In every team, in every dressing room, players fall unconsciously into universal roles. Whether that team is the world champions or Saturday morning amateurs, there will be the jokers, the organisers, the moaners and the motivators, and a few more besides. Nicolas Castillo, though, performs a rather less common function. He, it transpires, is the Chile hairdresser.
Castillo is, of course, a great deal more than that. He is also La Rojita's attacking spearhead and top scorer at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, having found the net in each of his appearances at the tournament thus far. Nonetheless, he has been keeping himself busy away from the pitch, having arrived in Turkey armed not only with his boots and shinpads, but with clippers and scissors.
“Yes, it’s true,” the smiling striker told FIFA.com. “So far here, I’ve cut the hair of six of the team: Christian Cuevas, Dario Melo, Diego Valdes, Felipe Campos, Alejandro Contreras, and myself of course.”
Unusual as it might seem, this is not a whim borne out of boredom in between matches and training sessions. As Castillo explains, he is merely continuing a practice that began during a previous tournament in which Chile enjoyed notable success. “It’s not a new thing for me,” he explained. “I did the same thing during the South American Championship, so it has become a bit of a tradition – and maybe it’s good luck for the team.”
A tradition it may be, but just as strikers are assessed on the frequency of their goals, so hairdressers are judged by the quantity of happy customers. It was time, therefore, to be frank. Which haircuts was Castillo proud of, and which left a little to be desired?
“The worst? Hey, come on - none of them is bad! They’re all great,” said the striker, laughing as he adopted a tone of mock indignation. “But the best, I would say, is the one I did for Christian Cuevas. He wanted a line shaved into his and it had to be perfect. That one was definitely the best, so far at least. We’ll see if there are better to come. As for whether they’ve all been happy with the results so far, I have to be honest and say it’s around 50-50. The ones who complain, though, won’t get another haircut from me. They can do it themselves in future.”
The jokes and light-hearted sparring that have emanated from Castillo’s unlikely hobby are typical of the kind of relaxed, effortless camaraderie that exists within the Chile squad. “We play PlayStation all the time, watch a lot of TV and videos, and there’s always music, of course,” said Castillo. “I’m a DJ too, so I always like to have music on. It’s a really good group we have at this tournament and these are special moments for all of us to be here. We’re away for a long time together but the atmosphere is great; we’re always together, laughing and joking. We’re like a family but the most important thing is always to stay a family on the pitch as well as off it, and I feel we’re doing that.”
Part of Castillo’s TV diet has involved checking up on potential opponents by watching the live coverage of the other sections at Turkey 2013. And while he knows only too well the threat posed by South American rivals Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay – all of whom have made it through to knockout rounds – it is two European sides that have most caught his eye. “For me, the best I’ve seen so far are Spain and France,” he said. “They will be big threats to us and any other teams with hopes of winning the tournament.”
It is, of course, another European side, Croatia, that Chile must overcome if they are to further their unabashed ambitions of bringing home the trophy. Having earned the right to rest a raft of key players - Castillo included - by qualifying for the last 16 with a game to spare, it was a much-weakened Rojita side that lost 2-1 to Iraq in their final Group E match to cede top spot. The benefit, though, is that Mario Salas’s side can now approach their Bursa meeting with the Croatians refreshed, re-energised and with the same attacking mentality that served them well thus far.
“I think that’s the best part of this team – we always try to be positive,” said Castillo, gesturing to signify the forward motion he and his team-mates seek to achieve. “We just love to attack. I’m definitely happy with the tournament so far. With my goals? Of course. But more so about the way the team is playing. Plus, we know which areas we can still improve on – and there is no doubt we can still improve – so I’m sure you will see even better things from Chile in our next matches. And hopefully from me too.”
If he can even maintain his goal-a-game ratio thus far throughout his team’s involvement at Turkey 2013, Castillo will be able to reflect on a job very well done. And who knows? Perhaps he will even come up with a haircut to better Cuevas’s along the way.