After the 1998 World Cup the Argentina Football Association unexpectedly struck a deal with Reebok to produce the national team’s kit. The resulting shirts were somewhat ugly, and not at all in keeping with the South Americans’ tradition of simple, stylish uniforms. They even had navy shorts! So it was with some relief when I discovered Argentina had reestablished their long partnership with adidas just in time for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea.
I first noticed the change in a February friendly played in Cardiff. The shirt had a black V-neck collar and there was a wide white trim on the hem of the shorts. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was merely a stop-gap kit: by the time Argentina played Germany in April they had a completely new strip, one that matched the template adidas was introduced for the World Cup. The shirts were equipped with what adidas was calling “dual-layer” technology, meaning that a thinner layer of fabric was sewn into the inside of the garment, supposedly to keep players muscles warm. The numbers were a quirky italicized font, with tiny NFL-style holes.
The kit was certainly simple, perhaps overly so. The black shorts bore the usual three white stripes, while the socks were bereft of trim altogether. Oddly for Argentina, the V-neck collar and sleeves were blue (as opposed to white).
Despite boasting a squad packed with attacking talent, Argentina crashed out of the World Cup at the first hurdle for the first time in forty years. They started well enough, a Batistuta header enough to earn a 1-0 win over Nigeria. But against England they succumbed to a David Beckham penalty, leaving them needing a victory in their final group game against Sweden. They only managed a draw.
Argentina wore their home kit just once in Japan, in the defeat to England in Sapporo. Four years earlier England had changed and lost. Beckham once again made the headlines, but this time the boot was on the other foot.
When Argentina unveiled their new kit for the 2010 World Cup, the first thing keen observers noticed was that the design of the shirt was a clear nod to that worn by the South Americans the last time they won the tournament in 1986. Though it wasn’t the first time adidas had referenced a celebrated shirt from the modern era (see France’s 1998 update of their Euro 84 shirt), it was unusual in that Argentina’s kit in ’86 was produced by the French company Le Coq Sportif. But the decision did have a strange logic to it. After all, Argentina’s coach in South Africa would be none other than the man who had captained them to victory twenty-four years earlier, Diego Armando Maradona. Though Maradona wouldn’t be wearing the shirt himself this time, presumably the thinking was that if his Argentina team wore a similar kit to that worn in the sunshine of Mexico, this year’s tournament would perhaps have a similar outcome.
To casual fans the 2010 shirt may have appeared like any other worn by the albiceleste, but there were several details that evidently drew from its iconic predecessor. The first of these was the simple crew neck collar: Argentina had only worn V-necks, fold-over collars, buttoned collars and modern variations of the same in recent years. Likewise, for the first time since the mid-nineties there was no black trim on the shirt. Perhaps the most noticeable similarity to the ’86 shirt was the AFA badge, set on a bold blue background that had been absent since 1991. Rather than be placed over a blue or white stripe, the badge itself was positioned over the point where the two stripes meet, just as in ’86.
Attention had even been paid to the stripes’ sequence and arrangement, with white being chosen for the central stripe (a rarity outside the ’86 tournament). Even the shirt’s fabric was a modern update on the breathable airtex material originally used to beat the heat in Mexico. While the ubiquitous adidas branding dictated somewhat the design of the sleeves, and the classic Argentina numbers were long gone, adidas had done a fine job at updating a classic. In practice of course, the kit bore little resemblance to ’86. The players’ shirts would become inevitably tarnished with the modern-day clutter of front numbers and sleeve patches, while the beautiful gold embroidered badge used on commercially available replica shirts was replaced by a plastic heat-pressed version (I still don’t understand this, but I’m sure adidas would claim it makes the shirt half an ounce lighter). In addition, temperatures in South Africa were considerably lower than they’d been in Mexico, causing several players to opt for a long-sleeved “Techfit” version of the shirt.
Maradona had drawn criticism for his squad selection prior to the tournament. Many were surprised to see Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso miss out at the expense of less experienced players, particularly since both had been instrumental in achieving a historic treble for Inter that season. He’d also kept faith with aging midfielder Juan Sebastián Verón, now in the autumn of his career at Estudiantes. Argentina got off to a positive start in South Africa, winning all three of their group games. Fans looked to new number ten Lionel Messi to inspire the team, but the Barcelona star was outshone by his teammates. Defender Gabriel Heinze headed the only goal against Nigeria, then Gonzalo Higuain grabbed a hat-trick against South Korea. A number of first-choice players were rested for the final match with Greece, where two Martins — defender Demichelis and veteran striker Palermo — got on the scoresheet.
Argentina faced Mexico in the second round, in a match that saw two peculiar changes to their kit. The first was a discreet white outline that had been added to the shirt numbers, presumably to maximize their clarity, although it barely made any difference. More obvious was Argentina’s unprecedented and inexplicable choice to wear blue shorts and socks with their home shirt, a decision no doubt enforced by the latest FIFA edict regarding colour clashes. The match itself was overshadowed by a refereeing controversy (one of several in the tournament). Thanks to replays broadcast on the giant screens in Johannesburg it was clear to everyone in the stadium that Tevez’s first goal was offside. But the goal stood, and Argentina went on to score twice again through Higuain before Tevez sealed the win with a screamer from long range into the top corner.
Germany now awaited Diego’s men in the quarter-finals in a game packed with historical subtext. Argentina had lost to Germany on penalties at the same stage four years earlier, while Maradona had defeated West Germany to lift the trophy in ’86, only to lose to them in the final four years later. Their 2010 meeting had none of the drama of those matches, as Germany ran out comfortable 4-0 victors. It was an unfortunate and perhaps cruel end for Maradona, who had thrown himself into his new role with the same passion and desire he had exuded as a player. It was clear from watching their matches that Argentina’s player-coach relationship was unique. Maradona garnered not just the requisite respect from his players, but something rather approaching adoration, such is the level of idolatry that his legend demands. Prowling the touchline, arms folded or nervously stroking the grey streaks in his beard, at times it seemed that not being out there with his team was too much for him to bear. I often wondered if he had his playing kit on underneath his bulky grey suit, just in case a chance presented itself.
The AFA chose not to renew Maradona’s contract after their quarter-final exit, sparking a bitter row between the dismissed coach and the association’s national team director Carlos Bilardo, whom he branded a traitor and a liar. Bilardo coached Maradona at two World Cups, and maybe he knew already what the rest of Argentina learned in 2010: that their God is just a mortal without a ball at his feet.
*Exact date unknown
Having devoted a vast portion of my waking (and non-waking) life to football I’ve become pretty good at identifying football shirts and ascertaining their date and provenance. Yet even with the wonders of the internet at my disposal and several bona fide experts on the case, I have yet to establish the precise origin of this rare Brazil shirt.
It was given to me in the summer of 1991 by an Italian teenager whom I hadn’t met until the evening his father, Dr. Consoli, a well-appointed local surgeon, took me and my family out for dinner at a remote restaurant in the Tuscan hills. It was one of those hidden places that can only be reached by a seemingly endless drive along dark and winding country roads, but then you finally enter to find the joint bustling with locals and the requisite display of Fiorentina posters plastered all over the walls. Anyway, after a typically rustic blow-out we returned into town to the Consoli family’s villa in Scarperia. The doctor’s two teenage sons, Lorenzo and Giacomo, were more than happy to show me and my younger brother their impressive collection of shirts, the jewel of which hung on Lorenzo’s bedroom wall. I instantly recognised it as a white number 20 Italy shirt from the early ’80s, but my jaw must have hit the floor when Lorenzo quickly confirmed that it was indeed the shirt worn by Paolo Rossi against Cameroon in the 1982 World Cup. I was too much in awe to ask how he’d got hold of it, but evidently Dr. Consoli had friends in very high places.
Paolo Rossi photographed shortly after Italy’s 1-1 draw with Cameroon in Vigo on June 23rd, 1982. The Juventus striker has clearly just swapped shirts with an opponent — how his shirt later found its way onto an Italian teenager’s bedroom wall remains a mystery.
In recognition of my knowledge and enthusiasm, Lorenzo kindly offered me the adidas Brazil shirt reproduced in the photographs on this page. Though Brazil had worn an adidas kit at the 1978 World Cup, I knew this not to be a conventional Brazil shirt, which in 1991 had been manufactured by Topper for a decade. I also knew that adidas had produced the Brazilian football team’s kit at the last two Olympic Games, where in lieu of being able to use the CBF badge the shirt had instead featured the word “BRASIL” emblazoned across the chest. But without much means of further research, and my Italian not what it is now, I simply thanked Lorenzo for the lovely gift and we went downstairs to the kitchen to watch the Copa América match between Colombia and Uruguay that had just kicked off. That’s my last memory of the evening — I wore my new mystery Brazil shirt a lot during the rest of the summer and the one that followed, then sometime later I lost track of it.
I only came across it again this summer while visiting my parents in England, after my mum found it at the bottom of a drawer somewhere. To my surprise it now fits me better than ever, and so I brought it back with me to New York. Since then I’ve recommenced — or rather, commenced — my research, for which I am now aided by the endless supply of online information. I first checked for images of the Brazil teams at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. The shirts used in Los Angeles and Seoul were each made by adidas, and both featured the “BRASIL” lettering, but neither matched the shirt I had in my possession. I then wondered if it might be older than I had believed. Brazil did not compete in the Moscow games in 1980, and though my shirt doesn’t seem that old, I went back even further to 1976. As I suspected the kit worn in Montreal, while differing from the CBF strip of the period, bears even less resemblance to the shirt in question.
The Brazil team that finished silver medalists at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Keen followers of Brazilian football will recognise former international sweeper Mauro Galvao (back row, fourth from left) and 1994 World Cup-winning captain Dunga (front row, second from left).
Digging a little deeper I felt I was getting warmer when I learned of an event known as the Pan-American Games, held every four years the year before the Olympics. After viewing several fuzzy YouTube videos of dubious source I am sadly no closer to a definitive answer. At the 1987 edition held in Indianapolis Brazil won the competition wearing the same shirts used at the ’84 Olympics. Four years earlier in Caracas they’d finished runners-up wearing a kit that appears to be a hybrid between their regular Topper strip and the shirts used in 1976. I have so far been unable to find any photographic or video evidence of Brazil’s games at the 1979 tournament in San Juan.
The Brazil side that finished runners-up at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul featured a host of players who would enjoy successful careers playing in Europe. Back row: André Cruz, Taffarel, Luiz Carlos, Aloisio, Ademir, Jorginho; front row: Bebeto, Romario, Milton, Geovani, Andrade.
Having exhausted all my leads I decided it was time to seek outside help. I contacted John Devlin, Scottish football shirt expert and author of True Colours, but he could provide no further information. I also wrote to São Paulo-based kit nerd Evaldo Rui Oliveira Junior, who digitally reproduces historic football kits in meticulous detail on his site Erojkit. He agreed that the shirt was from the 1980s, but suggested it was released purely for commercial purposes, and never used in an actual match. I even submitted it to Old Football Shirts, an online photographic football shirt archive, but have yet to hear any news. More recently I came across two shirts for sale online — one located in Los Angeles and another in Brasilia — each of which were remarkably similar to mine. The only real difference was that both had basic V-necks and green sleeve stripes (mine are blue). I contacted both sellers in the hope of gleaning some further insight into their respective shirt’s history, but neither shared my level of interest nor obsessive need to solve this particular puzzle.
Two shirts recently spotted for sale online in Los Angeles and Brasilia. The primary differences between my shirt and the one on the left are the V-neck collar and the colour of the sleeve stripes.
So after many, many hours of detective work I am no closer to an answer than I was a few months ago — or even twenty years ago for that matter. If anybody out there cares to weigh in or offer any additional clues I would be very appreciative. In the meantime I have found Lorenzo on Facebook, so perhaps it’s time I just asked him…
Though Colombia had not reached the finals of the World Cup since 1998, the team arrived at Brazil 2014 as many people’s dark horses. The reason was that over the last two or three years Los Cafeteros had produced a crop of exceptionally talented players that had begun to make names for themselves across Europe. The first of these was Radamel Falcao, who after enjoying Europa League success at Porto had joined Atlético Madrid in 2011, now coached by Diego Simeone, who had worked with the striker as a youngster at River Plate. Falcao won a second successive Europa League title in 2012 but left the club the following summer to join Monaco, where a knee injury in a Coupe de France game threatened to keep him out of the World Cup.
While neither Jackson Martinez nor Teófilo “Teo” Gutiérrez would quite fill the void left in the absence of Colombia’s star striker, both could be a handful for defences. But it wasn’t just up front where Colombia looked strong. Tricky winger Juan Pablo Cuadrado’s career had taken him to opposite ends of Italy, first at Udinese and then Lecce, before settling in Florence, where he’d become a key member of Vincenzo Montella’s exciting Fiorentina side. Even the defensive players, Zapata, Zuniga and captain Yepes, had several years experience playing for top clubs in Serie A.
Colombia’s most promising talent was their young number ten, James Rodriguez. The midfielder had also joined Porto as a teenager, before following Falcao to Monaco. At twenty-two, Rodriguez was already considered one of South American football’s top prospects, having been nominated as the successor to Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama — by none other than Valderrama himself.
The man handed the task of harnessing all this creative talent was the Argentina José Pekerman, who’d led his own country to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2006. Colombia had finished behind Argentina in qualifiying, yet found themselves among the eight seeded teams for the World Cup draw. Consequently, they were joined in their first round group by Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. On paper it looked a relatively easy proposition, but fans were wary of suffering a repeat of 1994, when Colombia had been tipped by Pelé to win the competition, only to lose their first two games and suffer a humiliating (and ultimately tragic) exit.
Fortunately, 2014 would prove a far more joyous tournament. Colombia won all three of their group games, scoring nine goals in the process and impressed audiences with their skillful attack-minded football, not to mention carefree celebrations. James Rodriguez lived up to his potential early on, finding the net in every match, but truly fulfilled his promise in the second round against Uruguay. At Rio’s Maracana, this all-South American clash was Colombia’s sternest test yet, but Rodriguez had found his form at just the right time. For his first goal, he controlled the ball with his chest before volleying into the top corner from outside the box. It was undoubtedly one of the goals of the tournament, and recalled that of another Rodriguez — Maxi — for Pekerman’s Argentina against Mexico in 2006.
In the second half Rodriguez doubled his side’s lead with a tapped in finish from close range. Neutral followers were delighted to see Colombia progress at the expense of Uruguay, who’d won few friends for their performances or behaviour in Brazil. Now Rodriguez and Co. faced the hosts in Fortaleza, who themselves could be considered fortunate to have got through their second round tie with Chile. For the first time, Colombia were forced to wear their red and navy away strip, a change with which their entertaining World Cup run came to an end. Two goals by central defenders (Thiago Silva and David Luiz) settled the contest, but Rodriguez still found time to get his sixth goal of the tournament from the penalty spot, thus maintaining his record of scoring in every game and ultimately earning him the Golden Boot. Though the match was overshadowed by Zuniga’s foul on Neymar which ended the youngster’s World Cup, at full-time Rodriguez was consoled by his opponents and applauded for his fine performances in Brazil.
Colombia’s wholly enjoyable displays in Brazil coincided with an unprecedented new kit. Unlike most national teams, Colombia have changed their home colours with unusual frequency. Between the 1930s and 1980s the team sported sky blue, white, navy, orange and red shirts before finally settling on the current yellow in the early 1990s. In 2014 adidas unveiled a new shirt with a navy diagonal sash, into whose design was incorporated a sombrero vueltiao, the traditional hat of Colombia and one of the symbols of the country. The new kit also saw the abandonment of the traditional tricolore strip, Colombia instead reverting to white shorts and socks. Oddest of all was the inclusion of a hashtag — #UnidosPorUnPais — located on the back of the shirt just below the neck. While team slogans and motifs have been incorporated surreptitously onto shirts for a few years, this was the first instance I’ve seen of social media directly infiltrating kit design. Having finally witnessed a player excel at the World Cup with my own name on his back, naturally I couldn’t resist picking up a yellow “JAMES” shirt to add to my own collection.
Success was so swift and so absolute for Silvio Berlusconi’s Milan, that it’s easy to forget when he had taken over the presidency the once prestigious club found itself ridden in debt, having spent two seasons in Serie B in the early 1980s. Though the team already boasted some talented local youngsters including Baresi, Maldini, Donadoni and Evani, their foreign stars were aging. Milan lacked that special player — a Maradona or a Platini — necessary to make the extra leap to domestic and European glory. In the summer of 1987 Berlusconi’s finances (funded at the time by his growing media empire) helped secure the talents of young Dutch stars Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten. That season Milan pipped Champions Napoli to the Serie A title, their first scudetto in nine years. Later that summer Gullit and Van Basten proved instrumental in Holland’s first major trophy, the European Championship, and after the tournament their international teammate, Frank Rijkaard, joined them at Milan.
Berlusconi’s influence was not only economical. He insisted his side produce attractive, attacking football, and his power wielded an unprecedented control over transfers, team selection and technical aspects of the side’s preparation. In Arrigo Sacchi he found the ideal coach, an eccentric but brilliant man, who, despite fielding an imperviously strong back four, represented the antithesis of catenaccio. By the end of the decade Milan were once again the dominant force in Europe, winning back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990, a trophy which had eluded them for twenty years. They topped those victories off on both occasions with successive triumphs in the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo.
Through regular visits to Italy and my burgeoning fixation with calcio I’d become fascinated by Sacchi’s Milan side, and in 1991 I bought the famous maglia rossonera from a store in the northern Tuscan town of Aulla. Given the quality of its domestic league football in Italy was remarkably uncommercialised in those days. All the shirts in the shop were folded in their manufacturers’ plastic wrappers and stacked up to the ceiling; after inquiring about the Milan kit a lady climbed to the top of a ladder to retrieve my size. The shirt was only available with long-sleeves, which seemed impractical to me at the time (it was July) but wholly appropriate once I recalled images of San Siro shrouded in a thick fog, the rossoneri carving out victories from its frosty turf.
Milan had changed kit manufacturer in 1990, switching from Kappa to adidas, but the shirt had remained essentially unchanged for the last four years. The sponsor was still Mediolanum, Berlusconi’s own insurance company, named for the Latin word for Milan (the city). Above it on the right was the gold star which is earned after ten scudetto wins, beneath which sat an embroidered European Cup celebrating the fact that Milan were the current holders of that trophy (a nice initiative which never caught on). In the 1990-91 season Milan finished second in Serie A, a full five points behind scudetto winners Sampdoria, to whom they lost twice. A defeat to lowly Bari in the penultimate match of the season effectively ended their title hopes.
Milan’s good domestic showing was marred by a disastrous European Cup campaign. The rossoneri were aiming for a record-equalling third straight triumph in the competition, and came up against a talented Olympique Marseille team in the quarter-final. The first leg at San Siro ended 1-1; in the return match Chris Waddle had given the French champions the lead on 75 minutes when deep into injury time the floodlights at the Stade Velodrome failed. When power was restored after several minutes Milan refused to return to the pitch – a gesture which most interpreted as a desperate attempt to seize the opportunity for a rematch. Either way the tactic backfired: UEFA awarded a 3-0 result to Marseille, while Milan were banned from all European competition for the 1991-92 season.
His time at Milan having clearly run its course, Arrigo Sacchi left the rossoneri that summer to take over the Italian national team. Under his replacement, Fabio Capello, Milan galloped to a record-breaking Serie A season, becoming the first side to win lo scudetto without defeat. Van Basten finished the season as top scorer with 25 goals. The shirt remained unchanged from the previous season, although since Milan were no longer holders of the European Cup, its presence on the shirt was replaced by the Intercontinental Cup; when Red Star Belgrade took this title away from them in December 1991 they reverted to a traditional Milan logo (incidentally the first appearance of the club crest on the rossoneri jersey).
Milan collected three successive Serie A titles with Capello at the helm, and with success on the pitch changes to the kit remained subtle over the next few seasons. In 1992 a new sponsor arrived in the form of local dessert company Motta, and the following year a new kit deal was launched with the Italian sportswear manufacturer Lotto. Milan re-established their relationship with adidas in 1998, by which time they’d begun a long-term sponsorship by the German car giant Opel.
As Berlusconi ventured into politics his desire to create a European supersquad had resulted in the arrival of some big names — Savicevic, Boban, Papin, Raducioiu, Lentini — all of whom now competed for positions in Milan’s line-up. As Capello struggled with the challenge of keeping his bloated roster of big names happy, the Dutch trio’s dominance became undermined and was effectively broken up. The last time the three played together was the 1993 European Cup final in Munich, a 1-0 defeat by old rivals Marseille. That summer Rijkaard returned to Ajax and Gullit unexpectedly left for Sampdoria. Van Basten stayed at Milan, unaware he’d already played the last game of his career. He remained on the sidelines throughout the 1993-94 season, missing out on the team’s European Cup triumph and that summer’s World Cup, before finally announcing his official retirement in 1995 at the age of 30.
The same summer I bought my Milan shirt I also obtained a giant poster of a young Paolo Maldini wearing the same kit. It was free from the local supermarket in exchange for the purchase of several packets of apricot jam-filled Kinder brioche (my brother got Baggio). Something about the lighting always made me believe the photo was taken at the San Paolo in Naples (the ball is correct, Paolino wore short-sleeves in that fixture, and there’s clearly an ad for Mars in the background). Either way the poster hung pinned on my bedroom wall for over a decade, and now hangs framed in my apartment in New York, just feet from where I sit as I write this. A few years ago adidas relaunched the 1990-91 shirt as a limited edition replica, presumably for fans who now regretted not getting their hands on it the first time. Yet somehow the remake wasn’t quite the same. The sponsor was too large and the slightly bulbous adidas logo had been corrected. The material was too glossy, too well-made. It was as if the memories of both the shirt’s manufacturer and its consumer had been warped by the team’s own legend. Milan weren’t perfect, and nor was their shirt. But both came mighty close.