I’m in grad school at NYU and I stopped at a nearby barber shop on Wednesday. The barber spoke with a strong Italian accent so I explained to him that I wore my hair like a modern soccer player — razored short on the sides, sculpted high on top.
“I was inspired by the World Cup,” I said.
Paul, my barber, debated his colleague while he cut my hair. They were speaking Italian and barely acknowledged me so I zoned out and studied the narrow room. A large 2006 World Cup Champions poster was prominently displayed above the mirrored wall. A “1994 Vicecampioni” poster honoring the Azzurri side that lost to Brazil on penalties was tacked up near the TV in a back corner. Between the symbols of Italian pride hung a framed photo of slimy Silvio Berlusconi (I was surprised to learn that Italians actually like him. I wondered if an Italian would feel the same way if he saw a framed photo of George W. Bush in an American barber shop).
Finally, I noticed the small Juventus crest on the wall behind me. What a coincidence. Juventus — the Old Lady — was playing Atletico Madrid in the Champions League that afternoon. I had to ask them about the match. So I strained to understand some of the barbers’ Italian until I caught some words related to soccer.
I couldn’t tell them that I support Atletico just yet, though. I mean Paul was shaping my neckline with a straight razor. What if his hand “slipped?” I couldn’t risk it.
But I’m brave, so I waited for a lull then blurted out:
“Who do you think will win the match this afternoon — Atletico or Juventus?”
‘Well, we support Juventus,” Paul answered.
“I know. I saw the crest behind me. I’m an Atletico fan.”
“What? You want me to give you a bad haircut?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have said anything until you finished!”
Paul laughed and suddenly he and his partner loosened up. We chatted about the match and the group with Malmo and Olympiacos. Olympiacos shocked Atletico 3-2 two weeks ago and Atletico needed the win against Juventus. I suggested that Juve might play for a tie at the Calderon, Atletico’s home stadium. Paul’s colleague agreed, but noted that teams usually get punished for playing conservatively. Good call. I’ve been to plenty of soccer bars, but this was my first soccer barber.
I asked Paul what he thought of the World Cup hairstyles. He loved them. It’s a good time for haircuts because everyone wants something different, he said. Inevitably, our conversation turned to Arturo Vidal, Juventus’ star midfielder and the king of World Cup hairstyles. I think any discussion with a barber who loves Juventus has to include Vidal’s ‘do.
“It isn’t hair. It’s a work of art,” Paul gushed.
We wished each other luck when I left. “May the best team win! So that will be Juventus,” the other barber shouted.
Unfortunately for the the Mr. John crew, Atletico won 1-0.
The two teams play each other again on December 9. I’ll be back at my favorite soccer barber for the rematch.