It is widely agreed that the surest method of writing a page in the dense, varied history of the beautiful game is to lift the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy, but the members of this elite club are few and far between. The second option is just as tricky as, put simply, it involves being a footballing genius.
But not every player who takes to the pitch is capable of breathtaking moves, spectacular goals, mazy dribbles or amazing saves. There is one final tactic adopted by some in an attempt to leave a mark: an unforgettable look. And in this highly subjective area, hairstyles, beards and moustaches all have a crucial role to play, as FIFA.com can reveal.
Starting at the beginning – a very good place to start – and in particular with England, the recognized home of football, where talented feet have often been overshadowed by cutting-edge hairstyles, such as Bobby Charlton’s infamous ‘comb-over’ or the flowing locks of George best, a look that earned the late legend the moniker ‘the fifth Beatle’. The most recent example of Premier League stars having a bad hair day is at Newcastle United, newly promoted from the second tier, where four players decided that they would not shave off their ever-expanding moustaches until their club won its first match.
“We had a chat about what we could do, and we originally thought about growing a beard,” explained midfielder Joey Barton, instigator of the ‘Magpie Moustache Challenge’. “One thing led to another and before I knew it, we’d all agreed to grow a moustache. It could be here for a while longer if we don’t get off to a good start.” And while the Magpies’ 3-0 defeat to Manchester United in their season opener had the players fearing the worst, the following match saw them literally tearing their hair out, as a resounding 6-0 victory – notable for a hat-trick from the moustachioed Carroll – put paid to Barton's short-lived challenge.
Across the Channel, the French Cup had, at one time, a history of leaving local barbers with considerable spare time on their hands, due to the previous tradition of teams refusing to shave while they were still in the running for the tournament. Consequently, when the final came along, the two sides left in the competition would often take to the pitch completely unrecognizable, so utterly covered in unkempt hair were their faces.
Luis Fernandez experienced the phenomenon in the 1980s, as part of a team that delivered to Paris Saint-Germain the first two trophies in the club’s history. “We really laid the foundations for PSG’s future successes with that first Cup win,” he recalled. “We let our beards grow until we were either knocked out or lifted the trophy. It’s a shame that teams no longer indulge in that kind of fun – it’s something that’s missing from modern football." Although beards are certainly a rarity at French Cup finals these days, three out of the last five have seen Guy Lacombe, the proud owner of one of the most famous moustaches in France, lead out one of the competing teams.
A hairy experience
In Albania, on the other hand, there was a time when sporting a beard was severely frowned upon. As far-fetched as it may sound, during the 1970s Enver Hoxha, First Secretary of the ruling Communist Party, officially banned any form of facial hair. The law applied to foreign visitors as well as Albanians, which meant that the players of Scottish champions Celtic, temporarily in the country to face Partizan Tirana in a first-round European Cup tie in 1979, were not exempt.
A diplomatic incident was narrowly avoided on the night of the match, when defender Danny McGrain entered the fray with his trademark thick bristles. “We were a wee bit anxious, because there was a lot in the press about beards being banned there,” revealed the bearded rebel. “I would have done it if they had asked, but I had actually seen a few people with beards beforehand.”
We let our beards grow until we were either knocked out or lifted the trophy. It’s a shame that teams no longer indulge in that kind of fun.
After having persuaded the Albanian police to let McGrain play, Celtic went on to lose 1-0 on the night, but managed to turn things around 4-1 in the return leg. McGrain’s bushy beard would become as much a part of his legend as the 657 matches he played for Celtic during a distinguished career. Thirteen years on from events in Tirana, when he turned his hand to management at Arbroath, the club’s supporters took to calling themselves ‘McGrain's Bearded Army’. “It was crazy but brilliant,” recalled chairman John Christison. “They would all wear their own beards and we had 700 T-shirts printed up. They sold out in three days!”
If Lyon had tried flogging T-shirts emblazoned with the face of Argentinian striker Lisandro Lopez last season, there is a good chance they would have sold like hotcakes. From the moment he arrived on French soil in the summer of 2009, the former Porto forward opted to stop shaving until he scored his first Ligue 1 goal. It was therefore with a look not dissimilar to Santa Claus that he took to the pitch for his Lyon debut at Le Mans.
Scorer of a dramatic last-minute equaliser, the South American kept his word and promptly turned up clean-shaven at training the following day. Voted 2009/10 Player of the Year in France, ‘Licha’ saw no reason not to repeat the self-imposed trick for this current season. Unfortunately, having so far failed to find the net in the opening four fixtures, his beard is already significantly longer than last year’s effort.
Moustaches, Mutiny and manic mops
Supporters of Portugal’s national team recently took a different approach to the crucial question of the role of the moustache in football. While Carlos Queiroz’s players were busy preparing for South Africa 2010, their fervent fans were starting a tongue-in-cheek petition. The ultimate goal of this became clear during a friendly match against China in March, when a banner in the Coimbra stands claimed that only moustachioed players were welcome in Portugal’s FIFA World Cup squad. The day after the game, campaigns supporting the idea began to appear all over the Internet, many of which took to posting doctored photos of Cristiano Ronaldo boasting a range of impressive 'taches.
A few years earlier, Colombian midfielder Carlos Valderrama was one player who had no need to ask for the public’s support or permission in order to grow the little black moustache and frizzy blond mane that remain as memorable today as his skills with the ball. Generally accepted as the best player ever to pull on a Colombia shirt, ‘El Pibe’ made an indelible impression wherever he played, particularly at MLS outfit Tampa Bay Mutiny, where every matchday became known by home supporters as ‘Carlos Valderrama Day’. Even their opponents were not immune to Valderrama’s charms, as proven in July 1996 by Kansas City’s players who, in a show of respect for the South American legend, traipsed on to the pitch wearing blond wigs.
The idea of a Dream Team composed entirely of players responsible for football’s most outlandish beards and haircuts is not without its admirers. With the long-haired, moustache-sporting David Seaman or Rene Higuita between the sticks, protected by a defence including Portuguese full-back Abel Xavier, former USA centre-half Alexei Lalas, Nigeria’s Taribo West and Argentina’s Fabricio Coloccini, they would prove a difficult obstacle for most teams.
In midfield, Juan Pablo Sorin and his manic mop, German world champion Paul Breitner and his bushy beard, and Belgium international Marouane Fellaini and his trademark afro, would be nothing less than a handful. Up front, Djibril Cisse’s various hair-related extravagances, Rudi Voller’s moustache and Henrik Larsson’s dreadlocks would immediately earn the triumvirate a well-deserved place in the team.
The substitutes’ bench would also be bursting with enough talent to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end. Edgar Davids, Ruud Gullit, Trifon Ivanov, Claudio Caniggia and even Ronaldo (2002 FIFA World Cup Final version) could all make a case for inclusion in the first team. One thing is certain: their place in the history of eye-catching hairstyles is already guaranteed.