When I was a wee nipper, there were three bald-headed people in the entire world: Hollywood superstar Yul Brynner, Bad Manners frontman Buster Bloodvessel and New York’s finest TV detective, Kojak.
By the late 1990s I’d had the mis-fortune to have joined the follically challenged but, thankfully around the same time, baldness became the new hair and some of football’s biggest stars were buying Bic razors by the lorry load to keep hair-growth down to a minimum.
The Premier League has had its fair share of “cue balls” too, so we decided to take a look at five personalities who left an indelible mark on what we are told is the world’s most popular footballing destination.
When he helped Sampdoria secure their first ever Italian league title in 1991, striker Gianluca Vialli had a bubble perm that would have made singer Leo Sayer envious. By the time he rocked up at Stamford Bridge in 1996, those flowing locks had been replaced by a wonderful head of skin.
Vialli’s Italian charm enchanted the Bridge faithful and alongside fellow countryman Gianfranco Zola, he kicked off a trophy laden era for the West London club. When he got the player-manager’s gig in ’98, his post-match interviews showcased his exceptional fashion taste, with Vialli doing more for v-neck cashmere sweaters than 150 years of A Question of Sport.
Over the past 12 months however, the man from Cremona has not been well as he continues his very public fight against cancer. Football fans everywhere wish him well on his road to recovery.
About the same time that Vialli was appointed as the main man at Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson added some much needed brutality to his Manchester United defence by bringing in central defender Jaap Stam from PSV Eindhoven. His no-nonsense approach reminded United fans of the late Jim Holton, the Scottish assassin who terrorised strikers in the 1970’s and the Dutchman acquired cult status at Old Trafford within a matter of months.
After three years at United which saw him pick up three league titles, an FA Cup and of course, the Champions League, Stam published his warts-and-all autobiography, which incensed Fergie so much he decided to get rid, much to the chagrin of the Old Trafford faithful. Seemingly made out of granite, Stam went on to have successful spells with Lazio, AC Milan and Ajax before forging out a career in management.
After Peter Schmeichel’s departure from Old Trafford in 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson’s eye for a goalkeeper went slightly AWOL as the Red Devils struggled to fill the huge void left by the Great Dane. Within 12 months, it seemed as though he’d finally found his man when French international Fabian Barthez arrived from Monaco.
Goalkeepers are renowned for being a little crazy and the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winner was certainly no exception. His off-field relaxation habits became the talk of Manchester and when he was joined 12 months later by fellow countryman (and the man who was more famous for planting a smacker on his bald bonce before every game) Laurent Blanc, the two were compared to cheeky little schoolkids who liked to have a sneaky fag behind the bike sheds.
Slightly bonkers but always compelling, the Premier League was a better place for having Barthez in it for four seasons.
? #WorldCup winner in 1998
⛔️ Shares the record for most World Cup clean sheets
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 28, 2019
“That’s my idea of a nutter” declared Sky commentator Alan Parry when the Georgian midfielder, having scored a last-minute winner for Newcastle United against Bolton in 1998, proceeded to kick the living shit out of the advertising hoardings at St James’ Park while at the same time ripping the famous black-and-white shirt from his torso.
— Premier League (@premierleague) July 7, 2018
Later Temur revealed that his outburst had just been his way of getting rid of the frustration at having been left out of the side by then manager Kenny Dalglish – who was reported to have been so scared that he hired bodyguards to shadow him for the next three months.
After three years in the North-East, Ketsbaia headed to the Black Country to play for Wolves before heading north of the border to represent Dundee. When reports circulated in 2015 that he’d thrown his hat into the ring for the vacant manager’s job at St James’, the local authorities had Tyneside on lock-down until the vicious rumours had subsided.
When Tottenham Hotspur announced they’d appointed former Swiss midfielder Christian Gross to replace Gerry Francis as their new manager in November 1997, it’s safe to say that the White Hart Lane faithful were not overly impressed. On the day of his presentation the press-room was full to bursting to see what this mystery man, who’d carved out a decent playing career for himself in the land of cuckoo clocks, had to say.
When the first thing he did was produce the London Underground ticket that he’d used to travel direct from Heathrow to his first day at work, the look on then chairman Alan Sugar’s face told you that Gross wouldn’t be around for too long.
Maybe it was the four-mile hike from Seven Sisters Underground to The Lane that took its toll, but more likely it was the 6-1 pummelling Spurs took at home to Chelsea. Within seven months Gross was consigned to history, with Sugar bizarrely blaming the media for getting him the sack.