Friday, April 9, 2010
Updated: April 11, 10:35 AM ET
Highlights of a different kind
By Roger Bennett & David Hirshey
Special to ESPN.com
Lionel Messi has been rightfully lauded as one of the greatest players ever to take the field in the wake of his four-goal deconstruction of a discombobulated Arsenal. One of the more remarkable but rarely discussed aspects of his game is his achievement of this feat without ever developing a signature haircut. Each one of his favored styles, be it limp and long, an impish bob, or his current journey deep into mullet territory, look as if he has sheepishly emerged from a local Supercuts.
Messi's superior abilities allow him to get away with this. His peers are not so lucky. Merely mortal and less skill-kissed, they have just more than 60 days to finalize their World Cup looks. The styles they commit to can either be very good or very, very bad. It matters not as long as they stand out. The World Cup is many things: A sporting spectacle, multinational marketing frenzy and political signifier in equal measure. But it is also the largest talent showcase in the soccer world and one in which almost every player can audition. The key is to grab the spotlight and be noticed. All it takes is one stabbing run or gravity-defying goal. Failing that, a distinctive haircut may do just as well. In this era of lucrative image rights, many players have cottoned on to the fact a hairdresser with a courageous imagination (or failing that, a sense of humor) can be more useful than a crack fitness coach in the run-up to kickoff.
David Beckham is the pathfinder in this regard. He has braided it, shaved it, dyed it, layered it, blown it out, fauxhawked it -- pretty much everything but bent it -- aware that his shape-shifting extreme makeovers are sufficient to throw the world's media off the stench of his declining skills.
It should be noted, not everyone appreciates this kind of unfettered creativity. Nigerian government minister Otunba Olusegun Runsewe lambasted his country's top stars, including then-captain Jay-Jay Okocha and lanky striker Nwankwo Kanu, on national television in 2004: "Our youths are now taking after our great football stars ... don't forget that in the developing world that the braiding of hair and earrings have a sense of homosexuality." His criticism fell on deaf ears. Which is just as well. If it had not, we would have been unable to celebrate the innovative spirit of the gentlemen below who leveraged their unique manes to enter the pantheon of World Cup legends.
Hair Club Poster Boy
|Does this look like one of England's greatest players ever?|
Bobby Charlton, England, 1962, 1966, 1970
This England legend would not go gently into the bald night. Long deluded about his hair loss, he preferred to sport a comb over which slapped against his forehead like a piece of flapping skin as he charged box to box.
|That's Breitner on the left and Kevin Keegan on the right, undoubtedly discussing hair products.|
Paul Breitner, West Germany, 1974, 1982
Breitner's free-living 'do was a tangible manifestation of his radical political outlook and "attack from the back" style that set him apart from the rest of his more conservative teammates on the 1974 World Cup-winning team. While legendary captain Franz Beckenbauer was known as "Der Kaiser," Breitner was "Der Afro."
|It's a shame the mustache has largely disappeared from the World Cup.|
Graeme Souness, Scotland, 1978, 1982, 1986
Nowadays, this look screams Smooth Jazz DJ. Back in the '80s, it signaled tough-tackling midfielder by day, sex symbol by night. Adoring fans of his club side, Liverpool, used to refer affectionately to Souness' signature moustache as his "womb broom."
Rudi Voeller, Germany, 1986, 1990, 1994, 2002 (as coach)
Proud owner of a perm so brittle that when Dutch star Frank Rijkaard saw fit to spit in the German's hairdo in 1990, his deposit failed to break the surface, sitting limply on top of the curls like a telephone wire wilting between two poles.
|Perms, short-shorts and plaid plants. Thank god the '80s are long gone.|
On The Good Ship Lollipop
|The hair was a good distraction while juking defenders.|
Leonel Alvarez, Colombia, 1990, 1994
Playing in front of eccentric permed goalkeeper Rene Higuita, Alvarez contributed to one of the hairiest defenses in World Cup history. Physical and tough, his aggressive play was belied by his soft, sweet curls. He racked up the MLS single-season record for yellow cards received sporting this haircut more fitting of Shirley Temple.
Roberto Baggio, Italy, 1990, 1994, 1998
Known as the Divine Ponytail, Baggio was always a contradiction: an Italian Buddhist, a brilliant striking talent on a team obsessed with defense and a serene presence on a physical squad. An Italian pop song written in homage to his inimitable style contained the line, "When you watch Baggio play, you hear children," which was fitting as his rattails are more commonly seen on a kindergarten playground.
|Who can forget Baggio's ponytail from 1994? Or his failed shootout PK, which gave the title to Brazil?|
Let There Be Light
Carlos Valderrama, Colombia, 1990, 1994, 1998
If Helios, the Greek god of the sun, played soccer, he would look like Valderrama with his golden mane: resplendent, brazen and singular.
|What can you say other than, "That's a lot of hair."|
|Bulgarian soccer player or early '90s Canadian hockey player?|
Trifon Ivanov, Bulgaria, 1994, 1998
The defender was an intimidating presence when the World Cup came to the United States and his Bulgarian team claimed fourth place in 1994. Soccer lovers awarded him the nickname "The Bulgarian Wolf." Most Americans preferred to call him "Tootsie."
The 1990s was a decade in which a bottle of bleach was many a footballer's best friend. English stars Beckham, Robbie Fowler and David James all employed one to varying degrees of success. The apogee of the style was Romania's 1998 squad, which dyed their hair en masse to take the field resembling a team of real Slim Shadys.
|Don't knock the power of team unity: Romania won its group in 1998.|
Pythagoras In Cleats
|Worst ever? Hard to disagree.|
Ronaldo, Brazil, 1998, 2002, 2006
This 2002 triangular hairstyle was voted the worst cut of all time by English tabloid The Sun, an award that no doubt takes pride of place on the Brazilian's mantelpiece alongside the World Cup winners medal he also earned that year.
|A true innovator.|
Taribo West, Nigeria, 1998, 2002
Too many style lists hate on Taribo and his double sets of dreds. The Internet is awash with theorists decoding what he wound into his hair, be it "bits of My Little Pony" or "pipe cleaners." Taribo was one of the game's characters, known by his teammates as the "Pastor" for his dedication to the church. Simply put, if he had a basic short back and sides, we would not still be talking about him.
Punk's Not Dead
Jan Polak, Czech Republic, 2006
Handled with care, the Skunk and the Mohawk are soccer haircuts of distinction. Ignoring both tonsorial and medical advice, Czech midfielder Polak attempted to fuse the two elements and emerged resembling the victim of some self-inflicted science experiment.
|A back view best shows off Jan Polak's, umm, unique style.|
Roger Bennett and David Hirshey are the co-authors of the forthcoming "ESPN World Cup Companion," your guide to everything you need to know to enjoy the 2010 World Cup.