YEKATERINBURG, Russian Federation, Jun 29 – Captain John Obi Mikel wrote in an opinion piece published hours before their critical World Cup game against Argentina: “Nigeria is not here to wear a nice kit.”
But for some neutrals the 2-1 defeat by Lionel Messi’s side on Tuesday was more than Nigeria exiting the tournament — it meant the best team shirt only made one appearance in Russia.
Some media commentators and observers have called this the best ever tournament for kits, pointing also to the retro-inspired tops of Germany, Belgium, Spain and Colombia.
Designed by Nike, Nigeria’s jersey boasted white and neon green chevrons on the body, complemented by black and white chevrons on the sleeves.
When it went on sale in early June in London, some queued from the early hours and the dazzling shirt sold out in a frenzied few minutes.
Fans, fashion writers and footballers rushed to acclaim Nigeria’s kit — described by Vanity Fair as “the team’s sold-out-everywhere streetwear crossover”.
Vanity lamented the end of Nigeria’s tournament, saying neutral fans had made them their team purely because of the shirt.
But Mikel’s team only got to wear it once in Russia, in a 2-0 win over Iceland, and instead sported their more sober away kit — plain green — against Croatia and Argentina.
– Classic, retro –
Noz Hyde, a creative design manager for New Balance, said they had gone for a “classic” look.
The American company was responsible for the jerseys worn at the World Cup by Costa Rica and Panama.
Both wore unashamedly simple tops and Hyde told AFP: “Our kit ethos was all about high performance housed within a classic look.
“We felt strongly, as did the federations, that the most important factors were the understated clean lines, considered trims and the amplification of the national colours.”
Hyde said that New Balance were in “close contact” throughout with the teams as they mapped out the designs.
It is no good having a kit that the players do not like or feel proud to wear.
Hyde identifies a clear theme at this World Cup.
“On a whole, I feel the kits have moved to a more classic, simplistic approach in terms of construction,” he said.
“The main focus seems to have been placed on the visual graphic execution, whether that be via prints or body mapping.
“I can see a trend for retro inspired kits from some brands and a more technical performance offer from others.”
– ‘Monstrous melange’ –
When it comes to team kits, it is obviously all a matter of taste.
Some are big fans of Colombia’s, a remake of the one they wore in Italy in 1990 — predominately yellow with jagged shoulder stripes of red and navy blue.
Spain’s shirt — also made by Adidas — is another nostalgic throwback to the 1990s.
GQ, the British men’s style magazine, ranked Spain’s one of the worst, calling it a “monstrous melange of red, purple, and yellow”.
It also wondered if the Colombian shirt was “the outfit of a Marvel superhero that never made it on paper”.
But all were agreed: Nigeria won the day.
“The heady mixture of cool green, white and black evoke sensations of spearmint gum, while the blurred chevrons ooze cool,” it said.
In the build-up to the crunch Argentina game, former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand tweeted: “Come on Nigeria don’t let you be remembered at #WorldCup2018 for fashion over football please!”
But with Nigeria’s tournament over after winning just once, they are in danger of being remembered for exactly that.