The Champions League final is fast approaching and the question a growing1 number of people are asking is: will Nando’s hair pull off a win for Atlético Madrid? It’s more gorgeous than it’s been in a very long time, and it’s clear Fernando Torres and Atlético are both reaping the benefits this season.
His stats are back up: he’s scored 12 goals in 43 appearances this season, has built an excellent partnership with Antoine Griezmann up front, and is coming off of a career-best streak of having scored in five games in a row. It’s starting to look a lot like Torres’ career narrative (you know, the one where he wins the biggest trophy in Europe with his childhood team) may finally be coming to a head.
And Torres – like every other flashy player ever – has had a rollercoaster of a narrative built around his entire career. Unlike every other flashy player ever, however, Torres’ hair has had a narrative of its own. There are comment threads and forum walls filled with brash speculation and unscientific arguments about whether he’s more prolific with his hair longer, or his hair blonder, or if the secret power lies in the middle parting he favored at Liverpool. There was a sadly short-lived Twitter account that lent a much-needed voice to the day-to-day thoughts Nando’s hair was sure to be having. A series – not one, but a series – of articles appeared about that time in 2013 when Torres lent his hair clippers to Mourinho so José could wax eloquent about how his hair, unlike others’ locks, can grow back. Most importantly, both commentators and tabloid journalists (jokingly?) cited changes to Torres’ hair as a reason for his underwhelming performances with Chelsea, speculating his decline was the result of ‘Samson Syndrome.’
To finally put to rest the rife speculation, and to better extrapolate on what we can expect to see in the Champions League final, I conducted a rigorous2 analysis of the effects of Nando’s hair on his goal scoring abilities over the past 16 seasons. I chronologically assessed several YouTube compilation videos of highlights and goals, analyzed hair length and styles through the years, and kept my comments about his time at Chelsea to a minimum.
My initial hypothesis –one shared by many of my compatriots – was that the longer Torres’ hair was, the more goals he scored. I also posited that the blonder he was, the more likely he was to put the ball in the back of the net. A third factor I considered was how flippable his hair was: if it flowed like a mane behind him as he reached the front of the goal, I hypothesized that he would be more accurate in scoring.
The first indication that the length of Torres’ hair mattered appeared in 2003-04, when, sporting a semi-blond mullet, Torres scored 21 goals in 40 appearances and was named Atleti captain at just 19 years old. The season after that, he kept switching his style, the most notable of which was a longer shag (with immense potential for flippability). The end result? 20 goals in 49 appearances. The mullet and the shag clearly had some effect, elevating him a cut above everyone else at Atlético several seasons (and several hairstyles) in a row.
Nando’s move to Liverpool brought the years of flowing golden locks and even more goals. The locks (and the headband he sported on the pitch) were ranked fifth-best by BBC Radio 5, and were venerated by everyone3. Torres danced in front of the goal as his hair flipped and whipped behind him, presumably lending enormous power to his strikes and helping him net 81 goals in 142 appearances.
The dark years, and the sudden drop in goals, began before Torres moved to Chelsea. He cut his hair during the 2010-11 season, resulting in 9 goals in 26 appearances with Liverpool, then just 1 goal in 18 appearances with Chelsea. 2011-12 and 2012-13 were slightly better. Nando’s hair got its bounce back, and he started scoring again (33 goals in 113 appearances), even if his strike rate was nowhere near what it used to be.
In 2013, having not followed the advice of forums and tabloids begging him to keep growing it out and dye it as blond as possible, Torres opted for a close-cropped ‘do. His performance continued to suffer. He managed a total of 11 goals in 41 appearances in 2013-14, and during his brief (seriously, does anyone even remember it?) stint at Milan in 2014-15, he only scored a single goal.
When the Calderón welcomed him back in January 2015, Nando seemed to have finally cottoned on to what the rest of us had known for years. He returned to his roots with longer and blonder hair than he’d sported in quite some time, and it seems to be paying off. He’s been scoring 0.51 goals per 90 minutes this season, and (barring any close shaves) will likely score slightly more than half a goal against Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Unless the game goes to extra time, in which case, all bets are off.
Given the fact that I didn’t control for any variables that weren’t a subjective assessment of the length and color of Torres’ hair, this analysis probably doesn’t hold much water. Other, more layered analyses exist concerning Torres’ return to form at Atlético. But Fernando Torres seems to be as concerned as I am about the effects his hairstyle has on his game-time performance, and the psychological effects of that kind of superstition on a sports player should really count for something.
1 Three, at my last count
2 This may not be an entirely accurate statement
3 This is also probably not entirely accurate