Wayne Rooney's surprise return to English Premier League action this past weekend was made possible by some quick thinking at a sportswear production facility in Brooklyn, N.Y.
It appeared Rooney, a forward for Manchester United, was going to miss three weeks after suffering an ugly head wound caused by a collision in training, meaning he would miss several games, including the club's Champions League opener and its derby clash with fierce rivals Manchester City.
However, an enterprising email sent by representatives of Storelli Sports, a start-up firm specializing in protective equipment for soccer players, set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the England star sporting a futuristic-looking padded headband in Saturday's game with Crystal Palace.
"When we saw Rooney's injury and that it was going to keep him on the sidelines, we got an email address for United from our U.S. distributor and reached out to them," said a Storelli Sports spokesman. "This was just a couple of days before the game, but their medical staff responded quickly and asked for more information and requested some samples."
A package containing some variations of the product was hastily dispatched and presented to Rooney to test out in training. Rooney, 27, and United's medical team clearly felt comfortable enough with the equipment to clear him to face Palace, where he scored his first PL goal of the season with a free-kick in a 2-0 victory that took the team to fifth in the table after four games.
Within a few hours of the match, a grateful email from United had made its way to company bosses in the Big Apple.
PL fans and reporters alike were surprised to see Rooney's name on the team sheet, given that the early prognosis on the gash to his forehead was gloomy. Initially, there was also some confusion as to what exactly Rooney was wearing, with the headband's understated design making it appear from a distance as nothing more than a typical headband or protective cloth.
However, the item is actually made of special protective material, based upon materials originally designed for use in the armed forces, developed by Storelli's team of scientists at its facility in Brooklyn.
According to Storelli Sports, the biggest challenge for protective equipment manufacturers is finding materials that do not harden in colder weather or soften when it is warmer. The headband used by Rooney is only being released to the mass market this week and will retail for around $60.
While Rooney's use of the item is clearly great publicity for the company, the product may find most traction in youth soccer, where concerns regarding head injuries and concussions are rife among parents.
Storelli does not claim to have found an absolute solution to the problem of concussive injuries, but insists its product is an ideal mix of safety and practicality.
"The hard part is coming up with something that offers protection and that is also something people are prepared to wear," said the spokesman. "You are going to find it hard to get either kids or professional athletes to wear helmets on the field. Protective gear by its very nature is pretty much the definition of uncool. But this is very understated and sleek, and in terms of protection, it is the next best thing to a helmet."
Storelli has already overcome one significant potential obstacle: Its headband is compliant with world governing body FIFA's strict guidelines on apparel and equipment and can be used at all levels of the game.