Two years ago we published a joyous, lustful homily on the beards of the Premier League. Some of those included in the original article have moved to different teams. Others have left the Premier League altogether. But while the Beard Quotient of the English top flight has shifted, our love for the hirsute burns brighter than ever.
With the Champions League in full swing, two UE contributors sat down for a rousing, roaming discussion on beards in elite European football. We hope you enjoy this celebration of football and follicles.
Bridget Gordon: Ritika! I love beards!!
Ritika Bhasker: Hirsute jaws represent so much, and I’m glad that we’re taking this time to really dive deeper into the individual hairs on individuals’ chins.
BG: It’s true. Not everyone shares our love of beards, and that’s fine. But I think we’re going to change some minds here today.
RB: I think we should establish—for the non-believers—what exactly the beard represents, theoretically, emotionally, spiritually.
BG: Mmm, yes. It’s tricky too, because beards can mean so many things. Like the obvious thing is that it’s a symbol of virile masculinity. And I suppose there’s validity to that. But as a Not Man who also has a beard, that rhetorical throughline has always been a bit problematic for me.
RB: Of course! The beard shouldn’t be reduced to that level, and we should celebrate the variety of beards, and the power they hold for everyone who cares to sport them. As Aristotle said, “The beard is more than the sum of its parts.”1
BG: So true. There’s also this broad cultural notion that people wear beards because they have something to hide. I strongly disagree with that idea. People mistake being quiet for being secretive. It’s something beard bearers share in common with introverts. And indeed, there is some overlap.
For me, the beard exudes a sort of quiet confidence. A beard knows who they are and what they’re capable of, and they don’t feel like they need to show off.
Which brings me to Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Allisson. A beard for whom we share an immense affection.
Anyway, here’s Alisson. pic.twitter.com/5doXzIt7qA
— Eliz Navidad (@knitmeg) October 4, 2018
RB: A beard that brings people together, if you will. And doesn’t he wear it well.
BG: He really does. There are few beards you could compare to a well-tailored suit, but his? His is one of them.
RB: I wasn’t familiar with Alisson’s beard’s work till recently, I’ll admit, but when I first gazed deep into his beard, its lush beauty washed over me. I assume his beard is the same shade as falling in love at first sight.
BG: Mmm. Yes. To paraphrase the author John Green— you encounter Allisson’s beard the same way you fall in love. Slowly, and then all at once.
RB: The Fault in Our Beards.
RB: The thing about Alisson’s beard is that it is also almost definitely the reason Liverpool’s been doing so well this season.
BG: I would be extremely interested in getting some hard data on that. Opta, you know what needs to be done.
RB: I didn’t want to bring science into it, but it’s a scientific fact that a beard like his guarantees solid performances.
BG: My gut definitely tells me you’re right. But some folks are only swayed by numbers.
RB: If they want numbers, let’s look at two members of the winning World Cup team: Umtiti and Adil Rami. Fabulous beards? Check. World Cup winners? Check. Coincidence? Not a chance.
BG: That’s a very strong data point. France had some excellent beard work this summer. You have to think that played a role in them lifting the trophy.
Pure footballing skill just isn’t enough in the modern game, as Germany learned to their chagrin.
You gotta have the beard factor.
RB: Well, we have proof that facial hair played a part: rubbing Adil Rami’s moustache was apparently a key part of France’s pre-match ritual and look where it got them. With a trophy.
BG: Right? And to think France tried to weaken their own Beard Quotient just a few years ago when they told Gael Givet to shave his beard.
RB: Poor management decisions.
BG: Like, aside from being bigoted and Islamophobic, it was also just plain bad strategy. You NEED that beard power to compete on the world’s biggest stage.
RB: As they’ve now gone ahead and proven!
For those uninformed on the ludicrous Gael Givet Islamaphobic beard incident: French club Evian told him he needed to shave his luscious chin locks because he looked like a ‘jihadist.’ Who even says that?
BG: Right? Shameful. Totally shameful. And you know that’s not something anyone would’ve said to Franck Ribery, whose facial follicles are, I think, unappreciated these days.
RB: Unappreciated? Nearly forgotten for anyone who doesn’t watch Bundesliga! By which I mean “me.”
BG: In fairness, Bundesliga games are on at weird times and usually on FS2, which a lot of people don’t have access to. The Bundesliga has some excellent beards which live largely in obscurity. Sad state of affairs.
RB: You need to tell me about some of them, because my knowledge of Bundesbeards is lacking.
BG: So there’s Ribery, of course. Sharp, quick-witted, nimble in all sorts of social situations.
Perhaps not the strongest beard in the league but it’s got a lot going for it.
Then there’s Mats Hummels. For the sake of transparency, I have to say that I’m a Borussia Dortmund fan and I still haven’t quite forgiven him for jumping over to Bayern Munich. But his follicles simply cannot be denied.
RB: Being able to look past transgressions like that for a beard is one’s greatest quality.
BG: Thank you, it took a lot of personal growth on my part to be able to say this.
One must say, though, Hummels’ face hair has a sort of… I don’t know. Vaguely sinister quality?
RB: I’ll admit, while Hummels’ beard looks a tiny bit Bond-villainesque to me, he was one of the few German players (if I recall correctly) who did not make a complete fool of themselves over Özil’s retirement and the reasons for it.
BG: Yeah, it was a bit distressing seeing some German players—a number of whom also have decent beards—rushing to tell on themselves. Hummels didn’t come out great in this, I think he should’ve made an unequivocal show of support for his teammate. But he didn’t make things worse, I suppose.
RB: We’ve talked about how angry we were (and still are) about the Özil situation, and I will say: it’s kind of ridiculous that ‘not coming out great’ is a good outcome, but after some of the things we heard and saw from other German players, I’ll take it. Maybe we can call his beard an anti-hero instead of sinister?
BG: That works, yeah.
It touches on another important question—is it enough to have a beard? Or is there a responsibility to use one’s beard for good?
RB: Beards wield immense power, and as we all know, with great beard comes great responsibility.
BG: So true.
RB: Even the lightest sprinkling of hair should be treated with gravity.
BG: Agreed wholeheartedly.
I feel like those who do use their beards to make the world a better place deserve recognition. A sort of… Hair Play Award, if you will.
RB: I will. I definitely will.
BG: Let’s discuss that in the green room after this.
RB: I have ideas.
BG: Oh I’m sure you do.
RB: But that raises an important point: how about Beards Gone Bad?
BG: That is such a difficult subject. But we can’t ignore it.
RB: Is there something about growing a beard that brings out the darker qualities in us? Will a debearded Messi finally cough up his taxes? Is it Sergio Ramos’ beard that drives him to unspeakable violence?
BG: That’s a very good question. It’s a tough one to ask, because it surfaces some uncomfortable truths about ourselves. And yeah, that’s a very good example. Messi has had something of a heel turn in recent years, and it correlated with his sporting a beard. Not unlike the Star Trek Mirror Universe.
RB: Excellent point.
BG: And it’s a very uncomfortable topic to bring up. What if everything we thought we knew about beards… was wrong?
RB: There just isn’t enough research into what beards say about us.
BG: A shameful dearth of research.
RB: I think our initial hypothesis—that beards are bigger than the person—holds true, though. Perhaps the beard just brings out whatever is innate in us
BG: Like the supersoldier serum in Captain America!
RB: Speaking of stellar beards.
BG: Mmm, yes. Not soccer-related, but Cap’s beard in Infinity War was… spectacular.
RB: I think we both know the football beard that rivals Chris Evans’ beard. The super beard of football.
BG: I can’t even say his name, the grief is still too much to handle.
RB: I am a very, very queer woman who has a picture of that fine ginger beard on my fridge. The day he retired from football was a sad day for us all.
BG: Xabi Alonso’s beard casts a lengthy shadow over all our lives.
RB: It was the worst thing we ever had to part with.
Actually, I take that back. Even worse is when you have players like Buffon—once gloriously bearded—now engaged in some horrible cutting edge experiment where they shave it off to see what happens.
BG: Right?? Like I’m all about personal growth and trying new things, but there are LIMITS.
RB: Is it worth watching PSG play just to see if Buffon’s beard makes a comeback? Yes, yes it is.
BG: Without a doubt. I’d like to think that it would inspire the rest of the team to follow suit. (Or follow hirsute, as it were.) I’m not sure if Neymar with a beard would work but I’m willing to give it a try.
RB: If he dyes it the same colour as his hair, I will be 100% sold.
Oh my GOD! Ritika! HOW have we gone this long without discussing Pique?????
RB: Good god, we’ve been remiss!
RB: Pique, oh beautiful Pique.
JBG: His Beard Don’t Lie.
RB: His face can’t do anything bald! How could it? Every follicle on his chin screams of honesty
BG: So very true
RB: Of course, we’re here discussing the best of beards, when there’s a league that represents some of the very worst.
BG: It’s not even that Eredivisie beards are bad. It’s just there’s a shocking lack of them.
RB: The ones they have are tantalising: a beautiful glimpse into the reality we could have!
BG: This is definitely why I was optimistic about Daley Blind and his underappreciated beard going back to Ajax. He can show them the way.
RB: His beard is a great entry beard, too. Not too much going on, nothing very difficult to imitate. They could have it all.
JBG: Their hirsute future is within their grasp. They just need the courage to reach for it.
RB: Courage to reach for it and someone to steal their razors.
JBG: Too true.
So we’ve covered a lot of ground today but we’ve inevitably left some strong beards out. Who is one beard you want a wider audience to be aware of?
RB: What a good question. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Pogba family, so I may have to nominate Florentin Pogba and his lovely dyed beard.
BG: Mmm, that’s a good one.
RB: The Pogba family is a source of joy to everyone except Mourinho, and Florentin’s beard should be celebrated with everything else.
How about you?
BG: I’m going to go with Lorenzo Insigne. Good shape, good hue, sits well on the face. It’s got a lot going for it.
RB: Excellent choice!
JBG: Serie A is definitely a league to watch this season, not least because of its strong Beard Quotient. Honestly, I think a club’s Beard Index should be enough for at least Europa League qualification.
RB: This will of course be taken into account when we’re looking into Hair Play and awarding players.
RB: Clubs should also be awarded for excellent bearding
BG: I would even go so far as to say UEFA should enforce beard quotas. Like homegrown players.
RB: It’s only right.
BG: If we want to use a carrot rather than a stick, you could offer Europa League qualification, or perhaps having beard-related costs exempted for the purposes of Financial Fair Play.
RB: Maybe a beard quotient could also play into international football. A certain number of beards adds points to qualifications.
BG: Oooooh. I like that.
RB: I think, at the end of the day, we should strip the beard down to its essence
For me, the beard is about power, but a gentle power. It liberates, rather than dominates. It lifts up, rather than pushes down. When everyone says you can’t, the beard tells you that you can.
That’s because beards derive their power… that’s right… from love.
RB: Love is all around your jaw.
I agree with your assessment there. The beard is a representation of who we truly are. You look into a beard and what you see is what’s been within you all along.
BG: Very well said.
Ritika, thank you for gushing about beards with me, this has been a delight.
RB: Always an utmost pleasure!
1 This is 100% a real quote and no one can tell us otherwise.