Sam Wallace: Yes, it's another new Manchester United kit – but check out the Nike drivel
'It's modern tradition. It's unapologetically Liverpool FC. It will make you feel 7ft tall
Manchester United's new home shirt for next season was launched last week; an odd checked design but not nearly as perplexing as the marketing spiel that accompanied it. "The striking gingham print," Nike said, is "a tribute to the world-famous fabric that powered Manchester's growth from a small market town to a global centre of cotton textiles".
There is more where that came from. "United itself [sic] was forged by industry. It was founded by local railway workers as a focal point for the community in the industrial era. The new design pays homage to the role that working-class values such as respect, hard work and responsibility have played in building a club defined by glory."
There is more to quote, but really, what's the point? We know it is drivel. Nike know it is drivel. We know they know we know it is drivel. But this is the modern kit-launch, incomplete without some nonsense dreamed up by creative types in search of a theme for a product that is re-launched annually with a few extra tweaks to persuade millions of people to buy it again.
I understand the desire of the supporter to have the new shirt. In my loft somewhere is a box of every single one of my club's replica shirts from the 1980s, each one a size bigger than the last. I even accept that if big clubs are to finance their huge outlay on wages and transfer fees, then – to an extent – they have to sweat the asset. United claim merchandising revenues have doubled under the Glazers.
What I really object to is dressing up the annual flogging of the new replica shirt in language that suggests the fan is buying into some kind of dream. The appropriation of – in United's case – the club's complex early history in a few pat sentences in order to imbue a new £50 polyester shirt (adult sizes, price excludes numbers or player name) with a significance it simply does not have.
United are by no means the only offender in this regard. Arsenal have added a blue hoop to the collar and sleeves of their home shirt next season, apparently on the pretext that Herbert Chapman once had something similar sewn into the team's socks during the 1930s.
"Chapman was a modernising tactician," says the marketing script (Nike again). "His rationale for these innovations was he wanted to maximise player visibility, making it easier for his players to pick each other out on the field of play."
Yes, it's just what the only man alongside Brian Clough and Kenny Dalglish to win the league title with two different clubs would want to be remembered for: being the inspiration for Arsenal's 2012-2013 home shirt design. This one will be used for two years.
If only the approach was a bit more honest, or credible. A bit more like Don Draper in that episode of Mad Men when he conceives of the branding for Kodak's photo-slide Carousel in a mesmerising sales pitch. Unfortunately for another of the Premier League's big-hitters, Liverpool, their new American kit manufacturer Warrior have fallen rather short of the Draper standard.
They have moved the flames either side of the club crest that commemorate the 96 people who died at Hillsborough to the back of next season's shirt. But it is this guff that catches the eye. "It's inspired by greatness. It's modern tradition. It's unapologetically Liverpool FC. It will make you feel 7ft tall."
The last sentence, taken from a Bill Shankly quote, is an interesting concept to say the least. In the case of Andy Carroll, for instance, seven feet is just nine inches away. For Jay Spearing, it's a vertigo-inducing extra 1ft 6in.
There was a time when the changing of home shirts was met by howls of protest by the consumer interests' lobby and parents in general. It is just accepted now. Once upon a time, a club would keep a home shirt for two years, barring new sponsorship deals or a change of kit manufacturer. United and Arsenal now change every season.
Chelsea have been changing their kit annually for longer, since 2008. The new Chelsea 2012-2013 kit is already out, in case you missed it, complete with gold trim and lettering. Adidas appear to have spared us the marketing twaddle although there was a video on the club's website which featured some of the players doing their best to say something profound about the new shirt. Petr Cech observes that the goalkeeper's jersey is the "traditional green". Daniel Sturridge says the shirt "suits the way we play" but does not explain how.
The kit story that trumped them all last week was Cardiff City's Malaysian owners admitting they had considered changing the club's blue home shirt to red and redesigning the badge. The chairman Dato' Chan Tien Ghee explained the plan had intended to be a "symbolic fusion of Welsh and Asian cultures through the use of the colour red and the predominant featuring of a historical Welsh dragon under the Cardiff City FC name".
In what was very much a climb-down, the Cardiff chairman maintained that changing the club's colours to red had been part of the financial imperative and that "as romantic and simplistic a notion as it may seem, maintaining our current course without growth or change, is not, and cannot be, an option".
Anyone who thinks that ditching 104 years of a club's tradition is a sure route to breaking even is in serious need of a lie-down. Equally, modern football supporters do not need 21st century sportswear multi-nationals to lecture them about the history of the towns and cities they grew up in. We will buy the shirts but, please, spare us the bollocks.
Having acknowledged in their "working-class values" concept that United were founded by railwaymen, Nike might also bear in mind that the most crucial part of the club's early history came when they were saved from bankruptcy by a rich brewer and subsequently changed their name from Newton Heath to Manchester United.
As for the poor old cotton mill workers slaving over the gingham looms, it might be best if Nike, with their factories in the developing world, left that image well alone. Most pictures of United's crowds of the Edwardian era suggest the spectators were more affluent skilled-working class, as characterised by their caps. That did not take weeks of research. I read it in the club's official history book.
Atletico prove indebted to Falcao – and the tax man
The performance of last week came from Radamel Falcao, the Colombian striker who scored two goals in Atletico Madrid's Europa League final victory over Athletic Bilbao. There have been strong suggestions that Falcao's rights are part-owned by a third party. The club strongly deny this. They say he was bought with the money paid by Manchester City for Sergio Aguero.
In the meantime, Atletico, among other debts, conceded in their own accounts as of June 2011 that they owe €215m (£170m) to the Spanish tax authorities. Neither their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois nor midfielder Diego, who also scored in the final, belongs to them.
Bilbao, on the other hand, are entirely debt-free and have an excellent academy system. Just how financial fair play irons out these inequalities remains to be seen.
Belgium test just adds to Hodgson's tough start
Roy Hodgson names his England squad on Wednesday with so many big decisions. Does he take John Terry or Rio Ferdinand, and is the latter even fit enough for tournament football? Is Darren Bent's fitness reliable? Is Hodgson seriously considering taking Andy Carroll and not Peter Crouch?
Amid all this, it is easy to overlook the fact that Hodgson's nascent England regime faces an extremely robust test in his first home game at Wembley against Belgium on 2 June, one week after the Norway friendly in Oslo. In any circumstances, facing the great up-and-coming young side of Europe would be a tough assignment. To do so in your home debut and just a week from a major international tournament is one of those many issues Hodgson will wish he had not inherited from Fabio Capello.
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