The World Cup only lasts a month, but barbers deal with the fallout for years. David Beckham’s World Cup haircuts were anticipated as eagerly as his free-kicks. We need only cast our minds back to the Euros last year for a chastening example. Phil Foden turned up with a white-blonde buzz, a lid that launched a thousand brassy imitations. Remember, boys: use toner or turn ginger.
Still, Foden’s human-lighthouse look was an anomaly in a tournament that tended lengthy. The Euros, and the preceding World Cup, were a furry chaos. Straggly man buns, elastic headbands sweeping back sweaty bobs, Jack Grealish’s unique ‘gentleman carrot’ situation.
This year the vibe is more macho. Not simply a ‘short back and sides’ but an ultra-styled square trim. Less Legolas, more like a bit of Lego has been clipped on their head. What they’re trying to give off is a smart, no-nonsense impression. A cut that means business. It’s as much a part of their pre-match gearing up as their pep-talk from Southgate.
While it looks low-maintenance, don’t be fooled. This highly refined SBAS is manicured to within an inch - or more likely eighth-of-an-inch - of its life. Like a perfect box hedge, it is a look that can only be achieved with constant labour and attention.
“There’s definitely a return to the short back and sides or The Fade, this World Cup,” agrees hairstylist Jake Wanstall from the Larry King hair salon in London. “A lot of the footballers now get a crop, so it’s short on the top as well as almost a buzz cut around the sides.” Wanstall cites Mason Mount’s crop as a classic cut, but for him, team captain Harry Kane has the quintessentially smart short back and sides.
Dating back to the first First War, when military barbers would quickly and efficiently cut the hair short to give a uniform appearance, as well as to help with hygiene in the trenches, it’s been a style that has had enduring appeal throughout the 20th century.
The crew cut is a version of the short style, too, which originated in the late 1920s when a Yale rowing team member had his hair cut short and the rest of the crew followed suit. The contemporary iteration is longer on top; precision-styled cuts like that of goalie Jordan Pickford leave the players looking like they could have stepped off the set of Peaky Blinders.
The ‘fade’ is the barber’s term for a gradual progression from short hair around the sides down to a buzz cut by the neckline. “Fades have been in fashion for the last two years,” explains Wanstall. When the South London barber Sheldon Edwards cut Sterling’s hair last year with a manicured fade, he was inundated with requests from young men for the exact same style.
Although The Fade is seen on Sterling and Pickford with shorter crops of hair on top, the fade also allows for a little creativity. “Jack Grealish has a fade around the sides but still keeps his hair very long on top,” explains Wanstall. This requires constant upkeep. “The players will likely have a barber on standby to re-fade the hair around once a week.” The Surrey based barber Ahmed Alsanawi, who was the Chelsea football team’s official barber for three years, is rumoured to be the man in Qatar keeping the footballer’s fades fresh. Before long he will be trotting out during drinks breaks for quick touch-ups from the touchline.
It’s no surprise that a short, sharp style is in favour with the ultra-groomed England squad. The modern game is more technical than ever; and so are the dos. There is not a hair out of place, which also thanks to a hefty amount of hair gel and precise combing. Of course on a footballer’s salary, one can afford more than just a basic pot of Brylcreem. The modern man now styles his hair with pomades and clays; Larry’s own versions cost around the £20 mark, while luxury brands such as Acqua Di Parma have their own upmarket hair gels that will set you back £32 a pot.
While they might be excessively maintained, at least the current crop of England crops is reasonably businesslike. Their playground imitators will not be sent home from school. But like formations and tactics, haircuts in football are cyclical. A nemesis is looming on the horizon. It was last seen on an England player in the dark days of the early 90s, but it is making a comeback on hipsters like Hector Bellerin. Mark our words, it will be angling for a place in the England side by Euro 2024: the mullet.