Shirt. Shorts. Socks. A footballer's workwear has always been so. It is a uniform, too, adopted by supporters keen to wear their allegiance. Laces, collars and cuffs have come and gone. Shorts have moved up and down, flapped around knees and skirted thighs. Socks were once called stockings. But in principle the football kit remains the same.
The big changes have occurred in fabrics. When Miguel Muñoz lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1956, kits were made from heavy-duty cotton. Useful in winter and northern Europe, not so hot when the sun came out. The energy-sapping weave gave way to lighter cottons and, today, intelligent fabrics: breathable materials that help player precision and performance.
"There has been a transformational change," says David Bremond, concept manager at adidas. "Our fabrics are lighter with moisture-wicking properties. They have inbuilt technology [TechFit] to enhance a player's performance. This season we've integrated ClimaCool and TechFit – technologies to support players' performance and comfort."
The players welcome every advance. AC Milan midfielder Mark van Bommel says: "
We get a fair amount of input on developing the kit. Even if they give just 1% improvement, it could mean all the difference. In 1990, my youth team used really thick material and long-sleeves. The only way we could have short sleeves was to cut them. It's much nicer now that shorts too have ClimaCool and ClimaWarm technology to warm you in winter and cool you in summer."
As important as such innovations are, it is the kit's look that inspires the masses. The iconic shirts of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF, for example, are found all over the world. A club's away strip can be just as classic. Milan have lifted the European Cup six times wearing their white away shirt, which fans refer to as the 'maglia fortunata' (lucky top).
Work is already under way on Milan's next strip, but the tifosi's first glance will come in summer 2012 – from initial talks through to launch, the design process takes 18 months, a co-production between the club and adidas. The first meetings focus on design inspiration and direction. "We make recommendations from a fit, fabric and design point of view," says Bremond. "We work collaboratively from initial inspiration to final production. We also talk with UEFA to ensure all parties are satisfied."
Next the first prototype shirts are presented. At Milan, players and officials chip in with feedback. There's a wear test with the first team and once the club are satisfied, it is back to Bremond, who green-lights production. Every player wears his kit differently. Long or short sleeves? Shorts can have a personal slant too: some players roll them, preferring to wear them above the knee; others prefer them longer. Van Bommel remembers when shorts were terribly brief: "Those really short adidas shorts with the three stripes and the V-cut down the side! Now we have ones that stop just above the knee. I prefer the bigger ones, but it's all about a player's personal preference."
"The Milan strip is one of football's truly unique designs," says Bremond. "Each season is a challenge to develop new concepts that maintain the tradition, but ensure the jersey remains relevant to the club's fashion-conscious supporters." It is a tough call. This season the Rossoneri have gone back to their roots with a jersey inspired by one they wore in 1901. The shirt has narrower stripes with a thin white crew neck and sleeve cuffs. Bremond says: "Inspiration can come from many sources – for 2011/12 we took ideas from supporters, players, the club museum, Milan as a city and Italy."
For players, pulling on the kit of a local team can fulfil a childhood dream. Wearing a European Cup-winning shirt can be the peak of their ambition. Some players suit the jersey – it can be down to their playing style, attitude or success. A blessed few come to symbolise the shirt. "Of course it matters to the players that the kit is nice," Van Bommel says. "That's why I have a nice expression modelling it." Van Bommel won the UEFA Champions League in the blue and red of Barcelona. Rossoneri fans will hope come May he will repeat that feat in the red and black of Milan.
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