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Nike say they're ditching templates in 2020 - Reaction

The villains have become the heroes. What does Nike’s shock announcement mean, and is it really as exciting as it sounds?

nike 2020 kits

“We’re ditching the templates”.

These 4 words rang out the loudest on a very busy Wednesday evening.

It was supposed to be adidas’ big moment, as they launched the latest collection of MLS kits for the league’s 25th anniversary. The launch event ended up firmly in the shadow of Nike, who blew their eternal rivals out of the water with the release of a series of gob-smackingly gorgeous kits for Nigeria, South Korea and the U.S.

As good as those kits are (and we’ll drool over them in a bit), there was one tweet which arguably had even more of an impact than the Nike drop though. The tweet in question was a message from Heidi Burgett, Nike’s Senior Director of Global Communications, and it’s fair to say it set the kit world alight:

In one fell swoop, the outlook of 2020 and beyond was flipped on its head.

What exactly does it mean when Nike say they are “ditching the templates” though? Is this exciting as it sounds, or just a big marketing ploy? Let’s take a look.

A potted history of the last 4 years

Although I’m admittedly still a little miffed at the format of the Euros this summer, I can’t wait for the tournament to begin. From a kit perspective, you’ll often find a brand’s best work on display at a major competition, and when I think back to years past it’s the kits from various World Cups or European Championships that shine out the most in my memory.

Talking of looking back though, it’s incredible to think that it’s been just a few years since the worst tournament for kits in living memory, for my money at least.

england 2016 kit
Image from Nike.

Euro 2016 was a historic low point for kits, and across the board there was precious little to get excited about. Leading this bland charge were of course Nike. For reasons unknown, the kit designs for 2016 were particularly vanilla from the Swoosh, and even the more interesting designs and patterns (Turkey, Croatia etc.) were in most cases shared across both home and away. Many major countries received virtually identical shirts in different colours, and even in the rare cases where there were more intriguing choices (like England’s grey/blue sleeves) the aesthetics missed the mark.

Nike were certainly not the only culprits, but for a brand that had developed a reputation as one of the most boring in the industry, it was a bad, bad look. I found myself increasingly acting as something of a Nike evangelist, urging people that things would have to get better and that Nike were not the problem. It became increasingly hard to perform that role.

So what changed?

In some way, shape or form it looked like that Nike were listening to the outcries of 2016, and a plan appeared to have been set in motion to reverse the downward trend. We saw the first significant signs of this in 2018, with the Nigeria collection reverberating and making headlines beyond the sports sphere. For anyone with even just a passing interest in shirts, it was a moment to sit up and take notice of, regardless of any personal feelings towards the design. Other teams jumped on the bandwagon, and we saw further rumblings on the club scene with a gradual increase in bespoke designs.

Image from Nike.

The importance of 2018 cannot be overstated, but I will admit that I was worried we’d peaked too soon. Thankfully, I am very happy to report that my worries were unfounded. We saw an amazing set of designs for the Women’s World Cup from Nike and now in 2020 the momentum is continuing, reaching a point unthinkable to many just a few years prior.

Is this the death of the template?

So what of Nike’s claim that they will be “ditching the template”? Does this mean we will always be seeing bespoke kits from now on, as if we were living in some kind of concept kit utopia?

Before I answer this, I want to briefly have a word on templates.

For anyone who’s been following my musings over the last few years, you’ll know that I don’t have a problem with templates. In fact, you might be surprised to find many kit fans share the same sentiment. Many of the greatest kits of all time have been template designs (Holland ‘88 being perhaps the most famous example), and in themselves I would argue that templates are not a problem at all.

What is a problem however is the way templates have been utilised in the past. Where templates fall down is when there is no variation in terms of the construction, limited colour choices and a lack of unique design features or patterns. This was the situation in 2016, when Nike kits were in many cases almost identical aside from the federation crests.

usa 2020 home shirt
Image from Nike.

Templates have always been a thing, and they will almost certainly remain a thing, so what exactly do Nike mean when they say they’re “ditching the template”?

Without wanting to sound obvious, this will likely be a change only seen at the ‘elite’ level. As much as I’d enjoy seeing a completely bespoke kit design for my hometown team Southend United, I’ll have to resign myself to the fact that Nike teams in the second tier and below will still receive kits from a catalogue of base designs, largely due to the nature of their contracts. This isn’t necessarily a bad deal for clubs, as there will be other incentives to work with a bigger brand, but that’s a story for another time.

Where this change will impact however is with Nike’s slate of top-tier teams and nations.

Like the majority of brand, Nike reserve their best efforts for teams they deem to be the most ‘valuable’. Of course this includes all the usual suspects from Barcelona to Chelsea to PSG, and Liverpool will also be part of this esteemed company from the 2020/21 season.

Delving deeper into what we can expect from the kits themselves, Nike have said they will provide their designers with 65 “chassis options”, opening up a wide range of possibilities for any given kit with “varying necklines, sleeves, cuffs, badge placement etc.”. To put it another way, we’re going to be getting exactly the kind of thing which we’ve been crying out for for years.

nigeria 2020 home shirt
Image from Nike.

The variations go further too, with “hand-drawn prints” and “custom fonts” also promised. Hand-drawn elements are often some of the most pleasing in the shirt world, and the freedom to move outside of purely digital patterns is a welcome one on many levels. From a font perspective, Nike have been leading the way for some years now. England’s 2018 kits, though relatively understated in terms of shirt design, were some of the best in the world in terms of typography. I loved the bespoke font that was created for the Three Lions, and it was evidence that even the simplest of shirts can be elevated to lofty levels with the right sort of typographical treatment.

With all this talk of bespoke and unique elements, we should note that we’ll likely still see many teams using the same base shirt construction, with shared material technology and details like perforations in the same places. This is hardly bad news though, providing that the base styles don’t get in the way of proceedings. On the basis of Nike’s 2020 kits, there will be few issues if at all.

Other brands have introduced variations on a theme in the past, and even the most common templates of the past were given plenty of life with such an approach, but if Nike stick to their words they will be setting a new standard at the very top of the industry which should be very good news for everyone involved.

Smoke with fire

At the end of the day, we just want good kits right? Empty promises are worthless, and claims of bespoke elements and the ‘end of templates’ will only mean something if the end product is worthy of our time.

If you haven’t already gathered by now, Nike’s kits in 2020 look very much worthy of your time and money.

Nigeria Mk. II deserves all the plaudits it’s getting, and it’s remarkable to see a set of kits that many people are already calling an upgrade on the 2018 vintage, but this isn’t just Naija’s party. I’m particularly excited by South Korea’s home and away kits, and it’s fair to say my never-ending shirt wishlist has a new one-two punch at the top.

nigeria 2020 kits
Image from Nike.

Jumping back to Nigeria, its awesome to see a kit that has gone in a different direction to before. Many people were worried that the retro wave of recent years would simply continue to rise at the risk of becoming stale, but Nike and Nigeria have shown that fresh is the way forward. The pattern throughout the home shirt is busy yet wholesome, with various shades of green and triangles and zig-zags dancing about either side of a cleaner middle. This is not a design without meaning though, the look takes inspiration from the traditional aesthetic of an agbada robe, a mention which certainly looks like more than just token lip service in this case.

We shouldn’t forget the away either, which reminds me a lot of Roma’s superb 2019/20 home shirt, which is one of my favourite club shirts this year. And for both kits, we have amazing socks! What a time to be alive.

south korea 2020 kits
Image from Nike.

For South Korea, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding the rebrand of their crest. Nike and the Korean Football Association have absolutely nailed it in my book. The new visual identity looks sharp, memorable and unique (it’s a mercy that we didn’t just get a typical, round crest), and the kits are befitting of the new look. The pattern of the home shirt is particularly eye-catching, with a series of trigrams (seen on the national flag) in a wave pattern. I don’t usually care for all-out gradients that blend patterns into block colour, but the design and colours are so good here that I’ll give this one a pass.

And then we have the away shirt which comes out all, guns, blazing! Seriously. The hand-drawn tiger pattern is absolutely everything in my eyes, and the classy gold details take things to a level I don’t think anyone will reach this year. My only gripe would be that the shirt looks quite lacking when seen without a number, due to the way the stripe pattern parts in the middle, but that’s a small dot on some otherwise flawless paper.

usa 2020 kits
Image from Nike.

The new 2020 home and away kits for the U.S. are not nearly as exciting, but the team has been set apart by being the only nation to have shirts with Nike’s Futura logo. On the home side, many people will understandably bemoan the fact that this is just a “plain white t-shirt”, but I would argue that simple kits are not necessarily bad kits. Yes, I enjoy a daring pattern as much as anyone, but in this example the overall aesthetic works. Though it’ll be much of a muchness to many, the look of Nike’s new fingerprint-like shirt details (seen if you look closely enough on the other kits) is given plenty of room to shine here. The away shirt introduces a camo gradient, and though I’m not jumping up and down at the look it still more than holds its own.

There is of course much more to come from Nike. In many ways it feels like the Swoosh have put their best foot forward with this particular set of 3, and many other nations will fall short of the greatness of Nigeria or Korea. But I am even more excited about the state of play of shirts today than I was yesterday, and you should be too.

Phil Delves

Grab a brew, and let's talk about subliminal geometric patterns.