When Nike announced that their ten ‘Elite’ teams were to see their 2020/21 third strips inspired by famous Air Max iterations, the football-shirt community was abuzz. And so was the sneakerhead one.
Rightfully so we might add - the collision of these two gargantuan subcultures promised seemingly unlimited potential in terms of iconic shirt design. Nike had a bottomless treasure trove of Air Max archives to dive into, along with ten teams that created a colour palette which stretched right across the spectrum.
One question remained however, and it was finally answered this week; would the shirts be inspired simply by colourways, or by the actual design of the shoes themselves?
The answer appeared to be the former rather than the latter.
Let’s start off by saying that the shirts themselves are fantastic*, after a rip-roaring year of retro throwbacks Nike have returned once again with a defined theme and produced a truly excellent catalogue of creations. The Inter shirt is a nod back to the iconic strip of 97/98 and as such is a beautiful sight to behold, the Roma shirt is as much of a classic as the rest of their shirts are, and the RB Leipzig offering will no doubt be a regular feature in Top 10 lists on every corner of the internet.
(*Spurs’ shirt might be a bit too yellow, but we’ll let it slide)
However, Nike might have just played a bit too fast and loose with the word ‘inspired’. Yes the kits are great, but without being told so, would you have any clue that they were inspired by various Air Max’? At first glance of the press-release modelled images, the Atleti, Galatasaray and Spurs’ shirts all appear to just be literally one colour. Only upon closer inspection are the unique design elements apparent, even then requiring another level of explanation as to the reasoning behind them. Take the Spurs shirt for example - are some barely visible gradient lines enough to honour this colossal symbol of the footwear industry? The Air Bubbles, the toe-box, the mesh panelling which surrounds the laces and the contoured textures which cascade down the upper all fall by the wayside for a gradient pattern in a colourway which the shoe itself has never even seen.
It just all feels a bit like a missed opportunity, where the intricate and revered design elements of each individual Air Max shoe could have been properly recognised via another unique medium. Nike claims a lot of these shirts are inspired by the Air Max 90 (or various versions of it) so it’s a little disappointing not to see more of the shape or design of that particular shoe itself present in any of the offerings.
One thing that has definitely got us excited though, are the slated releases of each team’s corresponding shoe - the ones already revealed are looking slick and very in line with the times, without that tacky feel that often comes when sports teams and fashion brands collaborate. Nike have promised that they will be released ‘as part of wider collections’ so a stylish apparel line for each team could be inbound too.