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You saw it first at the World Cup

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ronaldo hair afp

AFP

Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese captain and reigning world player of the year, sparked a flurry of tweets when he emerged from the dressing room for Sunday's match against the United States with what looked like a lightning bolt shaved into the side of his head.

Rio de Janeiro - With thousands of cameras capturing their every move for billions of fans, footballers know the World Cup isn't just about sport -- it's about tattoos, hairstyles, clothes and the big business of setting trends.

They arrive at airports, training sessions, press conferences and matches with carefully crafted looks, conscious that a new hairdo or tattoo can set social media networks abuzz - and that global brands with multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals are watching.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese captain and reigning world player of the year, sparked a flurry of tweets when he emerged from the dressing room for Sunday's match against the United States with what looked like a lightning bolt shaved into the side of his head.

The 29-year-old - whose endorsements account for some $28-million of his estimated $80-million yearly earnings - had already caused a sensation just before the tournament by posing nude with supermodel girlfriend Irina Shayk for Vogue's Spanish edition.

Brazil's star striker Neymar, 22, meanwhile appeared in the magazine's Brazilian edition with supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

And French striker Olivier Giroud, 27, turned heads by posing bare-chested for gay magazine Tetu.

Like former England captain turned underwear model David Beckham, or Bayern Munich manager and fashion plate Pep Guardiola, these players' style can draw the same worldwide attention as their moves on the pitch.

And while the likes of CR7 (Ronaldo) and Becks are already superstars, a new generation of footballers is dreaming of converting World Cup success into new contracts and sponsorship deals.

Some of the most emblematic images of the World Cup are of the teams coming off their planes in suits and ties. Fashion houses fight among themselves to attach their names to this dapper scene.

Most teams give the job to a homegrown brand.

At the 2010 World Cup, England bypassed sophisticated Savile Row tailors this year for lightweight wool and mohair suits by middle-class staple Marks & Spencer.

Fans and fashion hounds alike have been snapping up replica versions, which retail for £199.

The choice raised some eyebrows on social networks.

“England's World Cup made-to-measure suit cost £199 from Marks & Spencer. Wonder how £100 000-per-week-earning players feel about that,” wrote Twitter user Always Boleh.

“The price of the FA suit is in line with the rest of our tailoring offer,” said company spokeswoman Emma Richman.

“Simple, slim-fitting and stylish,” GQ magazine said of England's suits. “It might not be the most obvious ensemble for a South American summer break, but what did you expect - a linen safari suit and 'mandals?'“

Esquire begged to differ. “With suits, affordability comes with hidden costs, and in this case it's style,” it said.

The grey three-piece is more accessible than the swank navy ensemble put together for Italy by Dolce & Gabbana, the Azzurri's official tailor since 2006.

Germany went with national luxury brand Hugo Boss, while Spain went with classic suits offset by red ties by Pedro del Hierro, which is selling them online for 280 euros.

Sadly for the dethroned champions, they will not have the chance to wear them anymore at this World Cup.

France for its part opted for select line Smalto, known for making bespoke suits for dignitaries and executives.

Armani Jeans, Lanvin, Paul Smith, Hackett, Trussardi and Roberto Verino have all dressed different clubs.

And the tie-ups can extend beyond clothes. Many fashion houses plan to launch hair gels, underwear, watches and other products to complete the masculine wardrobe.

“Male players are more and more image-conscious,” said Brazilian superstar Marta, considered one of the best women footballers of all time.

The comment came after a recent caricature of her and Neymar. It depicts her training hard as he looks in the mirror, combing his hair and putting on earrings. - AFP

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