Insight

Thinking on your feet

Simon Hart gets beneath the skin of the key tool of the player’s trade – and one often taken for granted

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Dan Evans

The clue is in the name: football. Or as the French call it simply, le foot. But how much do we know about the actual feet of our football favourites? In Germany, for instance, they celebrate the size 47s of 1970s playmaker Günter Netzer – whose famously large boots are displayed in the national football museum – while in Italy a cult figure of the same decade was Catanzaro’s Massimo Palanca, famed for scoring direct from corners with his tiny size 37s – two sizes smaller than the Puma Kings of Diego Maradona.

Big or small, one guarantee with players’ feet is they spend lots of time crammed into undersized boots. This is the first point to emerge from a conversation with footballer-turned-podiatrist David Brown. He should know: one legacy of his 17 years in the English professional game is a curved fourth toe on each foot. He explains: “From a podiatry point of view, you’d always recommend somebody has plenty of room in footwear. In a football boot, you want it as tight as possible so you can feel the ball. This brings problems like hard skin, ingrowing toenails if they’re cut incorrectly, and squeezing at the front of the boot. But you’ll never get away from players wanting them half a size too small.”

Factor in all that kicking, running and tackling and it’s easy to understand why Ralf Rangnick, when sporting director at RB Leipzig, observed that if players could “go every two weeks to the hairdresser” they should be getting their feet – or “work tools”– seen just as regularly. Anecdotal evidence suggests they have no lack of opportunity. While Brown knows of only one Premier League team with a full-time podiatrist, leading clubs across Europe have specialists on hand frequently for players to have maintenance work on thickened toenails and the hard skin which forms on “the pressure points” – the heel and front of the foot – through so much time spent on their toes in this stop-start sport.

According to another UK-based podiatrist, Lindsay Hill, problems like corns and calluses are often more pronounced with female footballers. “Women tend to have a wide forefoot in comparison with the heel but most of the football boots they’ll be wearing will have been designed for a man’s foot so that causes more forefoot problems,” explains Hill, who used to hold clinics with England’s women’s teams, advising them to wear comfortable trainers off the pitch rather than flip-flops or high heels (a source of “extra trauma”).

The clue is in the name: football. Or as the French call it simply, le foot. But how much do we know about the actual feet of our football favourites? In Germany, for instance, they celebrate the size 47s of 1970s playmaker Günter Netzer – whose famously large boots are displayed in the national football museum – while in Italy a cult figure of the same decade was Catanzaro’s Massimo Palanca, famed for scoring direct from corners with his tiny size 37s – two sizes smaller than the Puma Kings of Diego Maradona.

Big or small, one guarantee with players’ feet is they spend lots of time crammed into undersized boots. This is the first point to emerge from a conversation with footballer-turned-podiatrist David Brown. He should know: one legacy of his 17 years in the English professional game is a curved fourth toe on each foot. He explains: “From a podiatry point of view, you’d always recommend somebody has plenty of room in footwear. In a football boot, you want it as tight as possible so you can feel the ball. This brings problems like hard skin, ingrowing toenails if they’re cut incorrectly, and squeezing at the front of the boot. But you’ll never get away from players wanting them half a size too small.”

Factor in all that kicking, running and tackling and it’s easy to understand why Ralf Rangnick, when sporting director at RB Leipzig, observed that if players could “go every two weeks to the hairdresser” they should be getting their feet – or “work tools”– seen just as regularly. Anecdotal evidence suggests they have no lack of opportunity. While Brown knows of only one Premier League team with a full-time podiatrist, leading clubs across Europe have specialists on hand frequently for players to have maintenance work on thickened toenails and the hard skin which forms on “the pressure points” – the heel and front of the foot – through so much time spent on their toes in this stop-start sport.

According to another UK-based podiatrist, Lindsay Hill, problems like corns and calluses are often more pronounced with female footballers. “Women tend to have a wide forefoot in comparison with the heel but most of the football boots they’ll be wearing will have been designed for a man’s foot so that causes more forefoot problems,” explains Hill, who used to hold clinics with England’s women’s teams, advising them to wear comfortable trainers off the pitch rather than flip-flops or high heels (a source of “extra trauma”).

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Another challenge has come with the shift towards softer leather and soles – perfect for a player wearing a new pair in every match but less resistant than the boot of old that needed breaking in. “You have 26 bones within a foot and every time you take a step or land you need some support,” says Brown. Rob Swire, Manchester United’s head physio when both David Beckham and Wayne Rooney suffered broken metatarsals, explains that “the position of the stud” was another factor in that spate of fractures. In response, he continues, “the manufacturers did adjust the stud positionings and try to stiffen up the soles” and now players will often have their sole stiffened by a piece of plastic.

A decent percentage will also look for custom-made orthotic supports including heel raises, due to the fact football boots are flat and players can pick up problems with their calf, heel and plantar fascia as a consequence. (One manufacturer, Asics, did create a boot with a 10mm heel but this is rare.) Orthotics help when sponsored boots do not suit the shape of a player’s foot and one source recalls the case of a Champions League footballer who played at the 2006 World Cup in a boot branded with his sponsor’s logo but actually made by a different manufacturer.

Of course, foot care extends beyond squarely clipped toenails and comfort. The question of where to place the foot is one that Ruben Jongkind, academy head at Volendam in the Netherlands, considers vital. He used to work on stride patterns with the youngsters at Ajax, training them to land on the front or middle of the foot rather than the heel because “it’s more difficult to run at a high rhythm when you run on your heel”, and “to save muscle energy from your quads” as running on the heel is more tiring.

Jongkind estimates that “among the absolute elite of professional footballers the majority are running not on their heel but strike their foot downwards on the mid or front part of the foot”. To get one ex-Ajax player, Christian Eriksen, doing this “took three or four months” of twice-weekly sessions involving “20 minutes of conscious effort focusing only on his gait”.

This attention to detail mirrored the approach taken by Jongkind’s former colleague at Ajax, Johan Cruyff. His interest in the foot extended to taking a reflexologist into Barcelona in the late 80s to meet his players. Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific points of the foot which correspond to different parts of the body. Gentle stuff when set against Mauricio Pochettino making his Tottenham Hotspur players walk on hot coals as a test of mental fortitude before the 2019 Champions League final. More ‘phut!’ than foot, you might say.

The clue is in the name: football. Or as the French call it simply, le foot. But how much do we know about the actual feet of our football favourites? In Germany, for instance, they celebrate the size 47s of 1970s playmaker Günter Netzer – whose famously large boots are displayed in the national football museum – while in Italy a cult figure of the same decade was Catanzaro’s Massimo Palanca, famed for scoring direct from corners with his tiny size 37s – two sizes smaller than the Puma Kings of Diego Maradona.

Big or small, one guarantee with players’ feet is they spend lots of time crammed into undersized boots. This is the first point to emerge from a conversation with footballer-turned-podiatrist David Brown. He should know: one legacy of his 17 years in the English professional game is a curved fourth toe on each foot. He explains: “From a podiatry point of view, you’d always recommend somebody has plenty of room in footwear. In a football boot, you want it as tight as possible so you can feel the ball. This brings problems like hard skin, ingrowing toenails if they’re cut incorrectly, and squeezing at the front of the boot. But you’ll never get away from players wanting them half a size too small.”

Factor in all that kicking, running and tackling and it’s easy to understand why Ralf Rangnick, when sporting director at RB Leipzig, observed that if players could “go every two weeks to the hairdresser” they should be getting their feet – or “work tools”– seen just as regularly. Anecdotal evidence suggests they have no lack of opportunity. While Brown knows of only one Premier League team with a full-time podiatrist, leading clubs across Europe have specialists on hand frequently for players to have maintenance work on thickened toenails and the hard skin which forms on “the pressure points” – the heel and front of the foot – through so much time spent on their toes in this stop-start sport.

According to another UK-based podiatrist, Lindsay Hill, problems like corns and calluses are often more pronounced with female footballers. “Women tend to have a wide forefoot in comparison with the heel but most of the football boots they’ll be wearing will have been designed for a man’s foot so that causes more forefoot problems,” explains Hill, who used to hold clinics with England’s women’s teams, advising them to wear comfortable trainers off the pitch rather than flip-flops or high heels (a source of “extra trauma”).

Thinking on your feet
Insight

Thinking on your feet

Simon Hart gets beneath the skin of the key tool of the player’s trade – and one often taken for granted

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Dan Evans

The clue is in the name: football. Or as the French call it simply, le foot. But how much do we know about the actual feet of our football favourites? In Germany, for instance, they celebrate the size 47s of 1970s playmaker Günter Netzer – whose famously large boots are displayed in the national football museum – while in Italy a cult figure of the same decade was Catanzaro’s Massimo Palanca, famed for scoring direct from corners with his tiny size 37s – two sizes smaller than the Puma Kings of Diego Maradona.

Big or small, one guarantee with players’ feet is they spend lots of time crammed into undersized boots. This is the first point to emerge from a conversation with footballer-turned-podiatrist David Brown. He should know: one legacy of his 17 years in the English professional game is a curved fourth toe on each foot. He explains: “From a podiatry point of view, you’d always recommend somebody has plenty of room in footwear. In a football boot, you want it as tight as possible so you can feel the ball. This brings problems like hard skin, ingrowing toenails if they’re cut incorrectly, and squeezing at the front of the boot. But you’ll never get away from players wanting them half a size too small.”

Factor in all that kicking, running and tackling and it’s easy to understand why Ralf Rangnick, when sporting director at RB Leipzig, observed that if players could “go every two weeks to the hairdresser” they should be getting their feet – or “work tools”– seen just as regularly. Anecdotal evidence suggests they have no lack of opportunity. While Brown knows of only one Premier League team with a full-time podiatrist, leading clubs across Europe have specialists on hand frequently for players to have maintenance work on thickened toenails and the hard skin which forms on “the pressure points” – the heel and front of the foot – through so much time spent on their toes in this stop-start sport.

According to another UK-based podiatrist, Lindsay Hill, problems like corns and calluses are often more pronounced with female footballers. “Women tend to have a wide forefoot in comparison with the heel but most of the football boots they’ll be wearing will have been designed for a man’s foot so that causes more forefoot problems,” explains Hill, who used to hold clinics with England’s women’s teams, advising them to wear comfortable trainers off the pitch rather than flip-flops or high heels (a source of “extra trauma”).

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

The clue is in the name: football. Or as the French call it simply, le foot. But how much do we know about the actual feet of our football favourites? In Germany, for instance, they celebrate the size 47s of 1970s playmaker Günter Netzer – whose famously large boots are displayed in the national football museum – while in Italy a cult figure of the same decade was Catanzaro’s Massimo Palanca, famed for scoring direct from corners with his tiny size 37s – two sizes smaller than the Puma Kings of Diego Maradona.

Big or small, one guarantee with players’ feet is they spend lots of time crammed into undersized boots. This is the first point to emerge from a conversation with footballer-turned-podiatrist David Brown. He should know: one legacy of his 17 years in the English professional game is a curved fourth toe on each foot. He explains: “From a podiatry point of view, you’d always recommend somebody has plenty of room in footwear. In a football boot, you want it as tight as possible so you can feel the ball. This brings problems like hard skin, ingrowing toenails if they’re cut incorrectly, and squeezing at the front of the boot. But you’ll never get away from players wanting them half a size too small.”

Factor in all that kicking, running and tackling and it’s easy to understand why Ralf Rangnick, when sporting director at RB Leipzig, observed that if players could “go every two weeks to the hairdresser” they should be getting their feet – or “work tools”– seen just as regularly. Anecdotal evidence suggests they have no lack of opportunity. While Brown knows of only one Premier League team with a full-time podiatrist, leading clubs across Europe have specialists on hand frequently for players to have maintenance work on thickened toenails and the hard skin which forms on “the pressure points” – the heel and front of the foot – through so much time spent on their toes in this stop-start sport.

According to another UK-based podiatrist, Lindsay Hill, problems like corns and calluses are often more pronounced with female footballers. “Women tend to have a wide forefoot in comparison with the heel but most of the football boots they’ll be wearing will have been designed for a man’s foot so that causes more forefoot problems,” explains Hill, who used to hold clinics with England’s women’s teams, advising them to wear comfortable trainers off the pitch rather than flip-flops or high heels (a source of “extra trauma”).

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Another challenge has come with the shift towards softer leather and soles – perfect for a player wearing a new pair in every match but less resistant than the boot of old that needed breaking in. “You have 26 bones within a foot and every time you take a step or land you need some support,” says Brown. Rob Swire, Manchester United’s head physio when both David Beckham and Wayne Rooney suffered broken metatarsals, explains that “the position of the stud” was another factor in that spate of fractures. In response, he continues, “the manufacturers did adjust the stud positionings and try to stiffen up the soles” and now players will often have their sole stiffened by a piece of plastic.

A decent percentage will also look for custom-made orthotic supports including heel raises, due to the fact football boots are flat and players can pick up problems with their calf, heel and plantar fascia as a consequence. (One manufacturer, Asics, did create a boot with a 10mm heel but this is rare.) Orthotics help when sponsored boots do not suit the shape of a player’s foot and one source recalls the case of a Champions League footballer who played at the 2006 World Cup in a boot branded with his sponsor’s logo but actually made by a different manufacturer.

Of course, foot care extends beyond squarely clipped toenails and comfort. The question of where to place the foot is one that Ruben Jongkind, academy head at Volendam in the Netherlands, considers vital. He used to work on stride patterns with the youngsters at Ajax, training them to land on the front or middle of the foot rather than the heel because “it’s more difficult to run at a high rhythm when you run on your heel”, and “to save muscle energy from your quads” as running on the heel is more tiring.

Jongkind estimates that “among the absolute elite of professional footballers the majority are running not on their heel but strike their foot downwards on the mid or front part of the foot”. To get one ex-Ajax player, Christian Eriksen, doing this “took three or four months” of twice-weekly sessions involving “20 minutes of conscious effort focusing only on his gait”.

This attention to detail mirrored the approach taken by Jongkind’s former colleague at Ajax, Johan Cruyff. His interest in the foot extended to taking a reflexologist into Barcelona in the late 80s to meet his players. Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific points of the foot which correspond to different parts of the body. Gentle stuff when set against Mauricio Pochettino making his Tottenham Hotspur players walk on hot coals as a test of mental fortitude before the 2019 Champions League final. More ‘phut!’ than foot, you might say.

The clue is in the name: football. Or as the French call it simply, le foot. But how much do we know about the actual feet of our football favourites? In Germany, for instance, they celebrate the size 47s of 1970s playmaker Günter Netzer – whose famously large boots are displayed in the national football museum – while in Italy a cult figure of the same decade was Catanzaro’s Massimo Palanca, famed for scoring direct from corners with his tiny size 37s – two sizes smaller than the Puma Kings of Diego Maradona.

Big or small, one guarantee with players’ feet is they spend lots of time crammed into undersized boots. This is the first point to emerge from a conversation with footballer-turned-podiatrist David Brown. He should know: one legacy of his 17 years in the English professional game is a curved fourth toe on each foot. He explains: “From a podiatry point of view, you’d always recommend somebody has plenty of room in footwear. In a football boot, you want it as tight as possible so you can feel the ball. This brings problems like hard skin, ingrowing toenails if they’re cut incorrectly, and squeezing at the front of the boot. But you’ll never get away from players wanting them half a size too small.”

Factor in all that kicking, running and tackling and it’s easy to understand why Ralf Rangnick, when sporting director at RB Leipzig, observed that if players could “go every two weeks to the hairdresser” they should be getting their feet – or “work tools”– seen just as regularly. Anecdotal evidence suggests they have no lack of opportunity. While Brown knows of only one Premier League team with a full-time podiatrist, leading clubs across Europe have specialists on hand frequently for players to have maintenance work on thickened toenails and the hard skin which forms on “the pressure points” – the heel and front of the foot – through so much time spent on their toes in this stop-start sport.

According to another UK-based podiatrist, Lindsay Hill, problems like corns and calluses are often more pronounced with female footballers. “Women tend to have a wide forefoot in comparison with the heel but most of the football boots they’ll be wearing will have been designed for a man’s foot so that causes more forefoot problems,” explains Hill, who used to hold clinics with England’s women’s teams, advising them to wear comfortable trainers off the pitch rather than flip-flops or high heels (a source of “extra trauma”).

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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