Glove is all you need for fragile stars
THERE are few moments that spark amateur footballers into action as fast as when the gear bag is thrown into the dressing-room on a freezing winter's morning.
The sound of shivering and chattering is shattered as the bag is flung towards the floor from a safe distance by a kitman or woman who knows that neatly placing the treasure chest in the middle of everybody will cause a scrum from which they will do well to emerge with their own clothes.
The next few minutes is a free-for-all where spare socks finish up as mittens and those that get in early grab enough T-shirts to open a small clothing stall. If they're lucky, there might even be a bit of Deep Heat left to bring some relief to the few remaining uncovered areas.
In fairness to the amateur players, where the professionals will have somebody to perform a quick pre-match massage, they'll have to rely on the old-fashioned ball in the thigh to warm up the muscle. On a bad day, they might even get one in the ear as well and, in both cases, the perfect imprint of the ball and subsequent red circle of flesh will take several hours to disappear.
Despite the heated dressing-rooms, fully functioning showers and even the odd indoor warm-up area, the Premier League ties last weekend looked like they'd been switched to Siberia, judging by the amount of clothing on show.
Goalkeepers in tracksuit bottoms have always been a personal gripe but, in their defence, they at least have the excuse that they might be standing around with nothing to do for long periods. It's a similar story with substitutes, although there are flocks of sheep with poorer insulation, given the thickness of the jackets and even blankets which are available to those not picked to start.
For the first 70 minutes of a game, most subs will hope for a run but, beyond that point, the comfort and warmth of the unexposed dugout isn't a bad second option. It would probably take them five minutes to get undressed into their kit in any case. Footballers wearing gloves certainly doesn't help with their image of being soft but on Saturday, it seemed to do the trick for many, with the 36 goals scored in the Premier League split evenly between those wearing gloves and those who weren't. (Guess who didn't go out on Saturday night?).
Dimitar Berbatov's five boosted the tally for the Gloved Ones, although his attempt to hold up five fingers to the Old Trafford crowd in celebration of his final goal was ruined somewhat by the glove covering his left hand. Rather than seeing individual digits, from a particular angle, Berbatov could have been giving a black-power salute.
With his style of play involving an almost recessionary economy of movement, Berbatov is exactly the type of player that comes in for criticism by the glove-haters, who believe in the old-fashioned idea that athletes might actually run around to warm up.
Yet while it was Thierry Henry who introduced the socks-over-the-knees look in order to keep his patellas toasty, it's not just the foreign players who like to wrap up.
Ryan Giggs once infamously wore leggings during a Manchester United match, and Wayne Rooney, the epitome of a raging bull centre-forward, joined seven of his team-mates on Saturday in the glove-wearing department, although that was probably related to all the hand-wringing of recent weeks.
There may well be some glove company-sponsored science which shows that outfield players with warm hands perform better, yet the latest craze of wearing a neck-warmer might just be taking things a step too far.
With all of the hot air that he produces during his regular rants, Carlos Tevez should have enough warmth around to last him through the winter, yet for several weeks now, the Manchester City striker has been protecting his neck from the harshness of a northern England winter.
In between moaning about how focused young players are on money, the £145,000-a-week striker could make a few extra quid if he put his name to a special kind of neck-warmer that keeps it warm in the winter -- and brass all year long. Or maybe he is simply taking the mickey out of his scarf-wearing manager.
On Saturday, Tevez watched as team-mate Micah Richards scored while sporting one of the game's most ridiculous looks: lovely warm gloves and a short-sleeved shirt. That sends out a message of a hard-man defender who perhaps uses a little too much Fairy liquid.
Nani also performed the same feat, yet both were usurped by Samir Nasri, who decided that a short-sleeve jersey, gloves and neck-warmer were an acceptable combination for a Saturday lunchtime game in Birmingham.
Nasri's continuing brilliance this season might just excuse him some of the flak that would otherwise come his way but, if Arsenal's players showed the same kind of fighting spirit on the pitch as they must do towards the gear bag when it comes into the dressing-room, they might manage to lose their fragile reputation.