Sportswear is, alongside nautical, worker, business and military influences, one of the titanic forces in menswear. Who are we kidding, it’s a huge thing for everyone. The English Premier League is moving to a boring conclusion – “to play for” is one relegation place and the scramble not to feature in the Europa League next season. So why not indulge in some punditry and critique the style of the managers and coaches who have featured in the EPL this season. Who will come top of the sartorial league table, who will be relegated, and who will finish bottom with a record worse than Derby County (07-08)? For good measure I will also take a look at the team’s home kit, which (in an ideal world) ought to convey the history of the club as well as their current identity. They’re difficult things to design when they’re over-thought. As a rule, managers tend to be of either the track-suit, elder statesman or debonair variety.
Founded in 1886, Arsenal are one of the iconic clubs in English football. With a globalised and transnational fanbase (especially in Africa), Arsenal have benefitted hugely from being…stable. To be stable in the EPL era means to make a lot of money, and especially when that stability is qualifying for Europe’s elite competition every year, without fail, like an indefatigable money-making machine. But more importantly, their WM formation was instrumental in an earlier era of football in advancing the sport’s tactical sophistication; that tradition has been carried on through Arsene Wenger’s long reign as manager. Known for prizing beauty over winning whatever the cost, they are arguably the division’s ‘aesthetic’ club.
Kit Verdict: paired with white shorts, red and white hooped socks. Designed by German kit manufacturer Puma, Arsenal’s current kit is most definitely on the slim-side. Their team is filled with statuesque players like Giroud and Mertesacker, as well as their classic diminutive playmakers like Mesut Ozil. That makes their kit an acceptable proposition, but it might be too much on that muscle-fit side for my liking.
So what of its heritage references? Well it’s the ‘classic’ red and white scheme that typifies Arsenal. Their 70s kit, also available from arsenal.com, is a piece of true minimalist simplicity. While the Emirates logo almost blends in now because it has been used for so long, and it does fit with the colour scheme, I’d have much preferred a solid (and maybe darker) field of red. Props to their red and white hooped socks though, which references the stripes on the cuffs as well as the red-and-white throughout.
6/10 – Solid but uninspiring. Not minimal enough to make this one memorable. It’s by-the-numbers.
Manager Verdict: I admit it, I have a proper man-crush on Wenger. You can tell just by looking at the man that one of his key contributions has been to promote proper nutrition. No spare tire, slim, it all adds up to making his height look great. I can forgive his questionable choice in outerwear, as this is how he presents himself on big occasions and to the media. This is Wenger’s recent, suped-up finances look. During the period where Arsenal were effectively paying off the mortgage for their Emirates stadium, Wenger stayed in a grey suit that really never changed. Last season the club announced they had the financial “firepower” to compete again due to their due diligence (and their rivals hoovering up their players, to big profits, no doubt. Wenger and his team posed in an amazing photo (below) in new suits, tailored by Parisian high-fashion house Lanvin. Wenger is basically wearing that look left, and it sets a standard for that suited look. He softens that three-piece look by wearing a navy cardigan, and the white and red of the team are figured into the shirt and tie. The powerful navy meanwhile totally balances the red and white, looking expensive and classy. That’s Arsenal (and Arsene) to a T. The sporty detail comes in the subtle club badge pinned on the lapel, with Wenger resisting the ‘elder statesman’, embroidered patch-on-blazer look. His hair also never changes from that side parted wavy rug, except for a bizarre period earlier in the season when I swear for a two week period he went slightly blonde. 10/10
Aston VillaAnother iconic club, Villa are one of the most successful clubs in English football history, especially in cup competitions. Their star may have fallen in recent decades, but they have a lot to live up to. Made early contributions by forming a rivalry with West Brom, with whom they formed the Football League. Formed 1 year before their fierce rivals Birmingham City (then known as Small Heath Alliance), they have won the European Cup, the FA and League Cups and several league titles.
Kit: One of several ‘claret and blue’ kits in England. This one has some subtle pin stripes on it that breaks up the solid colouring. Can’t say I’m too much of a fan of that. It’s such a strange and old fashioned colour combo that it should be stuck to rigidly, for me. Claret body, that particular shade of blue on the sleeves. Nice touch with the claret and blue-tipped polo collar though, I like to see that on a shirt.
1) Paul Lambert…and Roy Keane
This picture totally sums up this miserable pair. I like Lambert. I think he was very put upon. I also quite like Roy Keane, whose brutality on a verbal and physical level makes him an intriguing character in the sport. During this period Villa were confounding stats by scoring no goals, but somehow doing OK in the league. This strategy turned on them though when their chronic goal scoring drought reached comical levels. In October 2014, they couldn’t have a goal of the month competition because…they didn’t score.
Roy Keane is sporting that classic assistant look – a strange club training get up (why those random stripes on the arms? Very intriguing), while Lambert is formulaic. He wears a claret and blue, big knot tie (not done up properly) and a fairly cosy looking v-neck jumper. It’s all very neutral and boring. Just like Villa under Lambert. Lambert did two things style-wise at Villa: gained a lot of weight, and imitated Keane by growing a salt and pepper beard. Is it too much of a stretch to wonder whether this lack of creativity is connected with his side’s lack of invention?
Roy Keane’s beard adds to his aura of terror in this photo. He looks like a modern day, footballing Robespierre. There was a strange allure to this pair sitting, slightly leant forward next to each other, for a short period. Keane later quit and chose to stick with being Republic of Ireland assistant full-time.
Joint rating: 4/10. Saved by the beards.
2) Tim Sherwood
Villa brought in Sherwood – who had been courted by both QPR and West Brom after his tenure at Spurs – to stop the team’s slide. Not responding to the threat of the guillotine from Keane, or from the attempts by the honest but browbeaten Lambert to introduce a short-passing style, Sherwood was brought in to make things more logical. Get the ball and put it in the net. That’s basically Sherwood’s approach to the game. If I’m ever over-thinking things on FIFA, I always get into that Sherwood mindset. Strikers score goals, defenders tackle, midfielders pass and run. Simple.
Has there been a manager more famed for his dress sense than Sherwood? Famously wearing a gilet during his time at Spurs after being elevated from the youth-team setup, Sherwood has a surprisingly good and interesting wardrobe. This look shouldn’t work (above), but it does. He’s wearing a long-sleeved, merino wool polo (probably very expensive – I reckon John Smedley) in a simple but effective navy over a white shirt. I reckon the shirt has either a point or button down collar, as it stays in that centre position. TWO COLLARS you thunder. I like it. His go-down-the-barbers haircut underlines this simplicity. But as the gilet shows, he has that touch of continental sophistication – wearing it more like an Italian fashionisto than a bloke going shooting in the countryside.
Founded in 1882 – another claret and blue shirt. A club whose glory days were some time ago, but they have made serious progress under their manager Sean Dyche. Known this season for running further than any other team, they have unfortunately been relegated before the end of the season. A shoe string budget spent by Premier League standards, too. Founder members of the League that deserve respect.
Kit: In this one I’ll look at their home and away. Home is a similar story to Villa – but done properly. No fuss and no superfluous stripes. The sponsorship logo is too big though: too much script and takes up too much of the shirt. Their badge is satisfyingly big, though – really shows off its shield design and emphasises its old school crest design. The collar is very intriguing, though. It’s kind of like a Henley? It’s a nice touch that the collar is in blue, too.
I like the away kit’s minimalism. The different colouring on the badge is a nice touch, too. Makes it look like the home kit has been run through a black-and-white filter and come out a little grey. Looks powerful.
Neither look too tight either, but they aren’t baggy either, a good balance. I’d assume that comfort would be essential for a team that runs a lot like Burnley.
Sean Dyche has been a revelation this season. No complaints, just got on with it and been positive but realistic. His outfit reflects that. A tie that sits between wide and slim in club colours (nicer than Lambert’s above), a white shirt, and a very dark navy/black trench coat or jacket (hard to tell). It’s a formula Dyche has repeated throughout the season, as well as keeping his ginger goatee to a very neat standard. His shaved head makes me think that he doesn’t care about faking a comb over or anything like that – he just wants to get on with it with his team.
6/10 for style, but his coat deserves mention for its timelessness.
ChelseaOligarch-owned Chelsea are a well known quantity. I don’t need to summarise them. They’re champions and that’s all that needs to be said.
Kit: Blue. That’s what Chelsea is all about. Maybe a bit of white. So this kit kind of fits that but doesn’t. The stripes, in an interesting gradient type print, do work well. The shoulder stripes that come with the Adidas kit also work well. I’d prefer it, again, without the Samsung sponsorship, but it is hardly the worst sponsor to have. A few years ago Chelsea switched to the heritage-style badge that’s seen here. I like that a lot, but it’s hardly a unique element of this shirt. Otherwise, by the numbers. 5/10He’s the special one. He knows how to do two very prestigious things: win Champions Leagues and Premier Leagues. He’s also a very stylish man. He’s a true ‘essentials’ kind of guy. He only wears navy, grey, blue and some white. MrPorter.com recently featured him in The Journal – quite an accolade. When you look at that article and what he wears, you realise that he’s not far from that when on the touchline. He sometimes looks a little sloppy, but who cares, he’s the Special One. 9/10
A club going places, Palace have a potentially huge area to pull from in South London and beyond. Their kit is simple but really quite cheap looking. One big improvement is their badge nowadays – their Eagle used to look like it was roosting, now it’s swooping. Totally fits with their flair-based wing play, with Bolasie, Wilf Zaha and Puncheon. Selhurst Park has a proper old school atmosphere, and I suppose that reflects the no-fuss nature of these kits. The effect macron are going for, I think, is the idea of primary colours: red and blue on the Palace home, yellow on the away (with yellow also accenting the home kit. It’s a little bit Fisher Price for my liking. 4/10
Pardew looks really great here. I’d like to see him a bit more accessorised like this on a full-time basis. Is that a document holder in his hand? Probably just a folder of some kind. His hipster glasses really do lend him a Michael Caine look, and his no-fuss navy suit is very classic. His hair is in a “silver fox” side parting that makes him look a bit like an older Clark Kent when wearing the glasses here. He’s been described as the “River Island [Tony] Pulis” which I think describes him perfectly. He usually appear in a much less elaborate fashion – losing the cardi and glasses. He should stick with this as otherwise he can appear a bit estate agent-ish. 7.5 – 8/10
n.b.: I really don’t have enough to say about Neil Warnock to feature him.
Everton reverted their badge this season, after the more ‘modern’ design of last. This is a very classic kit. The timeless nature complements the old fashioned architecture at Goodison Park – maybe if they move to a modern ground a more radical kit would suit. There’s the colours: that lovely evertonian blue, with white appearing on the embroidery, sponsor and Umbro logo. I’d have liked a smart polo collar on this one – maybe in white. The Chang logo really dominates the kit, but it’s been around so long now (since the days of Li Tie) that it’s easy to ignore. It’s also quite a nice logo, with the elephants and…fountain, or is it a tree? I don’t know. There’s just not many questions to be asked of this kit so it gets a seal of approval from me. 7/10
Roberto Martinez is a very affable manager. He’s always positive, and he’s a brilliant pundit when on BBC during World Cups and other international tournaments. He’s also one of the most fashion-forward of all the managers in the Premier League. If Pardew is River Island, Martinez is Zara (totally appropriate for his Spanish origins, I guess). He favours wool, double-breasted coats – like the one above, or the metal toggle coat he wore last season. He likes a shawl-collar/lapel, as seen here and in a navy shawl-lapelled suit he wore on TV last season. Otherwise, he usually keeps it classic – a simple navy suit and a white shirt with an inoffensive tie. 7/10
Hull City take their ‘tigers’ moniker to heart with their home colours. I’m not sure what came first, but either way it has to be one of the most literal applications of a motif in football. They’re well known for a disaster of a design that didn’t use vertical stripes as here, but patterned like a tiger’s. I like animal print but it looked awful. Far too literal. See below.
This kit, meanwhile, is the height of boredom. Nice shield designed logo but otherwise totally run-of-the-mill. 5/10
Manager: Steve Bruce
Bruce’s best known accessory is his crooked nose and beaten up face. That’s what comes from being one of the toughest defenders of all time (TDOAT). His fashion sense is just OK. He’s a tracksuit manager who will strip off into a suit for the post-match interview. He’s often downcast and downbeat. Bit like his team and his dress sense. He favours a technical, sports-fabric jacket and trackie bottoms on the touchline – I suppose the fact he’s the opposite of that ‘slick’ manager (represented by messrs Mourinho, Martinez, Sherwood) means this is perfectly acceptable. A bit Sports Direct though overall. I’d like to see him take a risk and wear some very British clothes, to match the fact he epitomises the rough and ready past of English football, which has now been transformed by its own globalisation. I’m thinking Burberry or Mackintosh trench coats, Barbour waxed jackets, Gloverall duffle coats, over soft-tailored flannel suits. Maybe some harris tweed. If you want a personal stylist Steve, give me a call. Oh, and sort your hair out, it doesn’t help you. 4/10
Leicester CityAnother Puma kit that does the basics very well. You can’t argue that these aren’t the Leicester colours – and the collar is a nice touch. When tucked into the white shorts, as above, it looks very clean and athletic. If you said ‘design me a blue kit’, I’d probably come up with something like Leicester’s. The touches of gold give some interest – on the Puma logo, and on the tips of the sleeves. 7/10
Nigel Pearson is the epitome of a ‘tracksuit coach/manager’. So much so he doesn’t bother with the formalities of wearing a suit. I’d like to see him go full-on sportswear for this, but he’s decked in club-shop-wear. Straightforward to the point of rigidity – just like Pearson’s very entertaining post-match interviews. He keeps himself slim, which helps a lot. 6/10
This is a re-design of Liverpool’s kit, which has for the majority of the season been made by Warrior. New Balance have lent an old-school, straightforward, but ‘classic with a twist’ approach to this shirt. The result is very, very good. The red colour is rich and traditional, and the big Liver bird logo is very classy. I like the NB logo too, which is angled to make it look like it’s racing up the shirt, reflecting Liverpool’s tradition of pacy players. What’s more, the kit has an interesting polo collar, and a subtle check print that reminds me of Manchester United’s textured gingham kit from a few seasons ago. 9/10
Rodgers’ problem is that he’s a bit of a pseud. He’s a good manager but he’s always bandying around words like ‘outstanding’, and sentences that sound like a management consultant has written them of his team. He gets the basics of touchline fashion right, though. Nice but unremarkable navy suits, sometimes with extra embroidery. A club tie in red and white, sometimes in a refreshingly different knitted version as above. I’d prefer it without the Liver bird on the bottom though, as it crosses the line from Italian inspired fashion to club merch. He’s got the right amount of cuff showing, which shows he does pay attention to how his jackets fit. His hair is simple – side parted a little bit but always uniformly short. His outwear tends to consist of simple black coats in matte technical fabrics (see below). He’s also prone to wearing a v-neck in navy, which suits him and his suit’s style. I’d like to see him show a bit of verve, though. A bomber jacket maybe? He’s the right manager to do it. He’s already part-way there with his zipped trench coat.
In our final entry in Part One of this guide, we look at reigning champions City. They’re a club that is described in one word: they’re “aspirational”. Truth is this translates to them being eye-bleedingly rich. Remarkably, this is the first kit in this guide to be made by Nike, and the details are all there. Traditional sky blue, a little bit of collar to give some structure to the neckline. City continue the trend of having big, luxurious badges in a shield design. 7/10
Let’s get this out of the way – Chilean Manuel Pellegrini does closely resemble Sam the Eagle from The Muppets (below). Otherwise, there’s really not much to say. Club technical coat over a navy suit and club-colours tie. His 1970s (?) hair does lend him a bit of interest. 5/10