Every four years, three things happen like clockwork.
First, soccer fans get geared up for the World Cup. Second, a certain uniform columnist has to explain how he isn't particularly well equipped to assess the World Cup kits because he, um, isn't much of a soccer fan. (Here's another example here.)
I know, I know -- it's the world's most popular sport, the one truly global sport, blah-blah-blah. But some of us didn't grow up following soccer. So while your friendly uniform columnist is perfectly capable of looking at a soccer kit and saying, "That looks great!" or "That looks miserable!" it's a little harder to put those assessments in historical context.
All of which leads us to the third of our quadrennial rituals: the drafting of the official Uni Watch World Cup Adviser, which is a fancy way of saying "the guy who actually knows something about soccer." This time around it's Trevor Williams, a passionate soccer fan and one of the go-to contributors of soccer-based info and news over at the Uni Watch blog. Please welcome him to the fold and join me in thanking him for sharing his expertise.
Williams and I have ranked and critiqued all 32 of the World Cup kits. As you read through the rankings, here's what you should keep in mind:
1. We assessed each team's full range of gear -- home, away, jerseys, shorts and socks.
2. Most of the World Cup teams have officially released their kits. For the handful that haven't, we based our rankings on images that have leaked in advance of the official unveilings. (Advance leaks of other teams' kits have proved to be accurate, so we feel pretty confident about going this route.)
3. For each team, you'll see two assessments -- one by "The Expert" (that's Williams) and one by "The Novice" (that's your friendly uniform columnist). As you'll see, we didn't always agree, but for the most part our tastes aligned pretty closely.
Speaking of which, the Expert and the Novice were both sorely troubled by one of the biggest trends that has emerged from this year's World Cup uniforms: the increasing use of solid-colored uniforms with matching jerseys and shorts.
While the monochromatic look isn't new, its use has skyrocketed in the past several years. Contrary to some published reports, the sport's governing body, FIFA, hasn't issued any mandate requiring this look -- the kit outfitters and federations have established the trend on their own.
OK, enough preliminaries -- let's proceed to the rankings....
The Expert: Although adidas denies it, the home shirt clearly evokes the "Rising Sun" flag, an unnecessary design element that is controversial due to its connections to World War II. Meanwhile, the away kit has no historical basis other than being a goalie shirt color and looks too much like the Seattle Sounders' 2010-11 away uniform. And like many other nations, Japan has gone with matching shirts and shorts, a disappointing monochromatic trend that seems to be the result of the past two World Cup finals featuring both sides wearing solid-color kits.
The Novice: If not for the questionable Rising Sun element, I'd like this just fine, especially considering the nifty striped socks. But what's the deal with that paint smear on the back of the jersey?
The Expert: Taking inspiration from Spain's nickname, La Roja, adidas replaced Spain's familiar red and blue kit with an all-red uniform. Yet the shorts and shirt aren't even the same shade, creating a color mismatch similar to the Cardiff City fiasco. The ornate crest, which used to be multicolored, has been reduced to just red and gold, supposedly because adidas thinks it will promote national unity. The away uniform breaks with tradition as well and is similar to the 2014 Seattle Sounders away kit. No surprise, since both teams are outfitted by adidas.
And Spain may wear white against the Netherlands, because neither country followed the FIFA rule of having "one predominately dark and one predominately light kit."
The Novice: Love the striped home jersey -- I'd definitely wear that. But ugh, that away uni is a stinker.
A Puma-outfitted team can usually expect clutter, and Switzerland is no exception. The Puma logo appears not only across each shirt top, but on each sleeve. The shirt has not only the federation's logo, but Switzerland's flag. There's needless piping and truncated sleeve stripes. Thankfully, the embossed the Swiss cross is visible only up close, as it draws inevitable parallels to combat medics. The goalie shirt, which is based on a Puma template, may as well say "Kick it here."
The Novice: "Clutter"? This design? Doesn't look cluttered to me (keep in mind that I make a living writing about things like college football uniforms), although those stripes on the torso and on the socks do seem unnecessary. As for the medic thing, it's unfortunate but undeniable: When you see that emblem, you think of a medic or a Swiss Army knife.
The Expert: Cameroon has a history of being loud and proud with its designs. Its kit history includes the flag, stars, going sleeveless, a unitard, an angry lion, a sad lion and a gradient design. While the country's devotion to pushing the boundaries is admirable, this year's design would have benefited from the lion graphic print being restricted to the shoulders. Hopefully Cameroon pairs its shirts with contrasting shorts, as shown in the style guide, and doesn't go monochromatic, which didn't look so great in the Portugal friendly.
However, the Indomitable Lions may go mono-white against Mexico, as they did in the Macedonia friendly, because, like Spain and the Netherlands, neither team meets the FIFA edict of having a "predominately light kit."
The Novice: Ah, I see -- so you're saying Cameroon is basically the Oregon football team of the World Cup. Interesting! I agree that this design is a downgrade from some of the past ones (I especially like the flag and the gradient), but I don't think it's so bad. Cameroon gets a lot of mileage out of those pointed red stripes around the collar -- a small design element that goes a long way.
The Expert: Like Cameroon, Ecuador has a history of being bold with its kits, often with unfortunate results. At first glance I liked the shirts, but later realized that the shoulder stripe was too large and reminiscent of the recent Minnesota Vikings uniforms. The stripe overwhelms the rest of the uniform. La Tri would be better suited by using the sashes of yesteryear.
The Expert: At the 2002 World Cup, Nigeria sported a full lime green kit, and in 2010 it went with a darker tone, which reflected the colors of the Nigerian national flag. For 2014, Nigeria has decided to merge both concepts together in what ends up looking like a design by committee. Members of Nigeria's government are unhappy that the darker shade was not used more prominently and speculate that a telecommunications sponsor may have influenced the kit -- shameful, if true.
The Novice: Green is badly underutilized in sports uniforms (this goes back to so many sports being played on grass, so the thought has always been that green uniforms wouldn't stand out enough). Green also happens to be a certain uniform columnist's favorite color. So a jersey featuring multiple shades of green should be a win-win, but instead it just looks like overkill. Too much green -- who'da thunk such a thing was even possible?
The Expert: Taking a cue from the 1994 Brazil home shirt, Belgium has used a crown watermark on its home and third shirts. The effect creates a large splotch and ruins what could have been solid designs. But the black away shirt is nearly perfect, with the Burrda logo interrupting the sash its only blemish. Maybe next time Belgium will dare to be different and go with a 1984 argyle throwback.
The Novice: What he said. Love the sash on the away shirt, but the crown on the other two designs crosses the line from cartoonish to buffoonish.
25. Costa Rica:
The Expert: Costa Rica's kits have left a lot to be desired since the 1990 World Cup, and that trend is continuing in 2014. Fan reaction has been negative -- so negative, in fact, that one fan group has decided to produce its own line of uniforms, which look a lot better than the real ones. Lotto and the federation could have saved themselves grief by using the unique 1990 design, which was worn in recent friendlies
The Novice: I may not know much about soccer, but I know a miserable jersey when I see one. That chest squiggle is really, uh, something. Nice collar, though.