Hair. The follicular frontier. Whether it is a carefully rendered coiffure or a self-shorn afterthought, one thing is for certain: for any self respecting TLO-lite, it has become a cornerstone talking point. No amount of scouting, statistical analysis, or eyeballing will give us as real a sense of a player quite like an action shot of his mane. And as it is grown, worn, styled, shorn, and grown again, the hairstyles of our heroic redmen give us not only the window dressing, but a window itself into what makes a chap tick. Whether it’s an arriving Lallama, or an ever present (no, seriously, ever, ever present) Captain, such discussion is only ever a hair’s width away.
At first blush, it may seem a silly construction of our off-beat corner of the interwebs, but as Liverpool fans do we really need to look any further than Fernando Torres to know just how critical hair is to a footballer’s form and status in the game? Get it primped right before a hat trick and it becomes a Pepe Reina approved pregame ritual. Do the same and lay an egg, and things can get biblical pretty quickly. Even in the mundane beats of everyday life, a casual flick of a lulling lock has been known to incite green oceans of envy, or set pints of blood coursing through the throes of a hyperventilatory state. And maybe that’s because hair is one of the basic outlets we allow ourselves for expression. In some cases it represents an intoxicating narcissism on a borderline industrial level. Sometimes it’s functional; sometimes it’s art. For infinitely overexposed professional athletes, it can look like just a ride on the latest trendy wave - something they do in their roaring 20s before settling into the inevitable punditry groove, and accompanying side part.
And that’s fine, and safe, and probably easy to sleep with at night. One gets the sense, though, that for 19 year old Jamainglish footballing sensation Raheem Sterling, hair is an absinthe-laced tea party where everyone’s invited and no one has work tomorrow. There can be no restraint, there has never been such a thing as a limit. From the outside, at least, it is clear that the yan to Dreem’s precociousness with a ball at his boots is his obscenely delinquent use of hair product, and his stylist’s schedule (shoulda never shared your calendar, Mr. Johnson).
He comes to the world with the middle name Shaquille, and the number 31. His silver feet are powered by a turbo-charged posterior, and gravity need not apply. He’s the show, and nowhere is that more evident than in the crop of defiantly dazzling ‘dos he insists on. In a couple short years he’s given us a pompaslick, a pompahawk, a permhawk, a mohawk, a sub-Saharan, a curlhawk, a high fade, a baby fade, a Kid 'n Play, a Janelle Monae, what legitimately looks like marsupial roadkill, and countless racing stripes and speed burns. Racing stripes and speed burns as far as the eye can see. Even if you can’t stand the steeze, the best part of this confidence and showmanship in the hair is how it’s reflective of the way the lad plays the game. It’s the style that belies the substance.
More so than any other player on Liverpool’s rosters of the last few seasons, Sterling has taken on a particular Uruguayan’s lead in combining hunger for competition with a little bit everything else. Pace, touch, right, left, vision, finishing, a surprising crack, audacity, flicks, winning PKs, defiance of gravity, timing, resistance to injury (albeit not tiredness, apparently)… it goes on. And for one so young to so readily execute these marching orders of McNibblesteinean proportions is what has people claiming the kid is ultimately destined to trade red for white (by the way, Warrior? You’re not helping). You just don’t see this often, so we’re all falling over ourselves to consume the entire package like an 8 year old diving into the halloween candy while mom’s back is turned.
One can only hope then, that this period of hyperconsumption doesn’t spoil our dinner. Because even for 28 year old vets, what we’re asking Sterling to do physically and mentally week in, week out is an astounding workload. For even with all of that unique hunger to draw on for our former Uruguayan talisman, he did have these periods where he was running on fumes, and his game suffered. Obviously, am I right? Remarkable he never got injured in these periods, but again, Suarez was in his mid-20s. Sterling, hard as it is to maintain at the forefront of one’s mind, is a teenager. Dude still has to remember to pick up Clearasil when he goes for groceries. And yet, we’ve locked the lid on the pressure cooker, set the heat on full, and have gone about preparing the rest of the meal. That’s a concern. When the lad goes to his national team coach and asks for a break? No less concerning. If Dreem shows up to a game one of these weeks having shaved his head, however? That, ladies and gentleman, is when we’ll know that the apocalypse has arrived. Regrettably, no amount of conditioning, detangling, primping, or revitalizing is going to change Dreem’s energy meter from borderline red to full green, but the ditching his stardusted hawk would be a clear indication that the kid’s about to go Full Torres on it. Tired legs and a spent imagination? Fowler help us all if that happens. Consider this the plea, then, Brenno - do not allow that to happen. Uncle Woy’s right (eww), it isn’t his responsibility to keep the kid fresh.
Other than keeping my fingers crossed and my tumbler full, I’ll be over here doing all I can do: preparing a pineapple-mint chimichurri and seared venison loin for our teenaged rock star, the matte finish gentle hold of our beating red heart, and the clear poster boy for this particular corner of the web, Raheem Sterling. Welcome to Hairspray.