Why Onana puts Vaseline on his gloves (and other tricks of the trade)

Shaka Hislop intrigued by Onana's Vaseline tactics (2:47)

After Andre Onana was spotted putting Vaseline on his gloves during Manchester United's clash with Liverpool, Shaka Hislop says the tactic is completely new to him. (2:47)

After being spotted during the recent Premier League skirmish between Manchester United and Liverpool, talk has been rife about a particular DIY modification made by André Onana to his kit.

The United goalkeeper was spotted by fans on social media applying a generous amount of Vaseline directly to his gloves during the entertaining clash, which ended in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

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Many were puzzled at the sight of Onana plucking a pot of petroleum jelly from his equipment bag and smearing it all over his palms while waiting for a Liverpool corner to be swung into the penalty area.

Onlookers were left questioning quite why the Cameroon international felt the need to add a layer of slick grease to his gloves, though former United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich was able to clear up the confusion.

Bosnich told Sky Sports: "Lucky for him [Onana] that he was outstanding as Vaseline on the gloves would have been the punchline to many a joke!"

He added: "The only thing I can think of is that it helps his grip. A lot of goalkeepers like to have their gloves a little bit wet because the rubber [the grippy latex material on the palms] can sometimes be so stringy that it takes a bit of feeling out of your hands."

Many goalkeepers also use grease, semi-adhesive solutions and even so-called "glove glue" to improve the stability of their ball handling during games. Indeed, a social media post by Glove Glu confirmed that Vaseline is said to improve goalkeepers' grip in extremely wet conditions (while also damaging the latex in the long run.)

Along with Bosnich, other members of the Premier League goalkeeper's union have been coming forward to reveal that they too rubbed Vaseline on their gloves to help improve grip during particularly inclement matches with the likes of Shay Given and Ben Foster revealing they first deployed the trick many years ago.

"I remember the first player I saw do that was Joe Hart in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup," Foster said during on an episode of his "Fozcast" podcast last year. "He put Vaseline on his gloves [during a training session] and told me, 'Honestly, it is a game changer!'"

Foster's guest on that episode, Coventry City's Ben Wilson, added: "There's no way I will allow myself to put it on my gloves, no matter how wet or damaged they are .

"I worked with Martyn Margetson at Cardiff and he used to tell me to put Vaseline on my gloves. It was chucking it down and I thought there's no way, if the rain gets on that it will just slip through. But I think one of the lads did it then and I was thinking 'this is incredible.' I don't know how it works because I don't know science."

Vaseline on the gloves is just one of many examples of the crafty "tricks of the trade" and equipment hacks used by professional footballers in the constant quest to seek out those most marginal of marginal gains.

Holes in socks

Another curious trend you may have encountered in recent years is the sight of players' socks being seemingly torn to shreds with multiple holes cut into the calves.

Kyle Walker was one of the very first mainstream adopters of the "Swiss cheese" look. The Manchester City right-back raised eyebrows by taking a pair of scissors to his socks before facing Chelsea in the Community Shield in August 2018, and many players have followed in his footsteps since.

The reason for the strategic holes being snipped into the backs of the socks is to help reduce outside pressure on the calves and, as a result, reduce the chances of suffering cramps and spasms.

Some players have also begun snipping the entire foot section off their socks and wearing their own choice of grippy crew sock below the ankle line to help improve the comfort level of their footwear.

Walker's City teammate Jack Grealish even famously rolls his long socks all the way down (and wears the smallest shin pads possible) in an effort to fully minimise the strain on his bulging calf muscles.

Baby oil

Adama Traoré caused a similar social media stir a few years back when the ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers winger was spotted having a generous amount of baby oil applied to his arms before coming on as a substitute.

Rather than being part of the Spain international's meticulous matchday skincare routine, it was later confirmed by former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo that the oil was an ingenious ploy devised by the Traoré to lubricate his limbs and thus prevent defenders from being able to grab the speedy winger as he sprinted past them.

"I thought it was honestly a fantastic idea by the medical department because it came from the injury that he had with his shoulder," Nuno said in 2021. "That was caused basically because of holding of his arm and creating this strong impact on his shoulder and he got injured from that.

"It's very hard to stop Adama, and that [baby oil] avoids that situation. He becomes more slippery, so we get the advantage of his speed and talent. It was an option to avoid it, and from then on, he's kept on doing it and it's good."

Kinesiology tape

With Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo both notable exponents, many players took to the pitch with strips of neon adhesive physio tape plastered on specific parts of their body in an effort to reduce and redirect stress on particular muscle groups.

Formerly a fairly common staple of the professional football landscape (Mario Balotelli memorably removed his shirt and bared three large strips of tape on his back after scoring against Germany at Euro 2012), kinetic tape seems to have been phased out of rotation in recent years.

Nasal strips/VapoRub

A remnant of a bygone footballing age, the mid-1990s to mid-2000s saw numerous players experiment with ways to improve their breathing patterns during games.

First came the nasal strips -- perhaps most memorably worn by former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler -- which while designed to prevent snoring at night, were also thought to open the airways and therefore improve aerobic performance while playing football.

The natural evolution of the technique duly saw players like ex-Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira begin to smear large, incredibly greasy globules of Vicks VapoRub (and other such mentholated balms) into the chests of their shirts in the belief that the rising fumes would help maximise their airflow.

'War paint'

There really is only one footballer synonymous with wearing "war paint" during games: former Fenerbahce and Barcelona goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber.

Adopting the trick from the NFL, the Turkey international could regularly be seen prowling his penalty box with two daubs of dark face paint beneath his eyes which was claimed helped reduce the dazzling glare from floodlights that was presumably reflecting up off his face and obscuring his vision.

Whether it had any effect or not, you can't deny Rüştü certainly looked cool in an action-movie henchman kind of way.