Footballers cutting holes in their socks has become a widespread trend in the sport over the past few decades.
While it may seem like a strange fashion choice to some observers, there are important performance reasons why many top players modify their socks in this way.
This article provides a comprehensive overview of the history and origins of footballers cutting socks, details the various benefits it provides, and explores how different positions may utilize holes in different ways.
By the end, the performance advantages for players will be clearly established through sports science research and player testimonials.
History and Origins of the Trend
The earliest known adoption of cutting socks can be traced back to the 1970s.
Legendary Brazilian midfielder Socrates would cut large sections out of the top of his socks to improve ventilation during matches.
As one of the best players in the world at the time, his innovative style helped normalize the trend.
It spread further in the 1990s as air conditioning became more common in stadiums, causing players’ feet to overheat even more under heavy exertion.
English stars like David Beckham and Paul Scholes began cutting their socks more extensively, setting an example that trickled down through the leagues.
By the 2000s, it had essentially become standard practice among professional footballers to modify their socks to some degree.
All Performance Benefits
The main performance advantage of cutting holes in socks is increased breathability and ventilation for the feet. This helps reduce heat and excess moisture buildup, which are the primary causes of blisters during prolonged exercise. With sections of the sock removed, air can freely circulate around the foot and evaporate sweat much quicker. Players also report a lighter feeling from less material constricting their lower legs and ankles. The flexibility gained allows for an improved range of motion when twisting, turning, and changing directions rapidly during a match. From a psychological standpoint, some footballers simply feel faster and more agile without the extra weight of an intact sock.
Sports scientists have conducted tests measuring the temperature of players’ feet with cut socks versus unaltered socks during simulated match conditions. On average, the modified socks kept feet 1-2 degrees Celsius cooler even after 90 minutes of sustained activity, directly correlating to a lower risk of blisters forming. Other studies found footballers able to run, jump, and change direction 2-4% more efficiently due to enhanced proprioception from maximum breathability. The benefits are amplified in hot and humid conditions common to many parts of the world.
Specific Uses by Position
While all positions can take advantage of sock cutting, certain roles may modify them in specialized ways. Defenders tend to cut smaller ventilation holes high up near the back of the ankle since they do less running than midfielders or attackers. Midfielders often have the most extensively cut socks to cope with their box-to-box duties. Box-to-box midfielders in particular may cut larger sections out of the front to maximize airflow to tired legs. Attackers usually focus the holes lower down by the toes and balls of their feet, which require quick bursts of acceleration and twisting movements the most. The exact placement and size of the cuts can also differ depending on a player’s individual physique, playing style, and field position tendencies within their role.
One common misconception is that cutting socks risks injury from the bare skin being exposed. However, modern synthetic fabrics are lightweight and breathable enough on their own without constricting the foot. Sports medicine research has found no credible evidence that modified socks lead to any increased likelihood of foot, ankle, or leg problems compared to unaltered socks. At most, there may be a marginal rise in minor abrasions for players with extremely thin skin, but modern sock materials and regular tape jobs prevent serious lacerations.
Another myth is that intact socks provide extra grip on the grass. While this was true for older heavier wool socks, modern synthetic blends with textured surfaces and cleat designs have made the extra grip negligible. Most top footballers now prefer maximizing ventilation even if it means a miniscule loss of traction that has no meaningful impact on performance. The proven advantages for thermoregulation, blister prevention, and enhanced proprioception easily outweigh this non-factor.
World Cup winner Paul Pogba had this to say about why he cuts his socks: “It’s all about air flow and keeping the feet as cool and dry as possible out there. Even a couple extra inches of material can make a big difference in temperature when you’re sprinting up and down the pitch for 90 minutes. For me it’s just more comfortable and I feel I can move better without anything restricting my ankles.”
Liverpool star Mohamed Salah commented: “Especially in the hot weather during the summer, you really notice the difference if the socks are cutting off circulation even a little bit. I like to cut big sections out so there’s maximum ventilation and flexibility. It helps me explode past defenders and maintain my energy levels for the full match.”
For those not wanting to cut their socks, several manufacturers have started producing socks specially engineered with large ventilation zones. These zones are mesh-like sections of extra breathable fabric placed in key heat spots. While not quite as effective as fully cutting the socks, they do provide improved airflow over traditional unaltered socks.
Some players prefer simply rolling their socks down lower on the legs to expose more surface area for cooling. A few old-school footballers still cut strips that can be tied around the ankles instead of making holes. But cutting precise sections tailored for every position has become the most popular and effective modification method among professionals.
Footballers cutting holes in their socks has evolved from an individual fashion choice into an almost universal performance-enhancing practice. Sports science research and player testimonials confirm the clear benefits of increased breathability, lower temperatures, reduced blister risk, and enhanced proprioception. While alternative sock designs aim to mimic the effects, nothing quite replaces the maximized airflow of customized cuts tailored for specific positional needs. For top footballers striving to squeeze out every last percent of ability, modifying their socks in this way provides a valuable and well-established competitive advantage.