Hair affords soccer players the opportunity to express themselves. It lets them transcend the anonymizing effects of their uniforms. When you watch Euro 2016, you will marvel at the amount of time and the quantity of product required to hold Stephan El Shaarawy’s Super Saiyan–esque blowout in place; you will dip your chin against your chest in a reflexive sign of respect for the swag-drenched, bleach-outlined “POGBOOM” razor script adorning Paul Pogba’s head; and you will understand the unhappiness that caused Wayne Rooney to get hair plugs.
This is natural. Hair has history. The Venus of Willendorf statuette, one of the oldest depictions of the human form, has looping details covering its head, which suggest hairstyling or perhaps some kind of rad headdress made of seashells. Hair replenishes itself, making it a natural metaphor for rebirth and renewal. There have been entire musicals written about hair and several operas written about barbers. That our deep instinct for adornment carries over to sports should not be a surprise.
The meaning of a hairstyle changes over time. In 2001, Allen Iverson’s braids scared the shit out of your parents and got David Stern interested in conservative menswear. In 2016, Kawhi Leonard’s braids say: “I have no personality. I drive a 20-year-old car. Eye contact makes me uncomfortable. Please talk to Tim Duncan.”
This is a new era, though. The proliferation of high-definition cameras and social media means an athlete’s image can circle the globe in pin-sharp definition in the blink of an eye. Such conditions would cause even the most humble apostle to discover the vanity lurking within.
For soccer players, though, looking fly is more than just peacocking; it’s a rational economic response. In a 2012 paper titled “Talent and/or Popularity: What Does It Take to Be a Superstar?,” economists Egon Franck and Stephan Nüesch found “clear evidence that both a player’s talent and his nonperformance-related popularity increase his market value.”
Soccer — unlike basketball, the world’s other great helmetless sport — does not produce reams of raw statistical data that might be printed on the back of a Wheaties box and quoted easily in casual company. The aforementioned Pogba is one of the most dynamic young players in the world, but he averaged about 0.24 goals and 0.36 assists per game this season in Serie A. Seen through the lens of Franck and Nüesch, though, Pogba’s variously wild haircuts can be thought of as a hedge in the market against a paucity of easily ingestible stats. The guy simply looks like a superstar. To paraphrase a popular saying: Get your hair cut for the job you want, not the job you have. Pogba is one of the most sought-after young players in the world; it’s working.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Nice use of Google Scholar, but isn’t this really just an excuse to bust on dudes’ haircuts?” Of course it is. I consulted with barbers Eli and Mike from New York’s On the Mark Barber Shop (along with my friend Myles) to bring you the Euro 2016 Barbershop Awards.
Bond Villain Award: Aaron Ramsey, Wales
This look really puts the Aryan in Targaryen. My favorite player from the 2013–14 Premier League Season. Not satisfied with killing celebs via the black-magic causality of his infrequent goals, Rambo’s white-hot do will soon be slaying the pixels on your television. This is the kind of hair choice that makes your manager feel better about playing you out of position.
Barber’s take: “I’m sure this was really painful,” says Eli. “I’ve done this before. This was definitely done with 40 percent bleach solution. This shit was probably really burning him. He should’ve at least lightened the eyebrows so it would match up more. I think it’s going to look better when it grows out a little and the roots come out.”
Worst Undercut: Aleksandr Golovin, Russia
Nicknamed “The Russian Ronaldo,” this attacking midfielder, who was recently named one of the young players to watch of Euro 2016 by the BBC, appears to be rocking the standard undercut (shaved sides and back, long on top) that can be seen on the heads of roughly 45 percent of the world’s male population. According to our experts, Golovin’s is poorly executed.
Barber’s take: “Bad haircut,” says Eli. “Or maybe he styled it wrong. It’s not really a blend, not really a fade, not really an undercut. And the part wasn’t done cleanly.”
The Gumby: Steliano Filip, Romania
Strong Astro Boy vibes with this look. Very Jude Law in A.I. Unsurprisingly, the dudes at On the Mark are feeling this one.
Barber’s take: “Nice undercut,” says Eli. “Nice, hard part, buzzed on the sides to about a number two.”
What do you think he uses to keep this thing standing up while running around on the pitch?
“It’s definitely like a pomade and hairspray. Blow-dry it in place, maybe upside down.”
The Helmet: Elseid Hysaj, Albania
The Albanian right back’s hair conveys the rigidity of bulldozer blades, carbon nanotubes, chain mail, and Kevlar.
Barber’s take: “Very nice hairstyle,” says Mike. “Slicked back, short on the sides. He used gel and pomade. … It’s a very wet look.”
The Heavy Metal Parking Lot: Julian Baumgartlinger, Austria
Humidity is undefeated. This is what Europeans looked like for thousands of years before air conditioning.
Barber’s take: “This guy … I don’t know what he got right now,” says Mike. “He got the ‘I don’t care, I just woke up.’ I call it the ‘I don’t care style.’”
The Canvas: Radja Nainggolan, Belgium
According to Mike and Eli, hairstyles are only as dope as the quality of the head they live on. For the barber, an attractive, symmetrical cranium is an open invitation to express their creativity and artistry.
Barber’s take: “This guy has actually an amazing head,” says Mike. “It’s perfectly shaped. He could have any hairstyle. Buzzed, whatever. Anything would look good on his head.”
Source: Ringer Analytics Dept.
Notable Tape-ups and Shape-ups From France, England, and Austria
With commentary from my friend Myles, who doesn’t follow soccer
Nathaniel Clyne, England
“This guy has a solid fade,” says Myles. “I like the part, but he either has a weird-shaped head or his hairline is doing funny things.”
Ryan Bertrand, England
“I’m not mad at this one.”
David Alaba, Austria
Alaba is rocking the Odell Beckham, but as a fade — not a Mohawk. This hairstyle crossed over to the NBA recently, and can be seen on Allen Crabbe, Marcus Smart, and Jared Sullinger. According to Myles: “The fade is clean on the sides. Solid blending/lining. The top just needs Jesus.”
Most Intensive Upkeep Award: Paul Pogba, France
Myles: “Carving shit in your hair might be retro now, but it was wack to me back then, and that still applies. Otherwise a very respectable fade. Tight, sharp, and wavy.”
Barber’s take: “Nice design in the writing,” says Eli. “Really precise. The bleaching is nice. He would need to get this touched up about once a week.”
The “That Guy Looks Like He’s From That Country” Award: Stephen Quinn, Republic of Ireland
Best Buzz-cut/Dad-Bod Combo: Gábor Király, Hungary
Gábor Király is 40. He definitely buzzes his own head using a Braun electric shaver. He tucks his shirt into his sweatpants, especially when he wears dress sweatpants, which is all the time. He has the muscle tone of public-school art-class rubber cement. He wears gardening gloves on the field. He looks like the super of any apartment building in Manhattan. He looks like a taxi driver in any of the Taken movies. He looks like he plays with a whole box of NicoDerm patches attached to his torso.
Tallest Hair: Stephan El Shaarawy, Italy
Approximate hair height: 3.5 inches/8.9 centimeters. Approximate preparation time: 30 minutes (or one-third of a soccer match).
Barber’s take: “Nice style,” says Mike. “Number-one fade disconnected to the top. He used a blow-dryer, definitely, and some paste for a dry look.”
All photos via Getty Images.