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A head counts for more than we know in the race to the top

How much does a full head of hair matter for leaders in football and politics? Lars Knutsen takes an irreverent look back over recent history and comes to some hair-raising concussions.

Sunderland v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Forgive me if I obsess for a moment, at these troubled times for the world, about how Donald Trump could be replaced as US President.

I could write about this topic at length but suffice it to say that, although I am British, I also hold a US passport. I voted against that “orange thing” in 2016, and I have never injected bleach. In October 2018’s midterm elections, I made sure I flew from Heathrow to Pennsylvania to exercise my democratic right in my former electoral district.

Even if Trump tries to postpone the election, it now is certain that Joe Biden will be gaining the 2018 US Democratic nomination and I would back him to replace the person currently residing, part-time, in the White House. There have been countless candidate debates, all of which were analysed and commented upon, as part of the preparation for Americans - “we, the people” - making their informed choice. The electoral process in the US is exhausting, it takes years, but one preferred candidate emerges. It appears to be a nuanced, in-depth process with logical debates and outcomes, or so we like to think.

SWITZERLAND-US-ECONOMY-DIPLOMACY-WEF-DAVOS
Donald Trump with follically challenged FIFA President Gianni Infantino
Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

What if there was a way to cut through all this deep political analysis of the candidates and all the associated stuff that fills the media at election time in the US or UK; a simple but unerring analytical tool, obvious to anyone, that could predict with almost clinical precision Who would be selected from either party and then who will become President?

Well, I am happy to say that there is such a tool; a deceptively simple method of accurately assessing candidates.

And it is very intuitive – all we have to ask is, “do they have hair?”, or, more specifically, a lack of it. Nothing to do with the 1970s musical, but whether the candidate has an impressive mane.

Bristol Rovers v Barnsley - Sky Bet League One
Football fans have always seen the funny side of politicians and their hairdos
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

The power of the barnet

Forget all the well-run campaigns, the media profiling, all the political talking heads.

My conclusion over many years of observing politics in the US and Europe is that, unfortunately, “follically challenged” candidates have virtually no chance of winning this or any other election.

This is a sad insight into the superficial, modern media-driven world. It is an even sadder indication of how little the average voter looks at the policies, values and integrity of each candidate before exercising their democratic right. Forget their moral values, a candidate having hair beats all these other factors into a distant second place.

Unfortunately, and we may as well admit it now, but the slaphead with a terrific photogenic wife and wonderful supportive family, and the most well-formulated policies and serene stage presence, has no chance. It’s having a decent mane is what counts.

Ask yourself a simple question – who was the last UK Prime Minister or American President with a less than full head of hair?

Ford And Pele
A Vice President who had a ball
Photo by Keystone/CNP/Getty Images

In the US, it was Gerald Ford, the aptly titled Vice President who took the hot-seat vacated by Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal, but he was not really elected to the position.

But is it only the USA where these rather superficial voting habits rule?

A very definite “No”. I cannot think of a bald UK Prime Minister in my lifetime and, although Churchill was a natural leader, he was bald in a time when the visual media did not really influence voting patterns.

Tony Blair, then sporting a full head of hair, was one of the longest-serving British Prime Ministers, in office from 1997 until his departure in 2007. He was regularly challenged by spectacularly hairless Conservative Party leaders William Hague and Ian Duncan Smith, and readily beat them off each time.

Politics - Labour Party Conference - Brighton
Was it the hair that helped Blair get ahead?
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Blair’s replacement, Gordon Brown was elected unopposed by the Labour Party, and yes, he had decent locks. David Cameron had the right media image, as well as what we now know as the most vital quality, and eventually defeated Brown in 2010.


Football and follicles

What has all this got to do with football? I would argue that similar trends exist within the beautiful game, with a strong tendency for top-level managers to have photogenic hair.

Think Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jorgen Klopp and our own Roy Keane and Steve Bruce, as well as Jack Ross and the present incumbent, Phil Parkinson.

I know that Bruce was unpopular for his mixed results and for being born north of the Tyne – we could have forgiven him being somewhere on the south bank - but his hair never let him down. His honesty perhaps did though, when he described Newcastle United as a “dream job”.

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light
Former Sunderland manager Steve Bruce sporting the sliver fox look on Wearside
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

And on that theme I should add that our neighbours have had a number of managers; Rafa Benitez, Jim Smith, Jack Charlton and Joe Harvey, whose heads would tend to reflect the beams of the floodlights at St. James’ Park.

Looking back at other Sunderland managers, and to be honest we have had a few in recent years, the club has not had a truly follically-challenged manager since Bob Stokoe, a legend in the 1970s, which were less media-driven times. We have had a staggering 35 managers, including caretakers, since Stokoe’s FA Cup victory 47 years ago, and probably the closest to a slaphead was Howard Wilkinson, who dragged to club to is lowest ever points total in 2003, before facing the chop. Paolo Di Canio, who was definitely receding, suffered the same fate after just six months.

So, overall, one has to predict that the managers who are a trifle thin on top will be favourites for the sack, once performances dip.

Those who have enough sheer talent to distract from a lack of hair - most notably Pep Guardiola - often choose a form of trademark headgear, rather like the former Man City manager Malcom Allison from half a century ago whose fedora hat was a clear symbol.

Sunderland v Leeds United - FA Cup Third Round
Follicly-impaired managers like Bob Stokoe can always cover it up with striking headgear
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

When have we ever seen Tony Pulis without a baseball cap? Nuno Espirito Santo is producing good results at Wolves, compensates for this by growing a staggeringly unfashionable beard. At least Guardiola has designer stubble.


Hair today...

Back to politics: the role model for many recent female political leaders was the appropriately-named Margaret Thatcher, who in 1979 formed one of the strongest transatlantic alliances, with Ronald Reagan. Like Thatcher, Reagan may have been criticised for some of his policies, but he had great hair - and was re-elected for a second term.

Pele In The Rose Garden
Is it any coincidence that Christiano Ronaldo was named after the 40th POTUS?
Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

A final thought – I honestly would not mind about the hairstyle of a Sunderland manager as long as he could bring sustained success to the club. He could look like Spike Milligan on a bad hair day if result was promotion to the Championship.

And, on that note, I will savour this image momentarily…

Will Phil Parkinson’s mop help him to achieve a play off finish this season? Lars managed it on Football Manager