What’s your favourite Italy jersey? The question sounds simple, but the answer, and the thought process involved in reaching a decision, is anything but. When I asked writers and friends of the Gentleman Ultra to pick their top three Azzurri shirts from over the years, I knew it would be a passionate topic.
A football strip can mean so much in so many different ways. For some, it brings to mind a special childhood memory – perhaps, like me, you went to sleep on Christmas night with your new football kit under your pillow, so you could put it straight back on again when you woke up the next morning.
For others, a particular jersey may remind them of a special person. And then, there are the iconic moments associated with football strips. Who could ever forget the Azzurri kit Marco Tardelli was sporting as he celebrated his goal in the 1982 World Cup Final? Toto Schillachi’s elation-come-despair will forever be synonymous with the Italia ’90 jersey. For the goalkeepers, Walter Zenga’s heroics at the same tournament immediately bring to mind the stylish silver top he wore with such swagger, while the great Dino Zoff looked commanding in grey as he held aloft the 1982 World Cup trophy.
Of course, all of the above didn’t make the job of working out a top 10 any easier – so that’s why I asked a group of people passionate about the Italian game and also, it turns out, extremely passionate and knowledgeable about their Italian fashion! Enjoy the countdown.
10. Euro 2012 Home
‘Stylish shirt fit for Italy’s ultimate regista’
The Euro 2012 jersey is the most recent to feature in our top 10. The manufacturer, Puma, opted for a white, round neck collar with green and red trim. The players’ numbers appeared on the front and back of the jersey, with a font that looked straight out of a computer game.
Luca Hodges-Ramon, Gentleman Ultra managing editor, is a fan of the Euro 2012 design. “There are two reasons for this strip making number two on my list,” Luca said. “The first being the richness of the blue against the stylish white collar, which incorporated the Italian tricolore on its design. The second is Andrea Pirlo. Euro 2012 was the tournament that finally saw him earn the widespread acclaim he deserved, especially on British shores. He was the graceful conductor who led his orchestra to a European final, and all in a stylish shirt fit for Italy’s ultimate regista.”
9. USA ’94 Home
‘All about Baggio’
Italy’s 1994 strip will forever be synonymous with one man: the great Roberto Baggio. The Divine Ponytail guided his country all the way to the World Cup final with some heroic displays, but, sadly, the enduring image of this jersey is Italy’s number 10 standing despondent over the penalty spot, after his miss in the shoot-out handed the trophy to Brazil.
The 1994 strip makes Laura Bradburn’s top three, and she has definitely forgiven Baggio for his penalty miss. “This strip reminds me of when I first came to know about Baggio,” she said. “Ok, the tournament didn’t end well for him, but seeing that shirt reminds me of the true magic of the man and it was that that caused me to look out for anything Baggio from then on.”
The green, white and red piping from earlier editions was switched to triangles on the collar and sleeves, while the circular badge was replaced by a new rectangular design. So enamoured were the kit manufacturers, Diadora, with the new badge design that it appeared as a hologram effect across the whole top.
8. France ’98 Home
‘Kit of lasts’
As Ricci Potts highlights, the strip worn by Italy at France 98 was a ‘kit of lasts’, though it still makes it into our top 10. “This was Italy’s last Nike kit [following on from the 1995 and Euro 96 jerseys], the last use of that really 90s FIGC badge and the last Italy kit not to feature the manufacturer’s logo on the pitch,” he said.
The shininess of the material and the flappy collar were distinctive features of this jersey, as was the white pin-stripe running from each sleeve to the armpit and waist. Unfortunately for Italian fans, it wasn’t seen beyond the quarter-finals, where the Azzurri were knocked out by hosts France following yet another penalty shoot-out defeat.
Ricci believes it was unlike any other strip at France 98. “Everyone hates those boring, colour swap kits, don’t they?” he said. “I remember some people at the time suggesting it looked like a bowling shirt. The Big Lewbowski came out the same year, so even that was on trend.”
7. Euro 2004 Away
‘Minimal yet elegant, simple yet beautifully sophisticated’
Luca Hodges-Ramon recognises that his favourite Italy jersey of all time will be by no means the choice of many. However, as is so true with a football kit, it is the personal memories they evoke that make them so popular with their owners. A 13-year-old Luca’s ‘go to kit’ was Italy’s white away jersey from Euro 2004.
“This strip makes my number one for reasons of self-indulgence,” Luca said. “Yes, Euro 2004 was a disastrous tournament for the Azzurri, rekindling memories of a group stage exit and the infamous Scandinavian Biscotto between Sweden and Denmark (though as Italians, we love a scandal almost as much as a success story). And yes, the strip does not feature the iconic Azzurri blue. But this was the perfect Christmas present for my 13-year-old self and it quickly became my go to kit, especially when it came to going for a kick about with my mates. All white with the Azzurri badge and Puma icons adorned by gold trim, it was minimal yet elegant, simple yet beautifully sophisticated. Semplicemente stupendo!”
6. 1995 Home
‘Treading the line between beauty and monstrosity’
The 1995 home jersey is the only entry on our list not to have been worn at a major tournament – so it must be something special, right? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and, I must confess, this is one of my favourites. Neil Morris also sees beauty in this design. “That Nike shirt trod the line between beauty and monstrosity in a way that only an Italian football shirt can,” he said. “The hologram design and the triclore on the sleeves were magnificent.”
5. Euro ’96 Home
This entry to the top 10 will have football jersey purists reaching for the sick-bucket, while 1990s fashion fans (sorry, I’m guilty) dig out their ‘button-up’ tracksuit bottoms and their back-to-front baseball caps.
Emmet Gates is also a child of the ’90s, it seems. “Despite associating the jersey with the absurdity that was Arrigo Sacchi’s reign as Italy boss, this is hands down my favourite Azzurri kit. I got bought the full strip as an 11th birthday present. I really love the shade of blue, but what makes it special is the gold trim on the sleeves and collar and the big ‘ITALIA’ on the lower part of the back – beautiful,” he said.
While England was gripped with ‘football’s coming home’ fever and Britpop was dominating the UK charts – save for a few weeks of novelty football anthems – Italy were turning in a highly disappointing display at Euro 96. Arrigo Sacchi’s side exited the tournament at the group stage, finishing in third place behind Germany and the Czech Republic, who both went on to contest the final.
4. Mexico ’70 Home
‘The mother of all Italian kits’
‘Classic Italy’ is how many people describe the 1970 World Cup jersey. Franco Ficetola certainly agrees. “This is super iconic…the mother of all Italian kits,” he said.
The simplicity of the design appeals to the purists: a blue t-shirt with the Italian flag in a shield badge. One such purist is Damon Main. “This strip was simple in its design, had colour consistent features and was worn by an assortment of equally classical, consistent players,” he said.
This strip was worn by an excellent Italian team, which, unfortunately for them, met quite possibly the greatest side of all time in the 1970 World Cup final, Pele’s Brazil, who ran out 4-1 winners against the Azzurri in the Azteca Stadium, Mexico. Italy’s strip design was the same for the next two World Cups – 1974 and 1978 – something unthinkable in the modern game.
3. Spain ’82 Home
‘I still get goose bumps looking at the team line-up in those classic colours’
Marco Tardelli and THAT celebration. Not only is it one of the most iconic Italian football images of all time, it’s one adored by fans of the beautiful game the world over. So it’s little wonder, therefore, that the 1982 Italy World Cup-winning jersey is recognised as one of football’s most iconic tops.
Italian football journalist Giancarlo Rinaldi comes over all-nostalgic when he sees images of this classic kit. “I don’t really have a lot of design knowledge, so a football kit is all about memories for me,” he said. “I was 12 years old when Italy won this World Cup but they were not enjoying a lot of love in the UK, especially after some dull group games. So when Paolo Rossi exploded into action – and Marco Tardelli roared – this strip became a symbol, to me, of silencing the critics. I still get goose bumps looking at the team line-up in those classic colours.”
The green, white and red of the Italy flag provided the piping for the 1982 strip’s sleeves and collar. The collar combined a deep V-neck and classic polo, while the shield badge, seen throughout the 1970s, was retained for this famous strip, which remains a firm favourite of football shirt enthusiasts to this day.
2. Euro 2000 Home
‘One of the most important football shirts ever’
If there’s one man who knows a thing or two about Italian national football strips, it’s Ricci Potts. Ricci has nine Italy kits from various eras, so it’s a subject literally – when he’s sporting Azzurri – close to his heart. When it comes to picking a favourite, Ricci places the Euro 2000 jersey out there on its own. “You can (and I will) make the argument that this is one of the most important football shirts ever,” he said. “This was the first mainstream shirt to go for a tight fit and the inclusion of Lycra in the fabric.”
“Although it took a while to catch on there is a clear line from that to pretty much all current kits (particularly Kappa and Puma). If you look at photos of the players you can see most weren’t really comfortable with it and wore shirts two sizes too big so that they fit like conventional kits. Again, it was brimming with ‘Italianità’: the stitching and the high collar makes it look like a cycling jersey and the tight fit is very Italian style.”
The same shirt holds personal memories for Laura Bradburn. “My brother lived in that shirt!” she recalled. “Seeing it reminds me of the hours we spent on the streets playing football, playing ‘catchy’ which, for the uninitiated, meant whoever was shooting would have to go in goal if the person in goal caught it. Happy memories!”
1. Italia ’90 Home
‘Pride and ability, belief and sorrow’
A whole generation of Italian football enthusiasts, including myself, fell in love with the game during the ‘Notti Magiche’ of Italia ’90. In fact, the Gentleman Ultra website was founded by Richard Hall as a platform for reminiscing about this golden era for the game on the Peninsula.
It’s perhaps fitting, therefore, that the jersey worn by Toto Schillachi, Roberto Baggio et al is number one on our list and is also Richard’s favourite Azzurri jersey of all time. “Never has an Italian shirt carried the hopes of a nation as it did at Italia 90,” Richard said.
The Italia 90 jersey (which was also worn at World Cup 86 and Euro 88) retained the tricolore piping from 1982 but was cut from a shinier fabric. The other main difference was a change in badge design. The 1990 top brought the debut of a circular logo, which, in addition to the national flag, contained three stars. The stars represented the Azzurri’s three previous World Cup victories.
As Richard explained: “From the emergence of Toto Schillachi to the brilliance of Baggio; the unbeatable Zenga to the Prince Giannini, this shirt represented pride and ability, belief and sorrow.” He added:
“Under the blue Italian sky, the Azzurri allowed the fans to dream and in a stylish manner befitting of their nation.”
Words by Martin Dunlop: @Dunlop85