Soccer is just a sport, right? Not exactly. To many, soccer is considered an art form. It is the art of fluid body movements and delicate touches of the ball, all centered around a pristine canvas known as the pitch. And what would art be without out-of-the-box elements?
One of the more noticeable standouts of the 2014 World Cup are the artistic expressions of hairstyles from players of all 32 countries, as our friends at DIS have noted
. But, let's take it a few steps further. This is not a one-time phenomenon, nor is it happenstance. The trend may be catching fire with audiences now, but let's go back to the 1994 FIFA World Cup, held right here in the US: There were no flashy cleats, and definitely none of those made-for-fans uniforms that scream, "Buy Me!" What you did find, was the marked foray into players rocking unique hairstyles in order to differentiate themselves.
Differentiation and distinction: Defining factors that give the eccentric hairstyle tradition in soccer its backbone. It not only gives players a chance to display what makes them unique, it puts a spotlight on their respective countries and cultural backgrounds.
If you've ever attended a youth soccer tournament in America, you'll see how common it is for teams to bleach or color their hair, to sport fauxhawks and mohawks. As a 10-year-old, aspiring soccer player, I remember watching US National Team member Cobi Jones streak down the sidelines, his miniature dreadlocks
flowing behind him as he diced through defenders.
Little did I know that one day, I would be playing next to him on the Los Angeles Galaxy
with my own unique, evolving hairstyles. In my nine-year professional career, the identity I created through my hair allowed me to express myself on the field as a professional, and made me recognizable to the fans (the day I shaved my head, even my parents didn't recognize me from the stands).
My dad's side of the family is from Jamaica, so being half-Jamaican, I had always wanted to explore my roots. Exactly what roots, you ask? Yes, those would be the head-turning dreadlocks that are supposedly intrinsic to every Jamaican's head.
My journey began with the torturous in-between stage, where my hair looked as if my barber had neglected me for months. (If you've ever tried growing your hair out, you feel my pain.) Fortunately, my teammate-slash-roommate was an inspiration. He had what I wanted: dreadlocks. As we left for practice every morning, I would be reminded as to why I was going through these confusing hair stages.
Before making my dad—and Bob Marley—proud, I spent a couple of months rocking my version of the afro. The afro was a fan favorite; curious hands would always want to explore this majestic creature on my head. And, when my dreadlocks finally came into place, I felt accomplished. I had achieved a tradition sustained through soccer history as well as my own cultural background.
As my soccer career continued, so did my hairstyles. From cornrows to the mohawk to the extremely plain, shaved head, I've been an active participant in the hairstyle culture that exists within soccer. In essence, this
is why soccer is an art form—no two teams (or players) are alike. Each representative is infused with culturally different backgrounds, which permeate out on the pitch.
So, as the World Cup continues, take note of how the best players in the world choose to make their fashion statement––or lack thereof––with their hairstyles. From the likes of Neymar (Brazil), Marouane Fellaini (Belgium), Asamoah Gyan (Ghana), to our very own Kyle Beckerman, the artistic expression of hairstyles will continues to grow as the norm across all countries who participate in The Beautiful Game, or, as the hosts call it, joga bonito
Troy's All-Time Favorite Soccer 'Dos:
COBI JONES (USA)
Cobi's dreadlocks have been one of the most recognizable hairstyles in our sport and has undoubtedly influenced the generation of pro athletes to follow, including myself.
DAVID BECKHAM (ENGLAND)
I can tell you firsthand that my former teammate Becks has that Paul Mitchell, Garnier Fructis, and
Vidal Sassoon hair. But, the ridiculous hair would be nothing if not for his lethal free-kick ability—and the legacy he's left on the pitch.
ABEL XAVIER (PORTUGAL)
Xavier's bleached-blonde 'do is not one to shy away from attention, or a bone-crunching tackle.
Taribo West (Nigeria)
If there was ever a question as to creating your own personal identity and setting yourself apart from other players in the world, Taribo West put it to rest.
CARLOS VALDERRAMA (COLOMBIA)
There is light at the end of the tunnel for Colombian soccer…oh wait, that light is actually the legendary Carlos Valderrama's golden afro. Valderrama's iconic hair was done to perfection, much like his passing ability and control of the ball.
Troy Roberts is a nine-year MLS veteran for the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Rochester Rhinos (meaning, he's seen both Landon Donovan and David Beckham naked).