Inside the Premier League of Football Fashion: Why Style Matters for Top Players

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportApril 6, 2018

B/R

Ahmed Alsanawi might have as much insight into what makes a modern footballer a star as anyone, so when the Premier League's must-see barber starts talking about successors to David Beckham in the world of Premier League football, it's wise to take note.

"David Beckham probably started this whole thing," Alsanawi tells Bleacher Report, "but I'd say Paul Pogba has replaced him. Anything Pogba does is breaking news."

Pogba is the new Beckham. As a style icon, at least.

And in today's game, players know that can be every bit as important to their public image as the number of assists and goals they score. Players are as relevant as the fashion choices they make. Or as the fashion choices people like Alsanawi make for them.

Beckham's haircuts and tattoos helped set him aside as an icon of his time, but with the rise of social media, the many, not the few, appear similarly obsessed with their image.

The revolution's poster boy is Pogba.

"There's something about Pogba," says Finlay Renwick, deputy style editor for Esquire magazine in London. "He's outlandish but definitely very cool."

His risky fashion sense has become as famous as his ability. The France international has had more than 20 eccentric hairstyles since moving to Old Trafford in an £89 million transfer in 2016. His appeal as a role model was underlined last year as his eponymous PP clothing range for Adidas nearly sold out in one day.

Fashion game aside, Pogba isn't having the best season of his career. So when he joined up with France team-mates recently sporting an outlandish Super Saiyan Blue hairstyle, the general reaction was that perhaps he should worry less about how he looks and more about improving his performances.

But as Alsanawi explained, it's not that simple. Fashion does matter.

"Football is everything to Pogba. I know that," says Alsanawi, who styles Pogba as well as other top players across Europe. "Because he has a bad game, that means he can't look good? I don't think so.

"I have spoken to a lot of players about this issue, and they all told me the same thing: Having a good haircut gives you confidence.

"Let's look at it a different way: If you go to a nightclub and want to chat to a girl, you won't do it if you're not feeling confident. It's the same in any part of life. So, when you step on a football pitch, if you look good, you will naturally feel better about everything you do on that pitch. It's as simple as that. Having a good haircut is like buying Gucci or Louis Vuitton. It's part of who you are."

Alsanawi has become the game's trim king at a time when a player's hairstyle has become as important as his boots.

Today's footballers want to stay relevant and cool in a game that is more high-profile than ever, largely thanks to the rise of platforms like Instagram. An on-point barber helps them achieve that.

"Due to their platform and the hero worship that surrounds them, footballers have a propensity for 'peacock' style, so to speak," Renwick says. "It is something that seems to have increased with the rise of social media and the constant monitoring and scrutiny of the modern player."

Alsanawi, of A Star Barbers in Chessington, a suburb half an hour from London, found his way into the game as Chelsea's first-team barber at their Cobham training ground, and his clientele today remains impressive. He usually visits players at home or in a team hotel. Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Borussia Dortmund's Michy Batshuayi and Manchester City star Benjamin Mendy are a few of the elite names who sit in his chair.

"Social media has changed the game both for the barbers and celebrities," he says. "It's interesting that people can see my pictures with Pogba and see a normal bloke standing with a superstar."

Pogba has been taking care of his hair for years, but other big names are new to the style scene. Part of Alsanawi's role is to act as an image consultant—even when a player does not seem interested.

"I forced Eden Hazard to have a skin fade," he laughs. "He didn't want it, kept saying he was a family guy. But I had a vision for him, and it took about 18 months to persuade him to go with it.

"Now he has a skin fade, line in his eyebrow, a shape up and a beard! He has an image and a look people actually now copy. I literally have people asking for Eden Hazard's haircut…but before this, he never really had a look he was known for."

Paul Pogba and Eden Hazard are both clients of Ahmed Alsanawi
Paul Pogba and Eden Hazard are both clients of Ahmed AlsanawiOLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Danny Rossetter is a tattooist at Studio Voltage in Horley, Surrey, but will soon be joining Ahmed as a new branch of A Star.

Most of his clients in the football world play at Chelsea and Brighton & Hove Albion, and he feels the tattoo industry is experiencing a boom.

"Over the last five to eight years, it has picked up in football," he admits. "Obviously there was Beckham back in the 2000s, with his sleeves and back pieces by Louis Malloy up in Manchester. But recently it has really started to take off again.

"At the moment, there are a few tattoos in football I really like. Leroy Sane has a great back piece of himself celebrating, Memphis Depay has a lion's head, and Andre Gray has a really cool piece made up of people like Muhammed Ali and Bob Marley.

"British footballers seem to like a religious theme for some reason, whereas players from abroad tend to go for a more traditional look. I think a lot of it comes down to what the people around them have got and just following trends.

"Players with families often get something reflecting their children, but the younger ones might not have that so just follow suit from others they have seen. Like most things, a lot of my work comes through word of mouth, but certainly more players seem to be getting tattoos now."

It seems common that footballers have a pied-piper approach to many aspects of fashion. In their small training-ground communities, it is no surprise that it only takes one player to try a look that works and others suddenly follow.

Clothing is also a big part of it.

Sam Morgan is a personal shopper from north London who has become a major figure in the lives of players up and down the country. Top players earn seven-figure salaries and want to be seen in garments others simply can not get their hands on, so Morgan acts as their first port of call.

"There are two main reasons footballers come to me for their clothes," Morgan explains. "Firstly I can source items that aren't available in the shops, and secondly I make the process hassle free for them.

"Why would they want to go trawling around shops or the Internet when they can send me a message to sort it for them?"

Morgan has helped make purchases for 250 players across every Premier League club over the past year and is in daily contact with stars over WhatsApp to help meet their needs.

"Players tend to hear about me from someone else at the training ground and then get in touch," he explains. "Players tend not to just buy one thing at once, though. It's not unusual for them to spend £2,000 on four or five items.

"Recently I sold a pair of shoes to one for £2,000, and someone else came to me with a £16,000 order for clothes. They pay by bank transfer. It's all very easy."

Balenciaga, Fear of God, Amiri, Givenchy and Gucci are all in-demand brands at the moment, and Morgan uses contacts across the world to source and deliver items to a player's door.

"Sometimes I deliver personally," he says. "Recently I was at the house of one player, and at 6 p.m. he asked if I could get a certain pair of shoes in a size nine. By 6.45 p.m., I had someone delivering them to the door! It's a fun job. I enjoy getting to know the players and it's great that so many trust me."

Personal shopper Sam Morgan with Man City's Benjamin Mendy
Personal shopper Sam Morgan with Man City's Benjamin MendyCourtesy of Sam Morgan

It is one thing to look good in person, but being seen in the best cars, at the best holiday destinations, wearing the right watch and at the must-see events is vital, too.

For all this and more, AC13 Premier and AC13 Lifestyle have become the go-to guys for footballers up and down the country.

Marlon Harewood, the former West Ham United striker, heads the company, flanked by Riccardo Leighton and Andy Cole. Their main focus is helping to deliver bespoke cars for their clients—who range from England's Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy to Birmingham City's Che Adams and Arsenal women's captain Alex Scott.

An in-vogue motor for elite stars right now is the Mercedes V-Class, with mod-cons such as Wi-Fi, TV, gaming system, reclining seats and starlight roof.

"People always expect top players to move clubs and then buy a fancy house, but that is not so much the case anymore," explains Leighton, who has a background working in concierge.

"Like anyone else, they don't want to be ripped off or wasting money, and a lot of players are actually buying luxury cars now instead of moving.

"We have one client who has a driver and each day travels to training from London to Manchester. His seat fully reclines, and he sleeps through the journey. That isn't ideal for everyone, but it works for him. I know there are other players that do the same thing.

"Some players don't just want them to sleep in, though. A lot like to have a starlight roof. Others like the back of the car to convert into an office so they can use laptops and make calls. Of course, there is often a Playstation or Xbox involved, too.

"The benefit of using our company is that we can organise the whole purchase for them. We can buy the car and then add all the extras or they can buy the car and we will convert it. We are there to make life easier for them."

So, what does an expert make of today's Premier League of fashion?

"I think footballers are considered important in terms of influence and reach, but footballers are—at least in the fashion industry—often viewed through the prism of being magpies who buy the most expensive, most brazen item of clothing and disregard how it actually looks on them, which is fair enough really," Esquire's Renwick says.

"I think a lot of them grow up in a bubble where their style is influenced by their peers, the other players, which means they're competing to be the boldest one in the room. The guy with the 'best' stuff. I think that can also explain the tattoos and mad haircuts: wanting to be noticed.

"In terms of standout figures in the game, I think that, aside from the old David Beckham line, Hector Bellerin of Arsenal is at least trying some daring looks at the moment and obviously has a very keen interest and knowledge of fashion.

Hector Bellerin of Arsenal is one of the Premier League's leading fashion icons
Hector Bellerin of Arsenal is one of the Premier League's leading fashion iconsIan Gavan/Getty Images

"Other than that, I think Xabi Alonso and Andrea Pirlo—despite being retired—still have that suave, continental look that I think a lot of football fans aspire towards."

"It's not outlandish, but I think most guys want to look good in a suit, which they definitely do."

Whether it's "peacock" or "continental" or just the right clothes, tat or car, the goal's the same: the right image. Today's footballer knows he can't score that with just his boot.

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