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Long Hair, Don’t Care: Filipe Luis’ “Crooked Path” to the Top, Part I

Atlético’s marauding, rock music-loving left back took the road less traveled on his way to becoming world-class.

Atletico Madrid v Deportivo Alaves - La Liga
Filipe Luis in his element.
Photo by fotopress/Getty Images

My favorite piece of non-Into the Calderón content that the SB Nation network has ever created is this one. Written by James Dator, the article discusses how whenever players arrive at a new club, they feel the team’s attitude and adapt accordingly. He makes that point by documenting the appearances of Real Madrid players before and after they arrive at the Bernabéu.

Here’s just a small taste:

Gareth Bale, goofy Weasley brother (2012)
Gareth Bale, upscale tapas bar mixologist (2015)”

The article goes on to note that, despite the glamorous galáctico pull that Real Madrid exude, Luka Modrić is the one player who remains virtually indistinguishable from the day he arrived at the club. “There’s one player Real Madrid didn’t change,” Dator writes. “It couldn’t change him.”

Filipe Luís is that man for Atlético de Madrid. This gallery, courtesy of New Hairstylez, demonstrates that, aside from his formative spell at Figueirense, Filipe Luís essentially emerged from the womb sporting that trademark, borderline-androgynous haircut.

Despite what the previous 163 words may indicate, we didn’t come here to talk about Filipe’s hair. For Filipe, hair imitates life. Filipe is Atlético Madrid’s oddball, their free spirit. In a team full of Gabis, Kokes and Saúls — traditional Diego Simeone lieutenants who preach the Cholismo gospel — Filipe is our lovable loose cannon. Filipe is the one performing rainbow flicks on Neymar at Brazil training, a move which would surely earn him the label of “tryhard” from kids these days. Filipe is also the one who pokes the bear. He talked junk about Cristiano Ronaldo’s merit for the Ballon d’Or this past fall, claiming “he was only good for two months.”

Filipe is also a thinker, often playing chess in his free time and watching games played by the Spanish Grand Master Leontxo García.

But Filipe isn’t always so lovable. His zest for life often walks the line between “quirky” and “reckless.” A studs-up challenge on Lionel Messi in 2016 was so awful that Barcelona fans still post hate on Filipe’s social media, even alleging that Fili is “jealous” of Messi’s success. While contrition may have been the best PR move, he opted to double down later in the season, arguing that his expulsion was unjust and that Luis Suárez should have been sent off for a petulant kick on Juanfran.

“Barcelona are protected,” Filipe told reporters, feeding into the popular “UEFAlona” conspiracy theory. “I don’t know what they have to do for someone to send one of them off.”

Simeone was reportedly furious with Filipe after the match, who chose to risk suspension smack dab in the middle of the 2016 Champions League knockout stages. Sources claimed that Cholo screamed at Filipe in the locker room.

Simeone also (hilariously) took umbrage at Filipe going rogue in a game against Betis, as he tried to split the defense with a Maradona and ultimately lost the ball:

Translation: “Luís, you’re doing it wrong,” Cholo says as he stomps around the sideline. “Doing it wrong. All wrong. Luís, the game’s already decided. Calm down. CALM DOWN!”

Ultimately, Filipe Luís is just a weird dude with a weird haircut. You can interpret that haircut as a reflection of his occasionally cavalier attitude and quirky personality. You can also interpret Filipe’s hairstyle as the manifestation of a more positive value: consistency. It never changes. And with apologies to Gabi and Diego Godín, Filipe has arguably been Atlético’s most dependable performer of the decade. Atleti have always been able to count on a consistently high level of play from their left back.

And no matter how easy it is to make a caricature of the Brazilian — the long-haired left back, the carefree, happy-go-lucky Brazilian with a slew of dribbling moves up his sleeve — his back story reveals more depth and more obstacles than you might expect.

As El Confidencial put it:

Filipe Luis has suffered the crooked lines of football like few players before him. His career has never followed the straightest path. His success is based on failure, from which he has learned to pick himself up on countless occasions.”

This is Filipe Luís’s so-called “crooked path.”

Like Paulo Dybala, Filipe Luís’ ancestry is Polish. His second surname — Kasmirski reveals as much. FIlipe’s grandfather escaped Poland during the Nazi takeover of Poland at the outset of World War II. Filipe’s European heritage actually runs deeper, as each of his grandparents emigrate from European nations to Santa Catarina, the southern Brazilian state where Filipe was born. When it came to choosing a national side to represent, the cosmopolitan left back could have chosen to play for Spain, Poland, Brazil or Italy.

But Filipe’s upbringing was traditionally Brazilian. He grew up playing futsal and dreaming of playing for Flamengo one day. He left to play futsal in a club at age 14, eventually finding his way to Figueirense. At the time, Figueirense were very poor. They only provided food and lodging to players — no wages — and Filipe stayed in club housing, as his parents lived two hours away.

Transferring his dribbling skills from futsal, Filipe slid into a number 10 role with Figueirense’s youth setup. He credits these beginnings with some of the dribbling and playmaking flair he still displays today. As a result, Filipe has stated that whenever he plays a kick about with friends, he often focuses just on going forward.

One day at a training session, all of his team’s left backs were unavailable. So 17-year-old Filipe, as a left-footed player, was a natural selection as a fill-in. Filipe’s coaches also believed that his dribbling skills would help the team build up from the back. Additionally, thanks to the dearth of elite fullbacks in Europe, the coaches thought a move to left back would help Filipe’s career. They weren’t wrong.

Filipe playing for Brazil.
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Filipe took the opportunity and ran with it, earning a move to Ajax in 2004. However, the 19-year-old wild child was far from a consummate professional early in his career. Looking back, Filipe believes he at least partially squandered his opportunity at Ajax.

“I really think I didn’t take the opportunity I had, the great school Ajax is, learning about tactics and how to defend,” he said. “All I did at that time was criticize the food and the people. It was my biggest mistake. People could see I didn’t enjoy their country. I’m the only one to blame.”

Filipe was used to living on his own, having done so for the previous five years at Figueirense. Ajax tried to place Filipe with a Dutch host family to ease his transition and help him learn the language. Filipe rejected the setup within a week, moving into his own apartment and spending much of his time in Amsterdam hunting down Brazilian food and watching Brazilian shows on cable television.

Nevertheless, Filipe still credits Ajax as having a huge role in his development:

“I learned a lot there (at Ajax). It’s a great school to learn about football. In Holland tactics are very important and, even though I didn’t actually have the chance to play a first team match there, I learned a lot about the tactical side of the game.”

During his time at Ajax, Filipe trained with Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Maxwell and (briefly) Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Observing all of these players helped Filipe — already a devastating technical player — develop the tactical side of his game and become more of a professional.

During this period, Filipe also struggled with alcohol abuse. A big fan of rock music — Filipe lists Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2 and The Doors as his favorites, and you can still spot him wearing band t-shirts in his Instagram posts — Filipe may have craved a hard-partying, rock n’ roll lifestyle (although that is conjecture). Excellent musicians though they are, Jim Morrison and Anthony Kiedis probably aren’t the best role models for a professional footballer.

“I had my moments of going out and drinking more than I should have,” Filipe told El Mundo. “Luckily, my father brought me back on track.”

Ultimately, during this dark period, Filipe had to take a step back and appreciate his lot in life.

“I’m very lucky because, to quote, ‘I don’t work very hard.’ There’s lots of pressure but few hours and I’m well paid. And I do look around and see how regular people live. I know what goes on. So the least I can do is take it seriously, I would not change my job for the world.

“Eighty percent [of players] live in a bubble, especially the young players. They believe that if they go around with a branded bag under their arm, €400 shoes and eight tattoos, that they will already be stars and that people will respect them.

They forget the real world out there.”