Chris Maddox reckons that in a season that is expected to see an exciting Premiership challenge from Liverpool this year - it’s sportswear giant Adidas’ purchase of Reebok which is causing a fair bit of fuss too…
There’s something about having the logo of a brand like Adidas sitting proudly on your clubs shirt. It conjures up a feeling of world-class football, an ethos of genuine European heritage – of winning.
Liverpool, as a club with the very strongest claim to sit along aside the very best in the highest echelons of the game, not so long ago had their kit produced by this very German sportswear company. It was a perfect love match, but it was soon to end prematurely.
In 1995 Liverpool parted company with Adidas in favour of the new kid on the block (in a football sense), Reebok. Since then, right from when the first new strip hit the stores, us fans have been disappointed with the creations the Liverpool players have had to play in, week in week out. They weren’t completely dire of course (most of the time, anyway!) they just weren’t Adidas ‘football’ shirts – they just failed to evoke the same energy as the firms’ three European stripes.
As we all know, the Premiership has continued to grow in popularity both domestically and as a world-renowned contest over its 13-year history. Greater emphasis then ever before has been placed into turning football clubs into brands, as the move towards bigger sponsorships deals, bigger shirt manufacturers and bigger stadia has gained momentum.
When Liverpool Football Club joined forces with Reebok it was seen as an important step forward, spearheading Liverpool’s journey into a much more commercially driven football world.
Yet Liverpool fans soon became disenchanted by Reebok when it became apparent that it didn’t really understand the market, the US-based outfit didn’t have football (sorry, soccer) in its blood, not like Adidas and Umbro.
Reebok were charged with, almost from day one, a lack of imagination in its design and generally poor choices in the direction it was taking with its kits overall.
The colour was wrong, the badge was too big or in the wrong place or, like many of the away shirts, just plain awful.
Liverpool fans (like every big club in the Premier League) have been blinded with new fangled fabric and materials that were said could quite literally suck the sweat from the armpit (nice) and keep the skin breathing; yet the supposed technology could not disguise the fact that the actual aesthetics of the strips were uninspired.
In a decade, Reebok has produced six different Liverpool home shirts and a massive line-up of 10 away shirts (the clever tactic of getting around the supposed customer-friendly notion of a new strip only every two-years, is manoeuvred around by bringing out a new away version every single season).
From this lot the most celebrated have been the special Champions League shirt produced for Liverpool’s return to Europe’s elite competition in 2001 (displayed a promising simplicity), the current 2005 home and away shirts (although that has been criticised for treating fans like idiots with cost-cutting transfers for the badge and sponsor, said to be ‘lightweight’ increasing player performance!? They have to be ironed on too!) and a handful of early away shirts that were considered fairly decent at the time.
Glancing on the LFC Online and TTWAR forums the comments regarding our yellow away kit abomination, which was introduced to a wave of disgust last year (Thankfully replaced by a far more pleasing white effort this season) make great reading.
Lines of inspiration include: "The yellow strip from last year epitomises everything I would expect from a Reebok LFC replica shirt - shite," WindsorRed; while fellow forumite, Matigol said: "Worst kit produced by Reebok so far, and that’s saying something". The Red Bouyo possibly put it best by describing the much-maligned away shirt as resembling "dog sick covered in blackheads." Eloquently put my son.
Reebok has even been criticised for its snail-like pace in getting Champions League themed merchandise into the market. Its special Champions League strip is set to be unleashed sometime in October, some four months after the magical final – spectacularly missing out on the celebrations and misty-eyed demand for the strip in the direct aftermath of the win.
I can appreciate the time it takes to come-up with a shirt, to design, produce it and then get it into stores - so maybe rolling out a commemorative shirt within weeks of winning the CL is slightly unrealistic. But I do feel that if Reebok had displayed even the slightest bit of vision and foresight, it could have and should have set in motion plans for a new strip as soon as the final whistle blew in the last leg of the Semi-Final with Chelsea.
Reebok would have hit the ground running and could’ve got a strip out to market by the middle of July, thus cashing in on the fans’ fervour and arriving in time for the start of Liverpool’s champions League campaign proper in September.
Another own-goal by Reebok – sorry, I mean RBK!!!
Early last month surprising news broke that Adidas had gathered the necessary funds to buy the American-based Reebok, which of course subsequently put all sorts of scenarios into the minds of us fans who had felt genuine regret and disappointment at the recent extension of Reebok’s replica kit contract with Liverpool for a further three-years.
The German sportswear giant’s acquisition of Reebok cost some $3.8bn (£2.1bn), and was described by the firm’s head honcho, Herbert Hainer, as a deal which "represents a major strategic milestone for our group."
The inking of the deal, expected to be cleared in the early part of 2006 will see Adidas instantly achieve a greater foothold in Reebok’s native America, giving them the opportunity to gain in-roads on Nike’s impressive 36 per cent of the US footwear market – the holy grail of the industry.
Adidas’ expertise and heritage in Europe will also be a huge benefit to Reebok in other territories, indeed in Asia Reebok is regarded as a company going backwards, thought of as a women’s brand, specialising in fitness equipment.
In January, months before the brokering of the Reebok buy-out a fans’ forum poll on which company would be Liverpool’s ideal kit manufacturer, saw Adidas sprint to the finish line with a resounding 45.71 per cent, while Nike came second clocking-up 22.86 per cent and Umbro and Reebok came equal third with 11.43 per cent.
A clear win for Adidas, who has produced some memorable strips for Liverpool in the past. Nike who made second in the pole could never be considered an option, what with its whole ‘big money’ ideology, the antithesis of what the Liverpool way is all about and its obvious links with Manchester United, who have essentially sold their soul to the American heavyweight.
Now I have to stress, the Adidas-Reebok deal may not have the slightest influence whatsoever over Liverpool, but I certainly can’t help but wonder what the Adidas buy-out of Reebok means for the Reds, especially with rumours of the German companies intentions flying around.
Some quarters have suggested that Adidas wants to pull Reebok out of European football all together or at least in part, leaving it to concentrate instead on what it knows best - the US market and sports such as basketball and baseball. Adidas would then be free to take over Reebok’s football portfolio in the UK, including Liverpool and possibly clubs such as West Ham, Man City and Bolton Wanderers.
In Bolton’s case it is uncertain what this could mean for their Reebok funded and named stadium, but Liverpool fans are definitely beginning to wonder if this all points to Adidas maybe playing a large role in the Reds’ new stadium or potential redevelopment of Anfield (Reebok footed much of the £7m cost of the Anfield Road end of the ground in return for its logo on every single seat). Maybe.
So the Liverpool faithful begin to dream of future European campaigns wearing an Adidas shirt of opulent red as we endeavour to add to our five European Cup wins.
Perhaps, something based on the current British Lions shirt, with an embroided badge, shorter sleeves with the three Adidas stripes along the shoulder less prouncenced and a proper football-style collar – now that really would be a perfect fit for the European Champions.
Feature by Chris Maddox Updated 7 September 2005