Of mane sense and flying colours

With off-field action as intriguing as the football itself, players are ever in search of ways of standing out, attracting media attention and the advertisers, writes Nandita Sridhar.

Close on the heels of metatarsal woes and team discussions lie a few simmering debates, waiting to explode. Will David Beckham's World Cup mane soothe the senses or invoke a frown? Will studs adorn world famous ears? Will colours fly off palletes, in search of celebrity scalps?

In the earlier days, questions such as these would succeed a famine of every other `footie' discussion. Today, websites carry out polls and invite discussions on how a Beckham or a Ljungberg will turn up on D-Day. Even before Beckham hopes to revive his defence-splitting days, all eyes will be on the comb that will cleave through the world's most famous locks. From the days when hairdos were just hairdos to today's metrosexual male, unafraid to dress up for the occasion, the mega event has had its share of trends and disasters. Hairstyles matching studs, studs matching hairstyles, hairstyles bordering on the ridiculous, hairstyles transcending the ridiculous, country flags turning mullets — the green rectangle has staged them all.

In the 1960s and 1970s, fashion statements in the World Cup were a simple matter of just length (excluding Bobby Charlton's legendary `Comb-over'). Beard-like sideburns and flowing hair were good enough. Brazilian Socrates turned up in his Borgesque attire, replete with tight shorts and sweatbands in the 1980s — a scent of things to come.

Italia 1990 was when the borders of the bizarre blurred beyond recognition, whether it was Englishman Chris Waddle's mullet which sailed behind his every pursuit, Dutchman Ruud Gullit's braided refuge for birds, or Argentinean Claudio Caniggia's scrubber-like tail. But what took the cake was Colombian Carlos Valderrama's mass of golden yellow absurdity. Obviously missing out on a minute hair accessory known as a comb, he showed up with an golden yellow -dyed hairdo large and wild enough to have caused possible ball disappearances. Not to be left behind, countryman Rene Higuita strutted his head stuff; with his mass of circularity the trend had been set. The event and the sport had commercialised well enough, creating fattening salaries and fashion options.

The Argentineans, with a history of shunning barbers, were, and still are known for their lengthy locks, after Caniggia unleashed the `Samson' in 1994. The rest of the animal kingdom weren't spared, when Italy's Roberto Baggio showed up with a style that can be safely attributed to an Amazon species' tail.

France 1998 signalled the arrival of two aspects that changed the face of World Cup football and fashion. Highlights and David Beckham. After Nigeria's Taribo West showed up with more beads on his innumerably split tresses than any woman can possibly have around her neck, the normalcy of Beckham's mane was a far cry from the things to follow.

He turned up for the 2002 edition after a massive hope-wave that his injured foot would heal, and suspense at what his head would look like. His penalty against Argentina might have set to rest worries about his foot, but people were left wondering what prompted Becks to go for a bi-coloured mullet-cum-mohawk look. But this was Becks, and the made-up mane was mirrored all over the globe.

If anyone managed to beat the Becks puzzle, it had to be Ronaldo's mysterious triangle in 2002. His eight goals made sure the triangle was temporarily forgotten. The list continued with Frenchman Djibril Cisse's mane-or-maze creation, and Freddie Ljungberg's streak of red-on-head look.

National flags made their scalp debut when Christian Ziege threw in Germany's colours on his head. If that wasn't enough, ponytails followed suit, with David Seaman sporting one, a la France's Emmanuel Petit in 2002. It didn't do much to his luck though, with the ponytailed Brazilian Ronaldinho sneaking in one of the most audacious free-kicks in modern World Cups. The lesser that could be said about Clint Mathis' mohawk, the better.

Things don't promise to tread normalcy this time. That's what adds to the excitement and colour of the sporting extravaganza. With clothes being uniform, players have just their hair to play with, or simply mess around with. But this time, apparels have entered the scheme of things with Nike introducing its comfort clothing, combining fashion and comfort.

Australia's Marco Bresciano, DaMarcus Beasley of the USA, Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy, Portugal's Luis Figo, Brazil's Adriano, South Korean Park Ji-Sung, Croatia's Dado Prso and Mexico's Jared Borgetti posed with their new jerseys during the presentation by Nike.

With off-field action as intriguing as the football itself, players are ever in search of ways of standing out, attracting media attention and advertisers in large. The female audience is being targeted in stereotyped fashion, with a lot of World Cup merchandise aimed at women, and the campaign centered around, you guessed right, David Beckham.

Those who prefer the simple look to the current trend of modern art on heads can always rely on the simple boyish charm of the likes of Raul Gonzales, Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Ballack, Nistelrooy and Kaka and the raw appeal of Wayne Rooney (metatarsal permitting) and Lionel Messi. For the rest, the levels of the bizarre won't disappoint. Even if you don't fancy a game of football, watch out for Germany 2006.