Ahmed Alsanawi landed in Doha at 6 am after a 7 hour flight from London. He checked into the hotel, had breakfast, and rushed to the England football camp. In the evening, he cabbed one hour to reach Denmark camp. At 2 at night, his job was done: at least 27 haircuts of players from Jack Grealish and Phil Foden to Denmark’s Eden Hazard. Alsanawi went to the airport, took the 7 am flight to London. He will be back in Qatar soon, this time to style the hair of France’s footballers including Mbappe. “I shall stay for 2-3 days at that time, and try to catch a match but such is my life,” Alsanawi tells The Indian Express. He was also jet setting during the 2018 world cup at Russia, and would style France’s players, including Paul Pogba, a day before the final against Croatia.
Born in Baghdad, in London as a nine-year old, pursued a diploma in art, became a hair stylist instead, and he now flies around the world, styling the hairs of footballers. On Pogba’s request, he was in Russia, styling the hair of the players four times during that tournament.
Jack Grealish’s floppy hairstyle, he says, is much in demand in London among the football-loving kids who flock his shop ‘A Style’. “I remember we discussed it a lot and decided to base it on Leonard de Caprio’s Jack character in Titanic,” Alsanawi says. That Jack sank, this Grealish is proving to be a star at the world cup. “Did you see how he celebrated his goal as per the wishes of a kid? Star, but no air about him.”
So is Phil Foden. “He wanted a special cut for this Qatar world cup, and we added those three lines on his head; he was very happy,” Alsanawi says. “At Qatar, we had music piping in during haircuts, good style, good music, good chat.”
Why do modern-day footballers sweat so much over their hair? “Well, it’s all about confidence, really,” Alsanawi says. “Look, it’s getting a Gucci brand of new shoes or something like that. I have said this before; it’s like you go to a nightclub and want to chat to a girl, you won’t do it unless you feel confident. Good hair helps in that. When you get on to the football field, you feel confident and good about yourself.”
How is that even when near the fag end of the game, when every sinew of their body seems tired, their hair never ever falls out of place? Alsanawi chuckles at the ignorance and mentions his new hair-product. “I am about to launch it soon. “For the first time, we are bringing a hair product that has Oud essence (like perfume), blending the two. It’s called Fini by A Star. It’s basically like an Arabic perfume. It will linger for five hours – you have an after-shave and a hair product in one.”
A Star is the name of the London shop he runs and the Insta feed has the tagline. “Barber for the stars”. He has even featured in a Pepsi ad, with Messi, Mo Salad, Raheem Sterling.
It all started with a bad haircut. Ahmed Alsanawi, 32 now, stormed out of the barber shop to buy hair clippers and the first bunch of hair he cut down were his own. Then his Iraqi father, then the neighbours started queuing up, and one day he found himself tensed and muttering under his breath as he was staring at the head of John Terry.
“I was a bit star-struck, then. No longer, of course. Now be it Pogba or Eden Hazard, the Belgium player who also plays for Chelsea club, are my friends now. It’s all about now giving them a creative good cut,” Alsanawi tells The Indian Express from London, a day after his return from Qatar.
A Sunday footballer himself who fell in love with Chelsea and would go on to be the hairstylist for most of the players there. Pogba came calling in 2016, and Alsanawi remembers the initial interactions. “It was fun. He is such a nice humble guy and just an absolutely chilled out guy.” Also, someone who really loves to express himself through his hair – in the last few years, he has at least had 30 different hairstyles, according to Alsanawi.
The first time, Alsanawi shaved #Equal into Pogba’s hair for the anti-racism campaign.
“It’s a creative process. At times, he suggests, sometimes I suggest – we both knock around the idea for a bit, and then we go for it. He is a very creative guy – no wonder he is like that on the field too. If you think someone like Pogba, a huge star, would have any star tantrums, you would be wrong. He is a delight to be with. Now, I consider him a friend.”
Another friend is Eden Hazard. Three years ago, Hazard was cutting his own hair. “He just wasn’t into all this. We had a chat, and now you see his hair is a brand. Kids come to my shop, asking for a Hazard cut. I gave him zero hair on the side, a line in the eyebrow, a shape up – and that’s my job really. I convinced him to have a skin fade, he wasn’t sure, saying he was a family guy but that was my creative vision for him.” It took a while (18 months apparently) to convince Hazard. Occasionally, the convincing is done by other football stars – like Pogba.
Mbappe had a traditional cut but encouraged by Pogba and Alsanawi, agreed for some hair jazz before the Russia world cup. That diploma in art didn’t go to waste, he says. “It’s the artist in me that comes up with these ideas and designs.” Alsanawi started working at a shop for a year or two before he decided to open up his own place.
It was his friend Jamal Blackman, Chelsea goalkeeper, who got him into the inner circle of the club. “From then on, the work speaks for itself. You get one chance with these guys first time. Can’t mess up. Then it’s all word of mouth.” He now owns a shop “A Star Barbers” in the Cassington suburb of Surrey. At times, players like John Terry come to his place, or he goes to their hotel rooms.
From Baghdad to London, to all around the world, it’s been some journey for Ahmed Alsanawi.
“It’s been amazing. Life is good. I have a beautiful wife and three beautiful kids. No complaints, whatsoever. It’s against the odds, really, from where I came from to where I am now.”