The Grateful Head: The Best and Worst Football Follicles

Andrea Pirlo: Majestic. Flowing. Elegant. And his football’s not bad either. When the world is graced by the lustrous presence of such a glorious mop, such a awe-inspiring collection of man-string, it’s easy to see why the modern footballer is as much a model as he is an athlete. In Pirlo’s case, only his work on the pitch can rival the magnificence of his mane. The clipped beard he’s added to the ensemble in the last few seasons has given him an even more distinguished look, the density and evenness of it complimenting his bountiful barnet perfectly, providing a comforting balance and a soothing continuity. Somehow, Pirlo combines the rugged toughness of, say, Kurt Russell’s MacReady in The Thing, with the flowing, luscious Farrah Fawcette-like bangs of Kurt Russell’s MacReady in The Thing… look, basically he’s MacReady, but can also play football like the Good Lord has sneezed on his feet. He’s an example to us all, a hair icon for the ages, and the perfect person with which to open this article.

Now, in the dappled light reflecting off Pirlo’s shimmering (no doubt conditioned) locks, the next few men cast even more telling shadows with their own efforts. Just a glimpse of some of these scalps makes you want to curl up and dye, or at the very least lunge menacingly with scissors. So instead, why not mingle the bad with the good, and have the worst offenders be followed mercifully by the most outstanding proponents of good hairdom.

Bad: Steven El Shaarawy

When David Beckham thrusted the fauxhawk into the world footballing zeitgeist, even the most pessimistic of onlookers could not have predicted just how horrid a beast the concept would mutate into only a few years later. Steven El Shaarawy is a young, talented winger, playing in one of the world’s most fashion-conscious cities, Milan. He is obviously very concerned about his appearance, as most 22 year old Italian men tend to be, and so it makes it even more baffling that he would decide to structure his hair in this way. And structure is the right word; jutting upwards like a cluster of ebony needles, with a sculpted crown that seems to have been carved into his head with a laser, El Shaarawy makes clear that this isn’t some strange mistake, that he isn’t the victim of some high-concept hairdresser that has conned him into being an unwilling guinea pig. No, this is entirely his own doing. He must want to look like a 5 ft 10 inch chicken, and throw the silhouette of a conehead. This is an example of hair under too much control, overthought and gelled to within an inch of its life. The putrid icing on this thready cake is the slit shaved into the front, as if he’s just had a close encounter, James Bond-style, with a buzz saw. Sort it out, young man.

Good: Graziano Pelle

Sensational. Like a tightly coiled bundle of filament liquorice, jet black and combed with micrometre-perfect precision, Southampton’s new Italian striker is perhaps football’s most impressive proponent of the archetypal coif. Conservatism is almost never a good thing in football, but what we don’t want in our playing styles, our attitudes towards women, and our topics for ‘banter’, we do very much want in our players’ hairstyles. Pelle has perfected the old-fashioned slick-back, but what makes his version all the more impressive is that, as it gets pulled out of place, and hairs come loose with every exertion, it gets even better. Like your favourite leather jacket, wear and tear only improves it, and as his sable strands flop down in comfortable, dapper bunches, we all swoon and feel the pang of jealousy that comes quickly to those without such dope hairlines. Bravo, campagno.

Bad: Gabriel Paletta

Oh, Gabriel. When you signed, then flopped, for Liverpool, you didn’t see what was coming. Then, you had a lovely do, with a follicle count more than sufficient to just about pull off the rarely advised middle-part. But, just a few short years later, said follicles (not unlike your career in England) deserted you in cold-blood (and scalp) and without remorse. You should have let go of your dreams of a personalised range of headbands, gotten out the clippers and set the length to .5. But you didn’t, and the world is much, much worse off for it. Length does not, I repeat, does not create the illusion of density, and the sight of your stringy, threadbare scalp is one only Ray Charles could endure. You are a defender, recently called up to represent Italy; heading is a frequent part of your job, and so any attempts at a combover will be found out at once. Sort. It. Out.

Good: Paul Konchesky

Paul Konchesky’s is a curious case. Having forged a long and largely impressive career in English football, Konchesky famously sported the ultra-cueball look for most of it. In fact, until he was promoted to the Premier League with Leicester City this season, most of the football-perusing public would still have had the cueball as their go-to image for him. At West Ham, Liverpool and Fulham, he was utterly bald, and we all assumed it was a decision made in preparation for impending male pattern baldness (ahem, Gabriel, see?) or to avoid some other strange hair-related issue. But no, when he debuted this season, he was lidded in handsome gun-metal grey. Suddenly, this was a new Paul, more a statesman than a left back. Even when he made that sublime own-through ball to gift a goal to West Ham’s Andy Carroll the other week, he looked bloody distinguished doing it. It all makes one wonder why he denied us the pleasure for so long? Bald men everywhere exasperatedly scratch their scalps, searching for a reason why a man blessed with such a regal thatch of bonnet-fleece would willingly let the exposed bonce shine forth so, and for so long. Ah well, better late than never.

Bad: Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney almost doesn’t qualify, because his hair is only barely his own. Yes, he grew it himself, but it’s been transplanted from, probably, the back of his neck, to the rather less endowed area on top. Wayne went through a rather public (because how could he have hidden suddenly resprouting hair) hair transplant operation a few seasons ago, and the results are thus: a smattering of baby-thin wisps that go lank and transparent at the whiff of rain, precipitation that tends to hang around a bit in Manchester. It all seems so unnecessary; Wayne, you’re hardly a looker, in fact you’ve got a face that could curdle a glass of water. Your reputation has been built on a sort of air of ruddy-faced graft, a working class-ness, a lumpy, dirty, rough-and-ready way of being an extremely effective footballer. No one has ever though “Gosh, that Wayne Rooney’s a real looker, never mind his football”. In short, you are not the Anna Kournikova of your sport. Everything about you screams for the skinheaded look you rocked before the transplant. It was tough, intimidating, and when you occasionally did produce a moment of silky quality, it was even more impressive since it came essentially from a man who looked as if he might bite your nose off in a prison shower. If you thought that this is what the post-transplant outcome would resemble, you were wrong. I don’t know how reversible hair transplant surgery is, but I’m praying that something can be done.

Good: Edinson Cavani

It’s difficult to imagine Edinson Cavani, all high cheek bones and menacing gazes, without his iconic inky tresses framing it all. And that’s because he’s had the same hairdo for his entire professional career. Of course, it suits him perfectly. Tall, lithe and sinewy, the Uruguayan striker’s cascading ringlets turn him from a run-of-the-mill great striker, into a debonair hitman, capable of beguiling you with one L’Oreal-style hair flick just as easily as he could with one perfectly taken goal. His shag really hits its top form on the field, as it becomes less tamed, as sweat and movement form more dark, curling ringlets. Nicknamed El Matador, Cavani’s hair is his cape, swaying, deceiving, seducing a rampaging, bullish centre back. One suspects a sort of Samson-like reliance and certainly, if he were to lose his hair in some terrible accident, the footballing world would mourn as one. Perish the thought.

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