As Manchester United's young Mexican striker Javier Hernandez kneels calmly, head tilted slightly upwards towards the sky, arms subtly held out and hands open, whispering passionately and pressingly in the very centre of the field before kick-off, his team-mates, the opposition an 80,000 strong crowd and millions at home watch in wait for him to finish a clearly very important conversation with his God.
The acceptance of this intriguing routine is unsurprising considering the strong number of ardent believers in the world of football and in sport in general. It is something very personal, meaningful and necessary for some footballers to demonstrate their religious affiliation with either a 'Hernandez style' praying session on the field, or a swift sign of the cross and a kiss to the skies when coming on or off the football field.
But apart from being mildly entertaining in noticing how certain players reveal their religious inclination, what is the actual effect of prayer and religiousness on football and on the footballers' ability to play the game?
It is firstly important to note that even though one may not believe that any God, deity or supernatural power exists and therefore cannot actually provide Javier Hernandez and others with the desired guidance or help they so politely and openly request, there is little doubt that to the players who do have a firmly held belief in the almighty, the psychological help such an assertion provides is beneficial to them.
Hernandez says that for him, in the moments before the game, prayer helps him to thank God (not Sir Alex Ferguson) for giving him the opportunity to play, and asks that himself, his team-mates and the opposition players are protected from harm or injury. This then gives Hernandez the strength and confidence he requires to play football in the apparent knowledge that he and his friends are being protected by a benevolent being of great power.
Despite there possibly/probably not being a god who fulfils Hernandez's request, as long as he believes with all his mind that there is in fact such a being and that he will be safe, that is enough for him. As Jonathan Edwards, the record-breaking triple jumper who whilst an athlete was a strong believer in God said, "Believing in something beyond the self can have a hugely beneficial psychological impact, even if the belief is fallacious."
Sports psychologists believe that an athlete’s mental toughness is as important as physical strength. Religious beliefs and rituals can therefore provide athletes with physical and spiritual reinforcement, relieve anxiety, help them concentrate and face competition with confidence, as well as supplying reasons for practising and developing physical skills.
One of the worlds most expensive footballers in Brazilian superstar Kaka "Belongs to Jesus", thanks to a shirt he is so often happy to reveal to the world and a habit of thanking God through prayer after significant career highs such as winning the World Cup and the Champions League.
Religion plays a big part in many other footballers' careers, with Newcastle's Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa devout Muslims who have made their club consider creating a prayer room for religious players to pray at the training ground in a move that is hoped to lend respect to those players who may have a different religion to most of the footballers in the country. The Magpies manager Alan Pardew emphasized: "It’s important that whatever the religion, we take care of it and understand."
This trend may continue with Ali Al-Habsi of Wigan, Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh, Chelsea's Salomon Kalou and Yossi Benayoun all being practising Muslims in the Premier League and hundreds of others like Jermaine Defoe - a devout Christian.
Like Newcastle, Manchester City have a prayer room with several Muslims including former Arsenal players Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri. Club chaplains are at two thirds of the 92 clubs playing in the Premier and Football League and are available to talk to players and the club staff to give spiritual advice and support in difficult times.
Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson has lent his support to this chaplaincy said: "Chaplains can be of help to all sorts of people involved with sport, when crisis, need, or difficulty comes. I commend the idea of sports chaplaincy."
Popular religious pilgrimage Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina is proving popular for religious footballers too. It is the place where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to six schoolchildren in 1981. Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini, Italian captain Gianluigi Buffon and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, considered the best player in the world at the moment, have visited the tourist mecca in recent weeks showing their obvious support and demonstrating the momentous value religion has on their lives.
God seems to have intervened in far less savoury ways such as in the World Cup of 1986 in which the infamous "Hand of God" appeared through Maradona - a man who actually has had a parody religion created in praise of him in Argentina called the 'Maradonian Church'. The second coming occurred in the 2010 World Cup when Luis Suarez claimed to have "the real hand of God". "The Hand of God now belongs to me," said Suarez after stopping Ghana from scoring a late goal in the quarter finals.
Who knows if there will be a third coming, but it certainly seems that the important psychological boost provided by the admittedly ferocious force of religion can and will be beneficial for particular sportsmen and women who have the capability of truly believing in their convictions.
In high pressure and intense games such as football, with huge expectations to fulfil for hopeful supporters as well as constant attention from the media, strong belief can be helpful and advantageous to a players performances, and in this increasingly multicultural society we live in, clubs, players and fans alike should and will surely be happy to accept and welcome the compelling beliefs of others, especially if it helps to win some silverware.