Gloves are off on style obsession
FIVE years ago, Mayo controversially warmed up for their All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin in front of Hill 16 and, within 15 minutes, found themselves four points ahead, which brought the immediate deduction that the warm-up had sent out a message that they would not be intimidated.
Of course, Mayo went on to reach the final but not before finding themselves trailing by seven points at one stage in the second half, at which point all the amateur psychologists' talk about the significance of the warm-up was exposed for what it was: pure nonsense.
On the rare occasions that New Zealand lose a rugby match, somebody somewhere will examine how their opponents reacted to the haka before the game and, after the event, attempt to sound intelligent by emphasising the lack of pre-match fear in their eyes and how it drove them to glorious victory.
Last week, Manchester United were eliminated from the Champions League and the recriminations were swift and deep. Roy Keane felt the younger players needed to buck up their ideas, while others thought Alex Ferguson was to blame for failing to sign Wesley Sneijder. Tony Cascarino, however, reckoned it was all down to one thing: Wayne Rooney's gloves.
"As soon as I saw Wayne Rooney walk out on to the field wearing a pair of black gloves I had the feeling this wasn't going to be Manchester United's night," wrote Cascarino, although he didn't reveal if he put his money where his feeling was, with Basel on offer as high as 6/1.
"Rooney is a street footballer, a no-nonsense brawler of a player and yet there he is wearing gloves because it is a bit chilly."
Much like saying the health service needs to be improved or that the salaries of TDs are a disgrace, lamenting the apparent softness of modern-day footballers is the sort of opinion that gets universal acceptance without anybody examining the truth in it.
Yet it's all the more ridiculous when such comments come from former players who should know that whether Rooney wears gloves, a scarf or a pair of skiing salopettes doesn't make a blind bit of difference. Perhaps if he was to arrive onto the pitch with a hoodie, an ASBO and four bottles of blue WKD, Rooney could re-discover the "street footballer" within.
"Whenever I see him with them on, he is inhibited and that spreads through the team," continued Cascarino. "It might sound trivial, petty, to some people and it probably is, but he never quite plays with that bit of the devil in him when he is wearing them."
So not only were the gloves to blame for Rooney's performance, their presence infected the entire United team. In this instance, apparently, the Devils shouldn't wear Prada.
With the gloves on, Rooney missed a sitter in the first half but, having removed them at half-time, both his and the team's performance were equally ineffective as they crashed out of the competition. Even when the gloves came off, physically and metaphorically, the team's lack of spark was mystifying.
Old Trafford wasn't too bothered on Saturday, however, when the gloved-up Nani cut inside to put United ahead against Wolves but, if the team is losing matches in winter, the desire of players to keep themselves warm tends to elicit a bizarre fury among fans.
All week, players will wear their hats, gloves and headbands on the training pitch but, to some, having anything other than a short-sleeved shirt on your upper body during a match is somehow a sign of weakness.
After an outcry from the stands and a baffling amount of media coverage last winter, FIFA decided that neckwarmers, or snoods, represented a danger to the game and banned them, while trivial matters like diving, abuse of referees or how Qatar got the World Cup in 2022 weren't really up for discussion.
Managers who want to look as though they feel the frustration of the fans might like to ban players from wearing vests or gloves but, like Phil Brown with his on-pitch team-talk, such publicity stunts usually bring a backlash from within the dressing-room.
Ferguson, Roberto Mancini or Pep Guardiola are unlikely to ask their players to run around simply for the sake of keeping warm and thus wasting vital energy that they might need when it actually matters. Even if it is against their moral compass, letting them to wear whatever garments they like once they produce on the pitch is a small price to pay.
For something which is totally irrelevant to how a player or team performs, the amount of hot air spoken on the issue should be enough to keep everybody warm.