AWAY / 1995-96
BY PHIL DELVES
When you think of the career of Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, what image springs to mind?
Perhaps it’s the 2002 World Cup Ronaldo, the grinning, finger-wagging conqueror who had just completed the ultimate act of footballing redemption. For many others, it’s not so much an image of the man himself but rather the bodies of the 1996 Compostela side that were left on the floor in the wake of Ó Fenómeno’s dazzling brilliance.
Similarly, if we were to associate R9 with a particular kit, that Brazil 2002 shirt or any of the Barcelona shirts he wore during his sole season at the Camp Nou would most likely come to mind first.
For my money though, the best shirt Ronaldo wore during his career wasn’t to be found at any international tournament, or indeed during his memorable spells in Italy or Spain. It was a shirt worn during the Brazilian’s time at PSV Eindhoven, a formative two seasons that would act as the touchpaper for the fireworks that were to follow.
The shirt I have in mind is the 1995/96 away shirt.
We have to start with the collar. It’s an area that is often left as something of an afterthought, but the checkerboard pattern (inspired by the flag of North Brabant) seen here is a creative delight. The seemingly eternal Philips sponsor is framed perfectly within a black horizontal hoop, whilst a series of black vertical pinstripes ‘drip’ from the central band.
Adding depth to proceedings is a watermark of the clubs name, a charming design feature that has become something of a lost art. Talking of charming, I’m a big fan of the incredibly high placement of the Nike logo and PSV crest too. It almost looks like a factory error, but it gives the shirt yet more character.
On the pitch, the 1995-96 season was a testing time for Ronaldo, as he somewhat prophetically had to battle his way through an injury-riddled campaign. But despite the setbacks, he still managed a ridiculous 19 goals in 21 appearances. What’s more, teammate Luc Nilis would later be named by the man himself as his favourite strike partner during the course of his storied career; a testament to just how important those years in the Eredivisie were.
So next time you think Ronaldo, picture him not in canary yellow, or blue and red. Picture him in purple and black.
HOME / 2002-03
BY ENZO DEL LLANO
The 2002-03 season was one to remember for Real Sociedad. Guided by Frenchman Raynald Denoieux, the Basque side went on to contest for LaLiga in a year where Barcelona finished sixth and Real Madrid were not as dominating as traditionally accustomed to, even after the season of their ninth Champions League win.
The less-fancied sides felt they had a chance to gazump the others and challenge the upper echelons of Spanish football, and that was shown in the final league standings.
Real Sociedad, a storied club founded in 1909, plays in one of the most characteristic and recognisable kits in all of Spanish football. The one wore during that season was a clean, traditional one, showcasing wide stripes and a dark, strong blue color that gave the piece the right amount of personality and rigorousness of Basque mentality.
The white detail that included the actual badge was a nice touch that made it more prominent, and the harmony with which the shirt matched the horizontal stripes of the socks made it a delight to see.
Playing in a rough 4-4-2 formation, the wingers got opportunities to shine and they were helped by a really balanced midfield that showcased the experience of Valeri Karpin with the youth of Xabi Alonso.
The highlight of the season was on home soil where they hosted a Real Madrid side that showcased one of the most prolific starting elevens in the world. Goals from Nihat Kahcevi, Xabi Alonso and a double from fan-favourite Darko Kovačević knocked Los Blancos and showed the world that any team that came up against La Real was going to have a tough task on their hands.
A defeat against Galician rivals Celta Vigo ended their hopes of lifting LaLiga, which would go on to be won by Real Madrid, but there were some starring displays during the season. Although not as prestigious as the title, their kit, though, was a real prize and a joy to the eye.
Manufactured by Astore – a company of Basque origin – it will always be a memorable shirt as it was the won the club wore in their most successful season since they won two league titles in the 1980s.
HOME / 1997-99
BY GABRIELE ANELLO
We often match our memories about Mexican football to iconic players: Rafael Márquez, Javier Hernández, Jared Borgetti and more. Other than that, there’s a whole generation who can vividly picture the great kit from the World Cup in France 1998 – the Aztec kit.
While Cuauhtémoc Blanco was showing the world how to practice a perfect Cuauhtemiña and Luis Hernández was floating with his perfect long blonde hair to score four goals in four games, Mexico’s kit was probably among the best of the tournament and it has a fine showreel.
The kit produced by ABA Sport featured some historical context in the form of the Aztec calendar, which was divided into two kinds of days-count.
In Aztec culture, you have the solar year of 365 days – the xiuhpohualli – and another kind of calendar timed on divinatory logics and containing just 260 days – the tonalpohualli. Aztecs believed the universe had a delicate balance.
Similar things could be said of that team. They were widely underrated but picked up good results such as a comeback draw against the Netherlands and a defeat in defiance against Germany in the second round
Amongst the wildest kits seen at any World Cup – and probably ahead of Jorge Campos’ goalkeeper self-designed kits – the Aztec-themed shirt brought luck to many of the players. After the World Cup, their charm in that famous shirt continued as they won their Confederations Cup at home, beating Brazil 4-3 in an enthralling final.
AWAY / 2007-08
BY LOUIS MILLER
“That cross only brings one thing to mind – the symbol of the Templar Knights. While I was watching the game, I felt profound grief in my soul.” The words of Baris Kaska, a Turkish lawyer and Fenerbahçe fan, when he attempted to bring legal action against Internazionale after they defeated the Turkish side 3-0 at San Siro back in the 2007-2008 season.
The kit in question that day? Inter’s away shirt. Designed to mark the club’s centenary year since the split from Milan Cricket and Football Club (now known as AC Milan) to allow foreign players to join.
The all-white shirt had a think red cross on the torso, to represent the flag of the Duchy of Milan – dating back to Roman times – and not the St George’s Cross that Kaska thought. The club’s iconic Pirelli sponsor was reduced in size and placed below the badge on the left side of the chest, and the shirt was completed with a small classy v-neck collar, slight red detail on the sleeves and a commemorative badge on the back.
The shirt was coupled with either all black or all white socks and shorts to create a chic minimal look (that was made even better when goalkeeper Júlio César would wear the traditional blue and black in goal).
The beginning of that season saw the departure of San Siro favourites Álvaro Recoba and Adriano to Torino and Sao Paulo respectively; however, it did mark the breakthrough of a young Mario Balotelli, who scored 7 goals in 15 games in his debut season.
The presence of the two old guard was not missed as Inter would go on to lift the Scudetto finishing above Roma, who beat them over two legs in the Coppa Italia final, but a disappointing last-16 exit from the Champions League spelt the end to Roberto Mancini’s reign which opened the door to José Mourinho and all the history that would follow.
Who knows what might have happened to the kit had Kaska’s legal action taken off? Perhaps the shirt could have been banned, never to be worn again. One thing that is for sure though, the beautiful shirt perfectly represents the style, fashion, and elegance of the city of Milan and it will be remembered forever.
HOME / 2005-06
BY CHARLIE COTTRELL
In many ways, the 2005-06 season for Arsenal was a season of conclusions. Of course, it was a final farewell for the club’s objet d’art, Highbury. A relic of English football, its intimacy and charming authenticity have often been grieved amongst the lifeless echoes often reported at the Emirates.
A farewell season too for Denis Bergkamp, whose magnificence the game has rarely borne witness to again since. He would retire alongside Highbury boasting a justified spot in the club’s canon. This was also to be the last of seven seasons in which Theirry Henry, perhaps the Premier League’s greatest ever player, finished top scorer for the club.
Such pomp and circumstance would call for a kit from out of the ordinary, then. As it happened, Nike wheeled out a showstopper for the occasion. To bookend the club’s tenure at Highbury, the 2005-06 season saw Arsenal don the same colours as their debut season at the ground – way back in 1913 – with a dashing burgundy to replace their customary red and white.
And with big guns such as Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Ashley Cole and Cesc Fàbregas in their armoury, it was only fitting that a team ageing like fine wine should be kitted out as such. A touch of the regal too, with the names and kit numbers, emblazoned on the shirts in a luscious gold. And why not, for the former invincibles?
Alas, whilst many of the key players from that unprecedented season remained, Arsenal were by no means the same unstoppable force as the 2003-04 season. Yet much of their irreverent panache remained, and with Theirry Henry the driving force it was difficult not to be mesmerised.
There was something particularly alluring about Henry’s presence on the pitch when he wore that burgundy kit; sleek white boots, long sleeves before ‘long sleeves’ became hideous undershirts, black gloves. A man that would stop at nothing to impress and to entertain.
Indeed, the whole team appeared to live and die by this philosophy, and whilst this was rarely to the detriment of their performance, we all remember that penalty against Manchester City, don’t we? Pires trying to pass the ball to Henry. Missing it. Danny Mills, veins bulging with rage at their audacity, screaming in faces. Sometimes even the artiste gets it wrong.
Arsène Wenger guided Arsenal to the Champions League final that year, and fourth spot in the league – ahead of Spurs – was secured on their final game at Highbury as Henry buried one more hat-trick for good measure at his old haunt. It was goodbye to Highbury. Was it goodbye to the glory days, too?
AWAY / 2015-16
BY JASON BUTTON
It seemed almost inevitable that a St. Pauli kit would end up on this list, and it is the away shirt from 2015-16 which has been selected this time around.
Fans of the Hamburg-based club are world-renowned for their left-wing ideology and punk subculture. This has often seeped into the designs of their shirts and this shirt is no different.
There is a subtle hint to the club’s LGBTQ+ inclusiveness of the cuffs of the sleeve – not the first time they have used the symbol and not the last either; their third kit this year has the same imagery on a thin horizontal line across the upper chest.
The other major feature of this kit comes from the print across the front of the shirt. As opposed to the all-white back, the front of the shirt sports a fantastic gradient from brown on the left sleeve to white with diagonal lines in very subtle diamonds.
On the pitch, this shirt saw one of St. Pauli’s better seasons in recent years. The 2015-16 season saw the club finish in fourth place as Freiburg and capitalist antichrist RB Leipzig won automatic promotion. Former Arsenal winger Ryo Miyaichi spent his first season at the club that season but only made a handful of appearances, scoring two goals in the process.
The ‘90s-like pattern on the chest and the rainbow flags on the cuffs of the sleeves offer a fantastic classic idea with a modern twist. The shirt, twinned with a sponsor – Congstar – is almost as synonymous with St. Pauli as Pirelli is with Inter Milan. It is a modern classic which, given time, will surely be seen as a classic of our time.