think the team spirit gets us out of a lot of tricky situations that some dressing rooms might not have.
“In that game against Arsenal, we got the goal back and had a chance with Paul McShane’s header to get to 3-2. We’re not a team who will give up in any game. That said, I think Burnley are similar. The team hasn’t changed too much since they were promoted.”