Marek Hamšík is attracting hordes of international admirers—although it’s unlikely any of them are there for his pretty face. Mariekiaro is gangly, with tattoos from his neck down to his ribcage (if there are any further south, I’m ok with them remaining a mystery), and sports tall, spiky hair to counteract his buck teeth.
Yet when he takes to the football pitch, he is called eye-catching, mouth-watering, and head-turning. Hamšík is no quietly hardworking midfielder.
These words were written (by me) more than six years ago, on the eve of Slovakia’s first-ever appearance in the World Cup. The team shocked the world in South Africa by beating Italy and progressing to the knockout stages, where they were knocked out by Netherlands. It was Marek Hamšík who set up the second goal against Italy, and Hamšík who pulled much of the strings. But, much to my surprise, Hamšík failed to draw the public’s eye.
Except, of course, when it comes to his hair. That tall, spiky Mohawk is where all the attention is focused.
Still I kept talking. Marek Hamšík is my favorite player and the world needs to understand, damn it. They need to know he’s more than just a quirky hairdo. He’s an orchestrator. He’s a creator. He’s a smooth foot and a calm head (despite what’s sticking out of it). He’s the center and the universe – er, team – revolves around him.
And after Slovakia beat Russia in Euro 2016, I finally got to say I told you so. I was that annoying emo kid who could tell you which indie label hosted the band the lead singer had crooned in prior to his new group invading everyone’s radio. All I could say was “I saw him first.” Everyone ooohing and aaaahing over Hamšík’s ball to Vladimir Weiss, all those groaning in ecstasy over that gorgeous goal pinging in off the post? I saw him first. I’ve been watching him do this at Napoli for years.
(And when I watched him notch the goal that put Napoli into the Champions League once more? I did not scream. I did not dance. I did not record the celebration. I stood there and cried, tears flooding my cheeks like a proud parent watching her son getting handed his high school diploma.)
Unlike others whose hair we’ve featured – Fernando Torres, Paul Pogba – Marek’s hair never changes. Well, unless he’s celebrating something: he shaved his head to in honor of Slovakia making it to the 2010 World Cup, and again to commemorate Napoli beating Juventus to lift the Coppa Italia. But it’s almost like his hair grows right back into that distinctive mohawk. Freshly shaved sides, points standing straight up from his head – his hair announces itself, yet despite its prickliness, does so in a comforting way.
In a way, the mohawk is a good metaphor for Marek himself. Steady. Dependable. Very nearly unwavering. Yet capable of catching the eye and holding it there.
Yet if Hamšík – and his hair – are so eye-catching, why all the surprise over his performance at Euro 2016? Well, like any band who’s yet to hit the mainstream, it takes work to watch this maestro. As Slovakia coach Ján Kozák so classily pointed out, Napoli are not a “big” club. Sure, they’ve finished in the top five in Italy for each of the past five seasons, playing in Europe each year, but most outside the peninsula took little notice save for when they went up against Arsenal. If calcio comes on the TV, it’s almost certain to feature Juventus, Milan or Inter. Marek makes you work if you want to appreciate his brilliance.
So for the nine seasons he’s been at Napoli, nearly every conversation about Hamšík revolved around his hair. Those trying to prove their hipster cred might have dropped in a note about his perfect passing, or called attention to the way he’s always thinking three, four, five plays ahead. But more often than not, those watching would spend time wondering just how he managed to get those spikes to hold up for 90 minutes, through heat, through rain, through every adversity.
Like any good acolyte, I continued pushing my wisdom on others. “Watch this man, pay attention to this man, this man is a god.” I never anticipated what might occur if people actually listened.
Don’t get me wrong; nothing about the praise annoyed me. I was thrilled that others finally noticed Hamšík’s grace, his vision, his control. Sure, I’d take those moments to crow about being right all along, but mostly I was excited to see Marek performing well in front of a huge audience.
But attention sells. Or, more aptly, garners clicks. Suddenly everyone was in the know about Hamšík. The Slovakia coach had mentioned he deserved a bigger club, so obviously Hamšík was on his way out at Napoli. Maybe to PSG, or to Juventus. Marek himself said it was “important to see how [Napoli] act”. Suddenly he’s headed to Bayern, or Atlético Madrid. His agent stated, “everything is possible.” Now he’s going to Chelsea.
There’s little that leaves a football nerd – or a scene kid – smirking quite so wide as possessing knowledge others have yet to grasp. Knowledge that requires going beyond a player’s performance in a few matches, that goes beyond knowing the estimated worth of said player, that certainly goes beyond talking about how that player styles his hair.
Any football fan who gives Italy even five seconds of their time will know Napoli won’t sell Hamšík to Juventus, their biggest Serie A rival. Anyone with access to Google knows that Napoli love enormous release clauses – and they also know the club is one of the few in Italy not struggling financially. Even the most cursory of the vesuviani faithful understand that Hamšík loves his club and loves his city. And those who pay attention? Well they know this: as long as club president Aurelio De Laurentiis isn’t making passive-aggressive remarks about Marek Hamšík to the media, the Napoli captain is going nowhere.
Knowledge is power. Almost as powerful as Hamšík stating outright how he’d love to set the record for number of appearances made in a Napoli kit, a record that will only be broken should he remain at the club for the rest of his career.
Still, smirks aside, refuting rumors can give one a rather massive headache. And repeatedly insisting your favorite player will remain at your favorite club? Well, that’s just a jinx.
So can everyone now just go back to only knowing Marek Hamšík by his hair? Please?