Grading the World Cup unis, Part I
It has come to Uni Watch's attention that some sort of soccer tournament is commencing Friday in South Africa. Naturally, like any red-blooded American, Uni Watch doesn't follow obscure fringe sports like soccer. But in the interests of equal time for
bogus sports in which the players aren't allowed to use their hands soccer, Uni Watch has assembled a crack team of all-star aesthetes to assess this year's World Cup uniforms. Here's our panel of experts who'll be weighing in:
• Doug Mulliken is a lifelong soccer fan who acquired his first soccer jersey on a family trip to Italy when he was 9 and probably could have purchased a car with all the money he's spent on soccer jerseys since then.
• Kent Green has loved soccer since his youth team got to play on the field during halftime of a Chicago Sting game. These days he follows the Premiership and La Liga, and he has covered the Chicago Fire.
• Patrick Runge fell in love with the Beautiful Game during the Americans' quarterfinal run during the 2002 World Cup in Asia -- no easy task, given that the games started at 3 a.m. U.S. time. He's been obsessing about soccer and soccer uniforms ever since, although usually at more hospitable hours of the day.
These four gents have spent the past 10 days or so engaging in a lively debate on the merits of the 32 World Cup uniform sets, and Uni Watch will be rolling out their assessments throughout the coming week. Today we'll look at their comments on the teams in Groups A and B, and then we'll have additional installments on Tuesday (Groups C and D), Wednesday (E and F) and Thursday (G and H).
Ready? Here we go.
Doug: I like the idea of the home kit more than the execution. Harkening back to the salad days has worked before (see World Cup '98), but much like the team itself, this year's version lacks the Úlan of '84 or '98. Love the away kit, though. At WC '06, France wore its away kit throughout the knockout rounds on its way to the final; I hope it keeps that superstition alive. Grade: B
Michael: The regular kit is another reinterpretation of the Euro 1984 kit worn by Michel Platini and company. I like the throwback idea, but the melding of past and present somehow doesn't quite meet in the middle. The change kit, however, is stunning -- the best set in the entire tournament. It would be great if the French dumped the blue kit for the white. Grade: A-
Kent: France's home shirt is uglier than the Hand of Gaul. The chest design looks like gills, and the adidas shoulder stripes are way too heavy. Worse, adidas' TechWeb straps create a weird suspender effect on the back. The change looks great with its classy pinstripes. Grade: C+
Patrick: The base color, white trim and numerals on the home kit are eye-poppingly gorgeous. But the stuff on the side screams, "Look at my great abs," which doesn't work for me. The away kit, with the subtle pinstriping and side striping (including the socks), is awesome, about as good as the home shirt is bad. Les blancs, anyone? Grade: B-
Doug: Since sporting the Best Shirt Ever in 1998, Mexico has had mixed success uni-wise. This year's design is meant to suggest the feathers worn by Aztec warriors, but is ultimately unsatisfying. The change kit is the ultimate example of a designer using black for black's sake -- if dark green is too similar to the other team's shirts, how is black going to clear things up? B+
Michael: In 2006, the Mexicans wore a chevron (since used by Nike for Manchester United), but now they're one of several teams using an adidas template -- nothing unique, nothing interesting. The all-black change kit doesn't exactly help in this regard. C+
Kent: I may be the group contrarian. I love the away black -- it makes the reds and greens pop. But the feather effect on the home is not nearly as sharp as 2006's Aztec-inspired pattern, and I'm not a fan of the underarm patches on either shirt, which makes it look like the players are sweating blood and toxic waste. B
Patrick: The home kit is everything that's good about Mexico. It brings the green you expect, uses the accent colors brilliantly and just looks sharp. The away kit is everything that's bad about adidas. It's total black for black's sake, and it makes the El Tri colors look muddy. B
Doug: Not bad -- it isn't unique, but it is one of the better adidas creations. Not as cool as the previous one, but 1,000 times better than its 1998 disaster. Interestingly, the players' shirts will feature two badges, while the retail replica version will have only the SAFA badge. When the public complained about the oversight, SAFA tried to blame adidas, but it was later revealed that SAFA did it to save money. A-
Michael: This is the host team, so it's surprising that it's going with the standard adidas template instead of some kind of special design. It's not a bad look, just not a particularly memorable one. One nice detail -- although it will be difficult to see -- is a "Y" shape sublimated into the shirt fabric, which evokes the design of South Africa's flag.C+
Kent: The watermarking on South Africa's home is cool, but I think you need a more interesting design than a flag to make that effect work. In general, an unremarkable set. I'd like to see Bafana Bafana use more colors than just yellow and green. This is the Rainbow Nation, so let's see some flair. C
Patrick: It's unfortunate that the host nation has such a nondescript kit set, and the away kit simply flips the home kit's colors. With all the colors available in the South African flag, adidas wasted a major opportunity to really give the hosts something interesting and special. B
Doug: I love powder blue, and I especially like Uruguay's home shirt. The repeating Sun of May pattern, based on the Uruguayan flag, is a great touch. Uruguay traditionally wears a red away shirt, so it's odd to see it using white this time. Much like Mexico's away shirt, it's not terrible but not particularly memorable either -- a bit like the team itself. A-
Michael: There's been some controversy with this team. During the lead up to the Cup, a blue regular kit and gold change kit were released, with the latter nearly leading to riots in Uruguay. That design was quickly scrapped for a much safer white version, and the blue version grew a collar. Both kits are from Puma's European templates. B+
Kent: The suns shine on Uruguay's home shirt. Coupled with the gorgeous sky blue color, this is one of the Cup's better designs. The change is a simple white -- unexciting, but also unobtrusive. B+
Patrick: The home kit just gets it right. The powder blue of the base color looks incredible, the inclusion of the white and gold pays homage to the Uruguayan flag without being too busy and the sublimated sun pattern from the flag makes the shirt one of the most interesting in the tournament. Apparently, though, Puma ran out of interesting when designing the away kit, which looks more like a warm-up shirt. A-
Doug: Argentina can't help having a top-five kit, even when executed poorly. The most notable thing about this year's version is the slightly redesigned badge. The blue background is a throwback to 1986 and it's awesome. They took one of the best badges in international soccer and found a way to improve it. The away shirt is an absolute classic as well. All in all, beautifully done. A
Michael: Argentina nearly missed the World Cup altogether, and that turmoil is reflected in its two substandard kits. The regular kit has the traditional striping but the shoulders and sleeves do not match up. The change kit is too plain. That's better than too busy, but still. B
Kent: I love sky blue and I love Lionel Messi, so why don't I love one of the classic national team shirts? Answer: vertical stripes (same reason I'll never own a home shirt of my fave club, FC Barcelona). The black shorts make the top shine, though, and the away is strong and understated. B+
Patrick: Discussing Argentina's home kit is a little like critiquing the Green Bay Packers' uniform -- it's gorgeous, historic and instantly recognizable. I have no idea why adidas insists on having that shoulder yoke, but that's like saying Kim Kardashian is a touch too curvy -- looking for a tiny flaw in something that's otherwise spectacular. The away kit, with the royal blue and white trim, is some of adidas' best work. A
Doug: Adidas generally uses two templates: one for marquee teams and one for B-level teams. In terms of marketing status, Greece falls in the latter group. As such, its kit is nothing special -- it just sewed the Greek badge onto a generic adidas shirt that high school teams would wear. The contrast piping is a nice addition, especially on the home shirt, but I prefer the blue away. B-
Michael: Very plain look for the Greeks, who are entering only their second World Cup and first since 1994. Putting the numbers on the chest, instead of in the middle of the shirt, looks particularly lackluster. C
Kent: The swooped detail stitching livens up the design and does a nice job of highlighting the physical motion of a kick. But the Pirate Ship (who can't love that name?) loses points for simply reversing the colors on the away. B-
Patrick: It's hard to imagine how adidas would foist such dull uniforms on the world's most watched sporting stage. C
Doug: The best Nigerian kit I can remember was the one it wore at France '98 -- bold, eye-catching, immediately recognizable as the Super Eagles -- whereas this year's Cup kit is just a boring green shirt. The away kit is a bit better, but Nigerians love their soccer and deserve better. C+
Michael: Another team with controversy. The Super Eagles wore an adidas template during January's African Cup of Nations, but the Nigerian FA claimed that it had not accepted the design for the World Cup. More recently, the shirts have become available for purchase, presumably meaning they will in fact be worn for the Cup. The change kit, with its strange green-shouldered design, is a disappointment. C-
Kent: Was someone mad at the Super Eagles? A boring home design, plus unnecessary accent stitching, plus this year's hideous adidas number font, plus pointless shoulder patches on the away equals a real disservice to one of the most exciting teams in soccer. D-
Patrick: The white side striping gives some interest to the Nigerian home kit, and the solid-green look helps the red-trimmed badge stand out. The shoulder design on the away kit is unfortunate, but at least it's better than the disastrous outline look some other countries are using (looking right at you, Denmark). C+
Doug: For the third tournament in a row, South Korea has a great kit. Even the unnecessary "tiger stripes" don't detract from the whole package, since you can barely see them. My only quibble: I'm not sure why they ditched red entirely on the away kit; I think red shorts would have looked sharp. A-
Michael: While other Nike teams are wearing bold designs, South Korea has gone with subtle tiger stripes hidden in the texture of the shirts. Thankfully, this element is understated enough to preserve South Korea's run of nice kits. B
Kent: One of the best uni sets in the Cup. I love this number font, similar to the Netherlands' font in '06. A-
Patrick: Nike did pretty well with these. The funky numerals help to keep the tiger stripes under the radar, although the blue on the away kit smacks a little of Manchester United (another Nike team, not coincidentally). A-
So there we go -- eight teams down, 24 to go. Come back tomorrow when we'll have coverage of the teams in Groups C (including the United States) and D.
Paul Lukas will try to learn a bit more about soccer in time for the 2014 World Cup. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.