Where were you when Nike “dropped” that image of Alex Iwobi shaping for a shot in the fluorescent plumage of the now iconic Super Eagles 2018 home shirt?
After years of stale, templated designs, culminating in a Euro 2016 tournament where everyone looked the same; Nike’s response to the backlash from supporters yearning for something different was to give them something radical.
In a flash of fluorescent highlights, football kits were cool again and fans queued from London to Lagos to get their hands on the Nigeria shirt that changed everything.
The shock and awe of the Naija 2018 World Cup shirt proved that individual design works, and can sell by the million.
You don’t need a Beckham, a Ronaldo or a Messi to shift shirts, you need a design team and a football confederation bold enough to take a risk.
So how do you follow a 21st Century design classic?
On Wednesday evening in New York City, Nike upstaged Adidas on the big night of their MLS reveal, creating more buzz and excitement in just six new kits than their rivals could muster in 26.
Alongside a rather plain USA home kit and a tigerish South Korea away shirt, Nike unveiled their follow-up to the worldwide smash hit, and there was certainly no “difficult second album” syndrome here.
If 2020’s international kits have seen a trend it has been the return of bespoke hand-drawn designs.
Adidas recently gave us a range of shirts that looked like they’d been etched with felt-tip pens for Euro 2020, and we’re told that Nike’s team used similar artistic methods for Nigeria, USA and South Korea’s new kits.
The zig-zag madness of the Super Eagles’ 2018 shirts makes a return of sorts across shades of green, whilst the centre of the new home shirt is left bare for the required details of the swoosh, a player’s number and the Nigerian badge.
Nike tell us the inspiration for their new home shirt comes from Nigerian heritage and the traditional agbada robe of nobility, whilst the away number in grey and green picks up elements of the artistic Onaism movement which we certainly don’t profess to knowing anything about. In fact, we seriously wouldn’t recommend searching for Onaism in Google as the auto-correct is likely to bring you more than you might expect!
For our money, Wednesday’s New York ceremony gave us the most exciting set of kits since Nike’s releases for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Once again, Nike have focused on the athletic, but not at the expense of the aesthetic.
The intricate knitted fabric behind Nigeria’s shirt is the same as we’ve seen in leaked pictures of England’s 2020 home shirt but the good news is that this is where the “templatization” ends.
Nike tell us their designers devoted time to study player movement and had 65 options available to them across varying necklines, sleeves and cuffs to tailor the most comfortable fit for a footballer.
In years gone by, that is wear the design element would end and Nike, satisfied with the cut, would simply apply a variety of colours so as to make each team look a little different.
People are already saying Nike’s new Nigeria kit beats the 2018 vintage, and whilst we’d still love to see it on the pitch before passing ultimate judgement; as a functional football shirt, and as a design, then yes they’re completely correct.
But that rather ignores the knot that shirt tied in your stomach the first time you saw it, the impact of that kit on football shirt culture, and what it represented for a young and optimistic Nigeria.
This is another modern Nike shirt to make old men and hipsters happy.
We might be a little in love . . .