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Costly Superstition: Jack Grealish and Shin Guards

A curious case of superstitions.

Manchester City v Fulham: The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

It is in line with the rules of the game that footballers are required to wear shin guards.

But rules are meant to be broken, right? Or maybe rewritten. Hence, some footballers (and people in general) choose to do things the other way.

Enter Jack Grealish.

Of course the £100 million man is not the only one in world football to choose low socks over wearing them high up to the knees. Memphis Depay of Barcelona and Juventus’ Paulo Dybala also like them low.

Just not as low as Jack. And probably not for the same reasons too.

The England international has become famous for his shin guards. To him they are just not important. In fact, if he could do away with them completely, he probably would.

The reason for that is, he says shin guards are uncomfortable.

But that may just be a cover up for the real reason why he doesn’t wear them like other players do.

He blew his own cover when he accepted to grant an interview explaining his reasons for choosing to be different.

Speaking with the “Birmingham Live” while still playing for Aston Villa, the Englishman revealed why he wears his socks so low.

“Obviously your socks are supposed to go above your calves. But one year when I was here, the socks once shrunk in the wash. So they wouldn’t go higher. That season, I ended up playing really well. So it became a superstitious thing for me. I thought ‘I’m going to keep doing this because I’ve done well’,” said Grealish.

“It’s a superstition that I’ve done all my life and I’m going to keep it that way. A few referees have tried telling me but I’ve got to keep it like that.”

Unfortunately, the referees have not been bold enough to insist on the rules of the game being obeyed to the letter. That has enabled the attacking midfielder to get away with his habit.

Maybe that’s because it doesn't endanger any other player on the pitch of play. Fine. But what about the man himself?

The rule was put in place because it was necessary, right? Players wear shin guards not only to protect other players from getting injured during collisions but to also protect themselves from getting injured.

Since footballers use their feet and legs mostly during play, there is bound to be collisions from time to time. It makes sense then that their shins are protected.

But superstition will not let Jack Grealish follow those rules.

The problem is that the decision is not only affecting him as a player, it is also affecting his teams.

In the 2018/19 campaign Grealish spent a total of 83 days out with a shinbone injury. He missed 15 games for Aston Villa during that time as a result of the injury.

In the 2020/2021 season, a recurrence of the shinbone injury kept him out of action for another 79 days. He missed 12 games this time around.

Needless to say, that hugely affected Aston Villa’s season as he was their key player.

Now at Manchester City, the midfielder has spent some time on the sidelines due to another shinbone injury.

The Blues have been denied his services for the last three games. He could not feature against Brentford in the Premier League, against Sporting CP in the Champions League and more recently in the 3-2 shock defeat to Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium.

His shinbone injuries keep reoccurring because the shin guards he wears are too small to protect his shins.

Contrary to what he said about impeding movement, it is those small ones that are more likely to impede movement.

He wears the teenager size models and has to use corresponding small socks to cover them. Apart from not providing comfort, they simply don’t do what they are supposed to do - protect his shin from injury.

The reality is those are not “shin guards”. They are actually ankle guards. And shin guards at the ankle level will more likely feel less comfortable. A player will move more freely with the normal shin guards.

So as he has stated himself, this is really about superstition, not about comfort or free movement. The problem is, the habit is becoming very costly.

Yet, he says he will not change it. So others will have to suffer for it.

When a club-record signing is on the bench in a difficult game, his manager should turn to him to come in and make a difference for his team.

But how can he do that when he is injured? Worse still, the injury is caused by his refusal to use proper shin guards due to superstitious belief.

Hopefully, Jack’s long-held belief doesn’t become even more costly for City in future than the £100 million spent on him.