We’ve talked a lot about hair this month. We’ve seen warring manbuns, Viking beards, and scoreless draws that are clearly the result of everyone on both teams having boring ‘dos. We’ve got whatever is happening with Vargas’ hair (let’s not talk about it). We could spend a lot of time wondering about Lionel Messi’s (really awful) beard and the spell it has cast on Ronaldo, but that’s what Twitter was created for. What our tweets cannot even begin to cover, however, is the wonder that is Paul Pogba.
There’s not a lot to say about Pogba’s hair that hasn’t already been said. And then said again. Every one of Pogba’s hairdos seems to spawn another dozen pieces on why this particular style is the worst thing that’s happened to football, or why this exact same cut is the most glorious expression of individuality we’ve seen in a very long time.
But the thing about Pogba isn’t just the incredible pieces he’s had etched into the side of his head –and I say etched because they are pieces of art and can someone please tell us who his stylist is so we can give them the credit they deserve? No, it’s the unabashed joy with which he uses his hair as a shrine for whatever he’s into at the time.1 I mean, how many footballers would feel the urge –and then follow through with the urge – to shave a Pokeball into the side of their head? Or the Bat-signal, for that matter? Or this Euro’s finest piece: the Gallic coq?
Just the one, so far.
Pogba is one of the shining stars of Euro 2016. He’s got style, skill, and talent oozing from his perfectly shaved and dyed head to his Pogboom-clad feet. Paul Pogba is on the cusp of superstardom and if the French win it all (and perhaps, even if they don’t) there’ll be no stopping him. But between his social media presence, his viral goal celebrations, and how little he cares about what anyone thinks about his style, he’s become so much more than a really good footballer.
And he’s so young. At barely 23, Pogba’s holding the weight of the French team on his broad, beautiful shoulders. This is a player who, at 22, had the confidence and the swagger to wear a gold-embroidered suit to the Ballon d’Or ceremony (and Pac-man etched into the side of his head), and to respond to comments about it with a philosophical, “some people will like it and some people will hate it.”2 He may not have cultivated the air of zen that his former teammate and mentor, Andrea Pirlo, commands but Pogba is well on his way there.
And much like Pirlo, it feels like Pogba can dictate the narrative around him. He rarely gives interviews and has largely avoided controversy, both in the UK and in Italy. Even when the main story spinning around him is one of mediocre performances, or outlining his failure to live up to the ridiculously high expectations of his entire country, Pogba typically remains stoic and handles the pressure with grace.3 And in the context of the current French national team: one that’s been in the news more often for the racial cracks within it than for spectacular performances, it’s particularly important for Pogba – Black, Muslim, raised in a banlieue4 by immigrants –to be able to control the narrative that’s swirling around him.
In the end, it all comes down to his hair. And it’s possible that I, a person who is gushing over the fact that a 23-year-old multimillionaire is self-possessed and well-adjusted, may be reading too much into this, but Pogba wears his heart – his interests, his nationalism, his fandoms for the lack of a better word – on the side of his head. He’s so filled with joy at whatever he’s into in that fleeting moment that he wears it, with pride and glee, on his person.
And whether it is just that: a fleeting expression of who he is as a person, both on and off the pitch, or if he wears each piece of art as a talisman, holding his identity close while allowing the watching world to take part in his celebration of whatever it is that he loves, Paul Pogba is doing it on his own terms.
1 This is an assumption, but I feel it’s a pretty solid one. Why else would you get the Pokeball shaved into your hair?
2 Have you read the Complex interview with Pogba? http://uk.complex.com/sports/2016/06/inteview-paul-pogba
3 Iman Amrani has succinctly covered the tense relationship between the team and the media, and the racial undertones to it: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/jun/19/france-euro-2016-lequipe-boycott-paul-pogba
4 French suburbs. Here, have some excellent pieces on banlieues (and football): http://africasacountry.com/2015/11/the-stade-de-france-a-history-in-fragments/ and https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=banlieue Also, read Laurent Dubois’ book on French football, Soccer Empire