Marouane Chamakh: Premier League Hair Hero
by Roger Bennett
Crystal Palace’s Marouane Chamakh has opened the season on rambunctious form, unfurling two strong games in row. Roughly the same number as the assortment of hair clumps he has carefully arranged across his head.
Chamakh’s hair is an enigma that transcends English football: long yet sparse, composed of equal part thatch and flesh; both awash in wet hair gel. In different lights, it can resemble a rancid towel, festering carcass or sceptic wound.
Such a consciously cultivated style raises questions which touch upon the essence of the human condition, challenging even the wisdom of Pamela Anderson’s assertion that “Natural beauty takes at least two hours in front of a mirror.” In a hair obsessed league (see Messrs. Cabella, Sterling, Rooney) exactly what statement does Chamakh think he is making by repeatedly trotting onto the field with this patchy, decomposing growth?
Furthermore, football is a team game. So an obvious collective question also lingers: Why has not one of the other 28 men on Crystal Palace’s squad summoned the courage to break the news to the Moroccan: “Surrender to the truth. You are a bald man?”
It was not always this way. When the striker arrived from Bordeaux in 2010, Arsenal fans giddily turned to YouTube to feast upon highlights of the fast-paced scoring-phenomenon outstripping French defenses with his hair sculpted into a sharpened scimitar-esque point.
Chamakh proceeded to adjust quickly to life at the Emirates, plundering 10 goals in his first 21 games. Photographs of that fleeting English football honeymoon prove the Moroccan’s hair initially appeared proud, like a battering ram, in the red and white of Arsenal.
An aching goalless purgatory was to follow. From November 2010 until August 2013 when the player defected to Crystal Palace, Chamakh scored just one Premier League goal. A woeful lack of confidence on the field, and peripheral profile off it, transformed the once prolific forward into an object of league-wide scorn.
Chamakh’s confidence was not the only thing to thin. To Google image the player is to trace his hair line evaporating like a fresh flower in bloom decomposing in fast-motion photography.
As his fringe began to fray like a tattered linen scarf, the thinning first etched its way backwards from each side of the temple, before eating its way through the middle.
Such a pattern left the Moroccan with an agonizing, tonsorial Sophie’s Choice: to protect the center and expose the flanks, or to cover the wings and leave the core bare.
Marouane attempted to stave off the decision, applying wet hair gel as if it was a restorative miracle elixir. That approach only served to make him look balder, drawing the eye towards his scene of shabby shame. Clumps of hair which wilted like a derelict lot in bad part of town.
On the first day of this season, I began to wonder what was going through Chamakh’s mind. Especially as Palace toiled against his old team Arsenal, a game in which they fought bravely before falling to a 90th minute winner goal, created by the striker who succeeded him, (the now crocked) Olivier Giroud. A man blessed with an erect pompadour as golden as a Tuscan wheat field on a summer’s day.
Full disclosure: I have always been interested in the way men face up to the experience of balding. I recently interviewed 200 gents to capture the details of their individual personal stories. My dominant discovery is that the most common emotional reaction men have to the first sign of receding hairline, is to decide to settle down and marry. As one 29-year old entertainment executive described to me: “I realized that whatever I had, I was about to lose. My potency had peaked. It was time for me to check out and prepare as best as I could for the inevitable decline that was to come.”
That sentiment came to mind this weekend, as I watched Chamakh lie deep to pull Palace’s strings in the final third against West Ham. Being an attacker is also about feeling potent. In that vein, I realized I had dangerously misinterpreted the striker’s hair choices. The 30-year oldmay not be obsessed with what he has lost at all, focussing instead on what he still has. In his mind, he’s still got it. Far from being an object of ridicule, Marouane Chamakh might just be, the Premier League’s Hair Hero.