Died-in-the-root coiffoiseurs might be forgiven for thinking that a hair-themed footballing soapbox would necessarily revolve around subjects well-endowed with, well, hair. Not so, sports fans, not so. For when we swivel our vintage Belmont in the direction of this week's muse, it becomes immediately apparent that the dry shampoo and revitalizer can be put away, in favor of some aloe-infused SPF lotion. Perhaps a micro-exfoliate for scalps...
Martin Skrtel measures in at nearly 6'3" tall and a lean 180 lbs. Virtually every inch of the guy's frame seems sculpted by the cosmos in an effort to fill out his crispy denim and ice creams. So enviably casual masculinity; such sparkly sky blue eyes. Skrtel probably wouldn't be out of place striving for gold in wrestling or the javelin throw, but he has instead devoted his professionally athletic years to the beautiful game and the Red, Red Kop. We can't confirm if he's the most famous person ever to hail from Handlova, Slovakia, but he's definitely the most famous Redman from the sub-20,000 inhabitant town. He doesn't need the attention, but we'll be Fowler-damned if we're not giving it to him.
A career of intriguing twists began by being one of the few players during the nouveau riche era of Russian football to actually be pried away from the oily grip of Zenit St. Petersburg (on a 6-7m quid transfer with modest wages, depending on your sources). More interestingly, upon signing the Slovakian cueball, Rafa Benitez described Skrtel as:
"...aggressive, quick... good in the air (and is) a very good player for the future and also for the present. He is very competitive, but his mentality (is) very good."
Consider these comments for a moment vis-a-vis how Martin Skrtel's Liverpool career has played out to date... Ok, we can quibble back and forth on specific examples of his aggressiveness or docility, with his quickness vs. flat-footed moments, but is anyone really going to argue with Skrtel having been competitive, good in the air, and with a very good mentality throughout his Red years? It would take impressive cynicism, would it not? Perhaps it depends on how you judge the player.
Having been no less than Liverpool's Player of the Season prior to Brendan Rodgers' arrival, Skrtel found himself out of favor fairly quickly under the Northern Irishman. And as fans searched for answers from the outside, what did Skrtel do, exactly, that fit the narrative of a Rodgers system? Not particularly skillful in any way, right? He's a tough guy to build a Youtube highlight reel around, because his best stuff is perfectly-timed sliding recoveries, exquisitely nursed man marking ending in a throw in, and set piece battling against the opposition's most physical mark for something that "coulda been a pen, what were you thinking Martin, GAWL!!!"
And, so, a rough start in a new system that flipped everything required of Skrtel's humble skills turned into a rough few months, turned into a terrible half year, turned into SELL HIM NOW HE MAKES ME LITERALLY WANT TO VOMIT MY GIZZARDS UP!!!!!! Look, we're not selling that Skrtel's first season under Rodgers was anything beyond regrettable. What we're selling is what came next.
The 2013/14 season was Skrtel's redemption. It arrived, ironically, on the heels of his unceremonious benching in favor of previously unceremoniously benched Jamie Carragher's own redemptive swansong. Skrtel's 2013/14 season also flew in the face of the late-window, multimillion-quid arrival of the extravagantly gifted Mamadou Sakho. The season of Liverpool's mercurial climb, and slip, to second place was one where the prospect of a Sakho-Agger partnership took off to TLO hipster heights (we count ourselves proudly amongst those forward thinking troubadours). So much made sense about playing those two lefties together (except for it being the root cause of global food insecurity), but Marty kept coming up solids. He was footballing Metamucil. Clearances, slide tackles, and consistent health until the dust settled. The season came to a close and Rodgers was forced to admit that the Slovak had been a cornerstone piece for his sensational Reds. And good on the Gaffer - Martin Skrtel was absolutely necessary last season. No matter which way people want to cut it, Skrtel took the worst season of his career, a season where he seemed a cellular deadzone away from being sold, and Put. In. Work.
The 2013/14 season of Martin Skrtel's career was a redemption song, and the idea of a redemption song in the context of the 2014/15 season is a tip we just can't help but highlight. And texturize.
You see, we here at Hairspray would throw one more word into Benitez's initial rundown on this steady Slovak - consistency. Martin Skrtel has been Martin Skrtel rain, snow, or shine. And, like it or not... or not like it at all... or love it... Martin Skrtel remains consistent this season in what he gives you: he competes, keeps it solid in the air, battles the opposition's top threat, stays on the pitch, and remains that guy week in week out. It can be easy to overlook the importance of these attributes. He's rarely going to give you a 9 out of 10, but Skrtel will usually never drop below a 7 out of 10. For some, it's tough to sell a 7. For others, it's tough to buy one. For us, it's just a great name. Digressions aside, Skrtel has clearly never been BR's central defensive spirit animal; he's got his limitations. But he'll bring his lunch pail and that lunch pail will always have an extra ham sandwich in it in case you forgot yours. And that bread will be good, too. It'll have nuts & grains in it.
For a working man's club in a working man's town, Martin Skrtel brings a working man's game - deal with it.
Plainly, there are various ways to arrive at an exposed cranium. Naturally, due to infections or trauma, illness, nutritional deficiencies - even compulsive pulling of the hair is a more common road to baldness than one might think. Martin Skrtel's buffed top, however, is down to the man's volition. No, really, the guy can grow a remarkably nice croppa brown. He's played around a bit with mild lengths, but since he's been lacing his boots onto Red socks, the guy's shaves generally start at his crown and finish at his chin. Respect. That sort of reliability keeps us warm at night. You can call that haircut to pick up milk on the way home. As a wise acquaintance of ours once put it, "You will never offend anyone by being clean shaven." Martin Skrtel is simply taking that non-offensive steeze and bringing it to its logical, all-encompassing conclusion. Ya, hair is great, trust us - it rocks. But, Fowler, if you can't hang with a Zabaleta, or a Zidane, or turn around and appreciate a Skrtel then what exactly are you looking for?
At the moment, we're looking for hard work & wins, and a lot of both. Martin Skrtel's going to help us on all three scores, folks. He's earned his Green Chile Stew with Yucca and Seared Pork Ribs, and we're giving it to him with a warm fold of corn tortillas while we're at it.