Flashy-boot brigade need to do some sole searching
Published 01/03/2010 | 07:22
IT'S difficult to maintain credibility if you're a fat dietician telling people what they should be eating, or a doctor dishing out medical advice just before asking the patient for a light.
And, when it comes to football, credibility can be just as easily undermined by the quality of your footwear once the quality of your play can't back it up.
Certainly Alex Ferguson seems to think so after it was revealed last week that he banned his youth team players from wearing boots that are any colour other than black. If they graduate from the ranks with flying colours, they are free to choose what they want.
"The restrictions are on the youth team. They are told they have to stick to wearing black," revealed John O'Shea. "Once in the reserve or first-team squad there are no restrictions, but if you are wearing flashy colours and don't play too well you're likely to get singled out."
Like the suspicion women must have when they see a middle-aged man driving a car that is years too young for him, there's the feeling -- not just at Old Trafford -- that anyone wearing coloured boots is somehow trying to make up for something. To borrow a line from 'Pulp Fiction', just because they are a character doesn't necessarily mean they have character.
Occasionally, players such as Wayne Rooney (green), Cristiano Ronaldo (white) or Lionel Messi (blue) can back up the words screaming from their multi-coloured feet with actions. How the boots look, as the aforementioned women might say of other body parts, is less important than what they can do with them.
But for many players, their boots are writing cheques their ability can't cash. Last season, Nicklas Bendtner strode around in pink boots which roared, "Look at me" and, for those who did, it was a painful experience.
On Saturday, Bendtner's white boots managed to propel his body high enough to score Arsenal's equaliser against Stoke with his head but, for someone who seems to believe so much in his own ability to be a superstar, his experience last season is far closer to that of the common-man player than he would like.
Much to the delight of the manufacturers, few seem to realise that if you're not good enough for somebody to be paying you to wear their boots, you're not good enough for them to make much difference.
One company currently has a sort of mid-life crisis boot on the market that weighs 190 grams and costs around €300; others insists that kangaroo leather, blades, studs, blade-studs, laces or any other gimmick will make the difference. For those who struggle for fitness, talent or determination, all you need is a fat wallet and a strong sense of delusion.
It's not just on their feet, however, that players seek an edge with the days when shorts, socks, boots and a jersey were enough kit to play now a distant memory.
Instead, a player's kit-bag can contain anything from long johns to keep their poor lickle legs warm to a neck buff if there's a strong breeze as well as the ever-present gloves which, in Ferguson's time, weren't even needed by goalkeepers.
Then there's the vests which claim to keep players cool in summer and warm in winter which, presumably, must fly off the shelves in every Greenland sports shop.
Under the well-designed fabric of a professional player's jersey, it's possible that such clothing could be effective but it's difficult to imagine the same result with the amateur jerseys which are washed in the local dry cleaners and manage to keep most players sweaty in the winter and sweatier in the summer.
Short of introducing airport-style baggage restrictions, it's becoming increasingly difficult to argue against claims that players are softer than they were in the past -- all the more so when, after the match, they shave a little design into their eyebrows, stick diamond ear-rings in both ears or moan because there aren't any sockets to plug in a hair-dryer. Then, they put on their ridiculously large headphones over a beanie hat and head for the team bus.
Ferguson couldn't have survived in the modern game had he let himself get drawn into the 'back in my day' laments which are so frequent among ex-players of his age, yet he would certainly have noticed the other boots-related story of last week.
In 1953, Stanley Matthews jinked around Wembley and managed to steal the show from team-mate Stan Mortensen, who scored the only FA Cup final hat-trick as Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3 in 'the Matthews final'. (When Mortensen died, some said it would be called 'the Matthews funeral').
There wasn't a logo, blade or fancy lace on either of Matthews' boots which looked so old that they should have come with a ration card yet, last week, they managed to fetch over €40,000 at auction.
By comparison, when Bendtner, commendably, auctioned those garish pink ones for charity, he raised just €2,500.
If Ferguson is spotted jinking around in 50-year-old boots anytime soon, he might just have put €40,000 of his money where his mouth is.