Category Archives: Kits

Preview 7 – Cameroon

 

This time round Cameroon’s shirt is not sleeveless, as they tried in France 2002, nor is it all of a piece with the shorts, as they tried in the 2004 African Nations campaign. But their current Puma shirt with its natty ‘Lions indomptables’ patterned imprint (link) could be the non-conformists’ choice this tournament (still more may opt for the ‘82 replica). Seven times qualified, one quarter final appearance and with a few genuine icons of the game in Roger Milla (just ask Walsall!) and Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon can lay claim to the title of Africa’s most successful World Cup nation.

However, on Cameroon’s football blogs and news sites there is only a measured buzz about their prospects for Le Mondial 2014. That’s not because they do not have a strong squad, but more to do with the group confronting them as well as financial wrangles and disputed elections to its Fecafoot governing body, which appears to contain enough irregularities even to worry Fifa.

So the size of the players’ tournament fee ($104,000) as well as the specific sum Fecafoot was getting for Sunday’s Germany friendly – and how it intended to distribute it ‑ have topped the agenda. Throw in last July’s temporary suspension from Fifa over the Fecafoot ballot and the installment of an emergency committee over claims of government interference after complaints from losing candidates, and it would be easy to paint a picture of a typically messed up developing-world footballing nation. The Lions’ issues – a player’s worth when vast sums slush around the modern game, executive-body corruption, commercial interference (Puma seem to use Cameroon as a testing board for their wackier schemes) – may be more magnified and more disruptive but they merely match the wider game’s issues.

On the pitch, various blends of expectation and hope rest with Lorient’s Vincent Aboubakar, Mainz’s frenetically syllabic Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and the ageing-but-still-canny Eto’o, who now seems to be playing a less divisive role after rows with Alex Song and claims of a plot not to pass to him in the crucial Tunisia play-off. But the expected 23-man squad contains other experienced operators such as Jean Makoun and Song. Expect a decent showing too from Stéphane Mbia after he put his QPR nightmare behind him and won the UEFA cup with Sevilla. Truly, they have moved a long way from the 1990 Cameroon of the Englishman’s imagination, which Reuters in patronising style said won them ‘worldwide affection with their dogged style and colourful kit’. Xenophobes may argue they still play in a recognisably ‘African’ style, but their biggest issue – a lack of true inspiration and creativity to link the midfield with the strikers – are issues that dog teams the world over. It is this that German coach Volker Finke must address if calls for his sacking are not to get louder.

Having landed one of the toughest groups (Brazil, Croatia and Mexico), with a punishing travel schedule to match (Natal, Manaus and Brasilia), don’t expect dancing on the streets of Douala, Yaoundé and Garoua after a glorious negotiation of the group stages. But their decent 2-2 against Germany showed they will be able to compete.

For any African qualifier now, the goal is to exceed what Cameroon themselves did in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 and get past the quarter finals. With a draw like theirs, you can forgive the relative lack of optimism but solid performances will still be expected. Given Ivory Coast’s arguably easier group, the battle for supremacy in West Africa will also be tough.

Posted by Murray W

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Nike, Adidas and the Sports Branding World Cup

Over the last decade, major tournaments have become as much a showcase for sports brands and product placement as they have for the sport itself. Billboards are adorned with new footwear, energy drinks and more as brands attempt to tap into the national anticipation of a World Cup. The marketing usually employs exoticism based on the host nation to lure in the public combined with recognisable footballers.  This year, Lucozade have added a Brazilian twist with a new guava flavoured drink, while Pepsi’s latest ad sees Messi, Aguero et al. joshing around to a backdrop of favela-chic.

However, the major battle for brand supremacy is always fought between the superpowers of Nike and Adidas. They want the World Cup winners to be wearing their shirts on the podium, and scoring goals in their boots. Nike’s advertising went through something of a golden age around 15 years ago and their new material is usually worth watching. It probably started with the Seleçao at the airport ahead of France 1998. In 2002, the Scorpion Football campaign ushered in a new era of the mega-advert. Terry Gilliam was given a multi-million dollar budget to direct the memorable promo using the concept of a knock-out cage tournament. Finally, Thierry Henry’s “Sorry Boss” ad had an element of humour that few adverts are really able to capture.

In their new campaign, both Nike and Adidas have used a similar premise; this is very much the individual over the collective and the idea that one player is capable of lifting his side to the next level. This is part of football’s “cult of self”, where the players with the greatest will to succeed to do through a combination of ability and selfishness. Oddly, this style is reminiscent of an old Guinness advert in which a hurling player is promised a “hero’s welcome” if he scores the winning points.

Nike’s 2014 advert is superficial at best. A group of boys playing a game of park football, transform into their idols (Ronaldo, Neymar etc.) whilst showing off the latest sports range. It’s fun, if a little ridiculous, but lacks the originality of their back catalogue. The short ends with one of the boys scoring a penalty while the world watches on, as we are told emphatically to “Risk Everything”, Nike’s slogan for this summer. There’s not much more to it than that, other than reinforcing Nike’s traditional mantra that the winner will take it all.

This is disappointing because their ad for the last World Cup managed to imply this same message a lot more astutely. Vacuously entitled “Write the Future”, the ad shows a series of imagined World Cup moments with two possible outcomes. It illustrates the dichotomy between hero and villain that is created from individual on-pitch moments and also brings in some of the wider political context in which the game is played.

For example, a misplaced pass from Wayne Rooney that results in a Franck Ribery winner against England not only leads to personal misery but national catastrophe as the stock market crashes. There are hints at civil disorder, eerily similar to the 2011 London riots that would take place the following summer. The alternative version sees Rooney sprint back to tackle Ribery and, we can assume, lead England to glory. Rooney is knighted, the economy booms and a generation of babies are named ‘Wayne’. Thus we are reminded that football is a zero sum game in more ways than one; a players’ action will simultaneously catapult his own name into stardom whilst ruining his rivals’ reputation but these events also have the capacity to influence the nation in a manner of ways.

Adidas’ latest effort is captivating for similar reasons. Artistically it pays homage to the 2006 film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, where the camera followed the player for 90 minutes.  This focus on a single player emphasises the pressures that rest on their shoulders. The main man in the campaign is Messi and it is hard to think of a player with more expectation to deliver at this World Cup, other than possibly Neymar. The ‘cult of self’ is also reinforced by the soundtrack. A new track entitled “God Level” by Kanye West (perhaps one of  the greatest egoists ever), hints at an elevation to god-like status that a World Cup-winner would enjoy.

Despite these common themes, the Adidas ad seems more pertinent because it is framed with a measure of socio-political awareness. As Messi arrives in Brazil, he is greeted with abuse from a young group of boys and a gaggle of journalists; the reception from locals and the media alike will be hostile. As the beat in West’s track builds tension with a whining crescendo that sounds like a siren, a flurry of on-pitch clips flash across the screen until a brief scene shows mounted police keeping a group of Brazilian protesters at bay. It is this image that is most intriguing because it shows Adidas have acknowledged that this World Cup might be greater than what takes place simply in the stadia.

We go into this tournament with a sense of unknowing. To what extent will this undercurrent of unrest bubble over the surface once the World Cup is up and running? Would a Brazilian triumph be able to unite the nation and quell some of the protests? Neither Nike nor Adidas has an interest in making an overtly political statement ahead of the big event and their primary concern is market supremacy. However, these corporations are now able to garner so much influence through football as an ultra-globalized form of mass culture, they may feel some sense of paternalist responsibility. Judging by their latest efforts, it seems like Adidas have considered this to a greater degree than Nike.

Posted by Hugo Greenhalgh

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Predominant Colours

Argentina

Much has been made lately – at least this is how this it appears from the comment threads on footyheadlines.com – of FIFA’s supposed “rule change” regarding monochrome kits ahead of this year’s World Cup. To wit: Germany, Spain, Argentina and Colombia – all Adidas nations – have over the past number of months unveiled kits which depart from recent models of the national colour palette. None of these kits are exactly monochrome: Germany’s features a large red and black chevron, Argentina retain their albiceleste stripes, and so on. The point of consternation is Adidas’s decision to do away with contrasting shorts for each of these nations – Germany’s and Argentina’s black, Spain and Colombia’s blue – leaving the outfits of the former two teams looking, it must be said, curiously anaemic. England (and Nike) have followed suit in unveiling an all-white home affair, which has been badly received by a subsection of fans who presumably missed both Euro 2012 and the last World Cup, when England also wore all-white home affairs.

Digs at strawmen aside, the Spain, Argentina and Germany kits are aberrations. Colombia have been through multiple colour changes throughout their history but for the former three the new designs break with a tradition that stretches back unbroken at least to the beginning of the post-war period. Germany have worn black shorts since 1908, and Argentina have never worn anything but. Answers are understandably being sought then, even if the “rule change” turns out to be something of a canard. Credit must be given to columnists like The Mirror‘s Sheridan Bird who, while ‘lament[ing] the monochrome revolution that has gripped our apparel manufacturers’ and fingering FIFA as ringleaders of said revolution, have at least taken the care to dredge up the actual passage of legislation which has seemingly triggered Adidas’s aesthetic departures. The passage, as many readers of this piece will already be aware, is found in a Regulations document drafted on the occasion of the World Cup, and requests that teams provide one “predominately light” and one “predominately” dark kit for the competition so as to avoid colour clashes. What many readers might not know is that this passage was also present in 2010’s equivalent document, although that year no drastic decisions seemed to be made by any of the sportswear giants on its behalf.

The responsibility for the decision to have Argentina, Germany and Spain trot out in non-traditional colours then falls squarely on the shoulders of Adidas. This becomes particularly evident when you realise that Mexico’s home kit – all tricolor and lightning bolts – is also made by Adidas. FIFA are presumably not intending on punishing nations who promote as their first-choice strip a mixture of lights and darks so much as requesting that they cobble together a suitable “predominately light or dark” ensemble should the situation demand it, as when Brazil wore white shorts and socks in last year’s Confederations Cup final against Spain. The three truly elite nations in Adidas’s stable – numbers two, three and four on the bookies’ favourites list at time of writing, no less – have had their attire conscientiously homogenised ahead of Brazil 2014, and it seems this decision cannot be explained exclusively through the language of rules and regulations.

Developments in football kit design may be driven to a certain extent by technical considerations and a vernacular sense of what Dave Brailsford once famously referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains” – players no longer sweat it out in woollen jumpers and caps, after all – but neither is the game exempt from the fashion cycle. There are presumably good reasons why most kit manufacturers have moved over to the tight shirt-capacious shorts look of recent years, but whatever these reasons are they are imprecise: there seems to be a sliding scale of opinion on just how tight shirts ought to be, with Puma’s recent African national team kits defining one end of the spectrum. Whether the shift from the aesthetic regime of the nineties, with its baggy shirts and short shorts, to that of the naughties, with its base layers and updated knickerbockers, had anywhere near as significant an impact on performances as, say the economic changes football underwent in this period is highly doubtful. So with both instrumental and legislative factors put to one side, what is there left to say about these kits?

Principally, that on the level of semiotics they are purist. To really buy into the idea of producing a “predominately light coloured” kit, in the manner that Adidas have done with their designs for Germany and Argentina, is to bracket the possibility that the players wearing them might get muddy, or even bloody (of course, players who bleed onto their shirts are required to change in any case). There is precedent for this in other areas of football design: the supposed demand for rounder and rounder match balls – this year’s Brazuca features only six heat-bonded panels, two fewer than South Africa’s infamous Jabulani – similarly voices an illusion that footballs are not designed fundamentally to be physically messed with. Were Adidas ever to engineer a single-panelled, perfectly-spherical ball, it would still be subject to all kinds of warping and distress on the basis that it is an object that is activated by being struck, forcefully and repeatedly. The outcry against the Jabulani’s unpredictability in the air also speaks to the ideological, as opposed to merely instrumental, basis of that ball’s geometric purity. Likewise, the radical new kit designs for Germany and Argentina, intended to be optimised against colour-clashes, speak more to a lofty, abstracted and utopic vision of football than to any direct and pressing need for visual clarification (there were suggestions that FIFA introduced the light-dark regulation to help viewers watching the World Cup in black & white, which rather begs the question how anybody managed before the invention of colour television).

 stepanova

There is another precedent we can draw on here, and it is simultaneously closer to home and much, much further away.  In 1923 Varvara Stepanova, a Russian Constructivist artist, ideologue and wife of Aleksandr Rodchenko, designed a series of sports outfits which she published in the journal Lef. Throughout this period Stepanova, in common with many artists associated with the Constructivist movement, took steps towards involvement in industrial design, seeking to promote a mass aesthetic which would transform its participants into liberated embodiments of the new society while avoiding any intimations of bourgeois comfort. To this latter end, Stepanova harnessed a visual vocabulary which belonged to an earlier moment in the Russian avant-garde: as Christina Kiaer notes in her excellent book Imagine No Possessions, the sports outfits are ‘drawn using the flat planes of circles, triangles, and rectangles from the pictorial lexicon of Suprematism.’ That is to say, the outfits are not only adorned with forms borrowed from Kasimir Malevich’s canvases (and here the chevron on Germany’s shirt finds an unexpected cousin) but are actually constructed along the lines of those forms. Malevich’s Suprematist movement had sought to capture pure, non-objective forms in one of the best-known utopian gambits of the early twentieth century, and here Stepanova attempts to tie those forms down to the gritty mundanity of sportswear. This was, as might be expected, an awkward fit: as Kiaer observes, a photograph of Stepanova’s friend Evegeniia Zhemchuzhnaia modelling one of the outfits gives testimony to ‘the ruin of these androgynous, geometric lines when they enter into contact with a real body that gives off heat and has rounded limbs.’ Something to bear in mind when it rains in Rio.

Posted by Luke Healey

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.