Category Archives: Barcelona

Nike disappoints purist fans of Arsenal and Barça, but the players seem happy

William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott model
the new Arsenal home shirt in an online Nike ad.

It’s that time of year again. The season is over, players are on the beach, transfer sagas are drawn out, and the sports newspapers are filled with pages of talk, speculation, rumour and very little football. It’s the one moment in the calendar where people like me (and if you’re reading this probably you also) can devote a little time to something other than football. But any true fan knows there is always something to keep his interest alive during the close season. In my case, it’s the excitement and anticipation which can only be caused by the unveiling of the big clubs’ new kits. There is always that hope that every shirt will revert to a classic design, but sadly in reality only rarely do kits adhere closely to those that grace the hallowed turfs of my football fantasies.

Arsenal recently unveiled their new 2008-09 home strip, sparking a fresh controversy amongst some of the North London club’s most purist supporters. In an unexpected break with tradition, manufacturers Nike have ditched Arsenal’s famous white sleeves — which the Gunners have worn since former manager Herbert Chapman introduced the design in the 1930s — instead opting for a somewhat nondescript red shirt with a white sleeve stripe. Ardent Gunner fans say the new look removes all of Arsenal’s visual individuality, making them look like half the other teams in the world. Arsenal will wear the shirt for home games until 2010.

Thierry Henry celebrates a goal during Arsenal’s last ever game at Highbury against Wigan Athletic. The Gunners wore a “redcurrant” home strip for the entire 2005-06 season.

The only previous drastic modification to Arsenal’s home strip came in the 2005-06 season, when a shirt based on a 1913 design was worn to commemorate the Gunners’ last season at Highbury. The club officially described the kit’s colour as “redcurrant”, with reference to the darker strip Arsenal wore in its early years. I actually liked this shirt — even if it had nothing to do with any Arsenal team I’d seen before or since.

For the 2006-07 season, the first at their new stadium, Arsenal reverted to a classic traditional strip, as worn here by Dutch forward Dennis Bergkamp.

One player who is not concerned about these alterations is Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who has admitted turning down offers from Real Madrid and Barcelona to stay at the Emirates Stadium. “I get excited about a new kit and really like trying on new shirts,” says the newly-crowned European champion. “It makes you start looking forward to the new season.” It may be worth mentioning that Nike is one of Fabregas’ personal sponsors. Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott is also unconcerned: “It’s a great design,” says the 19 year-old. “It feels good on, it’s really comfortable, and I’m looking forward to wearing it next season.”

Nike posters feature Bojan Krkic and Carles Puyol in the latest
Barça home and away styles for 2008-09.

I wonder what the Catalan Fabregas would make of Barcelona’s new strip. The La Liga giants are also kitted out by Nike, and this year’s home shirts have also upset their fiercely traditionalist contingent. After almost a century of stripes, for the 2008-09 season Barça’s famous blaugrana will be worn as halves. This is not the club’s first recent alteration to their classic look: Barcelona memorably reverted to red-and-blue halves with navy sleeves and shorts for their centenary season in 1999 — a shirt that proved extremely popular with fans around the world. Sadly, this season’s new shirts have none of the centenary kit’s unique details, instead they look like a quickly knocked off alternative to last season’s strip, and make the mighty Barça look a lot like Genoa or Cagliari.

Rivaldo and Luis Figo during the 1999 centenary season, the last time Barcelona wore halves; Ronaldinho sports Barça’s Champions League-winning strip: note the narrower stripes and red shorts.

Barcelona have worn their usual wide stripes in the last two seasons — a welcome return following the narrow stripes and red shorts combination of 2005-06. For anyone with a sense of the club’s kit tradition this strip was quite a departure, although it didn’t affect the side: Barcelona won the Champions League that year, beating Arsenal in the final. In 2007 Barcelona — the last major team in Europe never to wear a sponsor — secured a deal with the charity organization Unicef, whose logo now appears on the front of their shirts. At least Barcelona will look the part away from the Nou Camp: recent dalliances with orange and turquoise have given way to a new second strip based on the classic yellow shirts of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Diego Maradona leads out Barcelona in yellow at Old Trafford, March 1984; Barça coach Terry “El Tel” Venables (far right) presents new signing Steve Archibald (in classic blaugrana strip) to the Nou Camp, August 1984.

Thuram remains philosophical despite heart shock

Thuram’s move to PSG has been suspended after medical tests revealed an enlarged heart.

PARIS — Lilian Thuram’s proposed transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain was halted this week, after routine medical tests revealed that the veteran French defender has an enlarged heart. Thuram’s brother died from a cardiac condition on the basketball court, and his mother has also suffered from heart problems. The former Parma and Juventus player was warned as a youngster at Monaco about the risk of potential heart trouble later in his career, but the news was still unexpected. “I thought it was a joke,” he said at a PSG press conference at Parc des Princes. “I took the tests and I was OK. It’s a complete surprise to me. One which I didn’t see coming.” Following the announcement, PSG claim they still plan to sign the 36 year-old, who should learn in the next month whether it will be safe to resume his playing career. The Guadeloupe-born defender is remaining cautious yet philosophical. “If I do have to quit football,” he said, “I’d have to say I’ve been lucky that we’ve discovered this problem now.”

The Guadeloupe-born defender made a record 142 appearances for France.

A rare intellectual in football, Thuram is also well-known for his political views. In November 2005, Thuram sided with French rioters and opposed the then-Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy’s use of the term “scum” against young people, saying that, “Sarkozy has never lived in a Parisian suburban estate.” Thuram made headlines again in September 2006, after he invited eighty homeless people to France’s home World Cup qualifying match with Italy. The illegal immigrants had been ejected from a Paris apartment by Sarkozy. Since at Barcelona, he has also engaged in campaigns to promote Catalan traditions and language, and supporting the independence of Roussillon (Catalonia Nord) from France.

Thuram is admired for his political and social awareness off the pitch.

Thuram called time on his international career after Euro 2008, after making a record 142 appearances for his country, during which time he scored just two goals. Remarkably, both came in France’s tense 1998 World Cup semi-final victory over Croatia at the Stade de France. By extraordinary coincidence, in 1984 (the only other time France has won a major tournament at home), defender Jean-François Domergue scored his only two international goals in France’s epic semi-final against Portugal — and on his 27th birthday no less. Brought into the side only after Manuel Amoros was sent off in the opening match against Denmark, Euro 84 proved something of a flash-in-the-pan for Domergue, who played only three more times for France, eventually collecting a total of just nine caps for his country.

Thuram celebrates after his two goals ensured France’s passage to the World Cup final at the expense of Croatia, Paris, 1998.