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How the Chelsea Academy gave football the gift of fresh haircuts

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A good haircut can make some feel up to 36% more invincible — that’s just science

Brighton & Hove Albion v Chelsea - Premier League - AMEX Stadium Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images

A lot can be said about The Athletic’s business plan of poaching every recognized beat writer and slamming a paywall in front of all of their content, but in these turbulent times in digital media, it’s at least the largest writer/editor-driven outlet. As a result, an argument exists that they don’t maxiomize their ad-free freedoms with unconventional stories (there’s also the silly reverse argument whenever they try), but The Athletic UK’s Carl Anka recently dropped one such story on haircuts — ‘You look good, you feel good and you play good’ – how players stay a cut above.

It’s a fun and good read about the importance of something that only takes a few glances at footballers’ Instagram posts to notice. The “look good, feel good, play good” thing is a fun little phrase that shows how such things are entangled with psychology. But for many players, it is also tied to culture. Knowing players beyond names, numbers and likenesses is one of the benefits of social media, and should be a baseline expectation for a media that has greater access than any in a previous era.

Unfortunately yours truly lost his hairline some years ago, but is still a sore subject. However, before we were separated, there truly was nothing that matched the feeling of having a fresh haircut. No garment, achievement or kind word produced a similar feeling, it can be — and, for some, is — that meaningful, that powerful (as this simple Twitter search of Aaron West’s [@oeste] tweets demonstrates).

So what’s the Chelsea link?

The main hero of the story, and the one who still cuts Eden Hazard’s and Michy Batshuayi’s hair, not to mention Paul Pogba’s latest styles, got on the map in the football world through Chelsea’s academy players.

“We’d have the Chelsea youngsters come through here because it’s kind of close to the training ground. Then, sort of when you look after them, giving them a good haircut, word of mouth spreads, so I got invited to the Chelsea training ground. One day, I’m doing John Terry, one day I’m doing Gary Cahill or Cesc Fabregas, one day I’m doing Eden Hazard. I was doing that for about three years and obviously, putting these haircuts on my social media because when you cut hair, you always want to showcase what you do, and show off your skills.”

–Ahmed Alsanawi; source: The Athletic

Alsanawi has since amassed an impressive following of footballers who trust only him with their cuts and styles. Members of both Belgium’s and France’s national teams flew Alsanawi around during the World Cup to ensure that — with billions watching — they looked their best.

Now, you might be tempted to do some eye-rolling about all of this, especially if it is unfamiliar to you. And that’s understandable, on the surface. But there’s a deeper level here, and the psychology of it is fairly simple. Players carry an immense amount of scrutiny with them every day, and for 90+ minutes most weekends — for the most famous, most midweeks — the scrutiny is magnified exponentially. Part of putting your best self in front of all of the cameras and screens focused on you is, well, putting your best self in front of all of the cameras and screens focused on you.

It can seem frivolous to drop ridiculous amounts of money (relatively speaking) to ensure one particular barber can fly to whatever country you’re in just to cut and/or style your hair, but it more so speaks to the strength of bonds forged by trust. After all, it is ultimately a player’s likeness and appearance that they’re trusting their barbers with. (We’ll let WAGNH alum Jake Cohen tell you about the importance of image rights.)

When that much of your life is not only public, but public-facing, trusting someone else when you have the means not to is an unnecessary risk.

The Chelsea Academy has placed many stamps on modern football — from the dominance on the pitch and the trophies thus collected, to the footballers and coaches we’ve produced. Now we can add: blessing the football world with the freshest lineups, styles, and fades. You’re welcome!

In the minds of myself, Hazard, Pogba, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jadon Sancho and others, this makes Alsanawi our most successful loanee.


Ed.note: it’s actually quite fun to scroll through his Instagram timeline. Here’s a selection:

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not again.

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Hope Kante didn’t have to pay full price!

Here’s a fresh-faced 18-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, one of the first big name clients.

Here some of the Chelsea youth getting lined up and styled up in 2014, including RLC, Charlie Colkett, Jake Clarke-Salter, Kasey Palmer, and Isak Ssewankambo (plus a couple from Fulham).

Not so sure about this choice, Ruben.

The French connection with Zouma and Remy.

Now upgraded to the Chelsea dressing room.

Even Diego gave his approval.

And so on.