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As Ozzy Osborne famously sang, the times they are a-changing. What was once déclassé is now de rigueur, and the unconscionable is now compulsory. Trousers have both tightened and brightened. Top buttons have mysteriously begun to fasten themselves. Meanwhile moustaches, for so long the preserve of historical figures and over-friendly geography teachers, bloom like fungus across the upper lips of the nation. Or at least, the upper lips of some of the more ludicrous parts of London. Typical metropolitan media bias, eh?
Football is just as susceptible to Bob Dylan's wind of change as the wider world. Everything from the colours on the boots to the brands on the shirts, from the formations on the chalkboards to the games on the television, is subject not just to the rational forces of competition but also to the whims of fashion, to the roiling wheel of what is in, and what is not in. But let's sidestep the vexed, interminable, and thunderingly irritating row about was does and/or does not constitute a football hipster. Let's instead talk about something important. Football shirts, and their relationship to football shorts. Tucked? Or untucked?
Once upon a time, back in those dark pre-Murdoch days, the unfettered shirt - frequently matched with long, flowing hair and rolled-down socks - was the preserve of the maverick, the loose cannon. These were players that floated above the muddy quagmires in which could be found, wallowing like rutting pigs, their more prosaic, tucked-in colleagues. Shirt out? A genius, an enigma, a member of a proud lineage that stretches from George Best through to Glenn Hoddle. Shirt in? Iain Dowie.
Now: flip-reverse. The exception has become the rule. Leaving goalkeepers aside - they are another genre, with other ways - the majority of players spend the majority of their time with their hems flapping in the breeze. Most don't even bother with an initial tuck, while others - Robin van Persie springs to mind - tend to begin the game tucked in and then let entropy take its course. But there are a few who keep the flame alive, whose intuckedness is so fundamental that it's almost impossible to imagine them any other way. We're talking Antonio Valencia and Kolo Toure, Scott Parker. Lee Cattermole.
(This is not to say that there aren't photographs to the contrary. Even the most fastidious of footballers can't maintain a constant vigil; there's a lot of running and pointing and shouting to be done. This is simply to say that the mind insists such pictures must be the exception, the accidental consequence of a moment's exertion, to be swiftly remedied. Even when Kolo Toure's shirt isn't tucked in, his soul is.)
It could, of course, just be a question of personal preference. But that would be boring, and would rob this profile of the glib and specious conclusion it unquestionably deserves. So let's look at what these four players have in common. While the positions and individual qualities may vary, what they share is an attitude. An attitude that enables them to resist not only the vagaries of fashion but also the possibility that football shirts might be a bit smaller than they were in the old days.
Each of their games is defined by an unconventionally conventional style. Valencia is a proudly, almost sarcastically one-footed winger, utterly incapable of being inverted. Toure is endearingly and almost puppyishly committed to the old-fashioned art of flinging himself in the way of things, which may go some way to explaining the speed with which he's achieved cult status at Anfield. Parker, meanwhile, collected 18 international caps off the back of a haircut, while Cattermole is very, very good at kicking people. They are, if you'll forgive the phrase, retro-footballers, standard-bearers for what Brendan Rodgers would doubtless call old-school ethics. They are bastions of continuity in an at-times bafflingly modern world. Even for those who cannot remember the good old bad old days, their commitment to a bygone world is as heart-warming as it is curious.
But the big question, of course, is what comes next. Is this a cyclical process, and will the football of 20 years hence be dominated once again by shirts neatly squared-off into waistbands. Are Valencia and Toure ahead of their time, as well as behind? Is it all, as the Scorpions once sang, just a little a bit of history repeating?
Or are we marching boldly on to something else, evolving from tucked through untucked and on to an exciting and unpredictable sartorial future. Perhaps Cameroon's ill-fated onesie from 2004 was a sign of things to come. At the time, Sepp Blatter was clear: "The rules are very clear, there is one shirt, one shorts, and one socks." But then, fifty years ago, anybody with an untucked shirt would have been shot as a communist. Anybody wearing coloured boots would have been arrested on suspicion of being dangerously excitable. Perhaps Shirley Bassey was right. We're going through changes.