At the time, the touch style of football managers could be divided into two camps: the loyal tracksuits and sneakers and the veteran of three-piece tailoring. Think of Tony Pulis, patron saint of the club badge stash with a non-negotiable baseball cap, on the one hand; Arsène Wenger, the immaculate scholar of Jermyn Street (let’s forget the era of the multi-zip down jacket) on the other. Now? Everyone wears some kind of anonymous leather sneakers.
Indescribable but unmissable in their ubiquity, minimalist sneakers are a somewhat surprising addition to a game that often makes headlines for its ostentatious impulses. Of course, some players choose to practice in spooky neon soccer shoes custom painted with cartoons of the Minions of the Despicable Me film franchise (culprit: Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal) and party at nightclubs in Mayfair in candy-colored Balenciaga Triple S styles (Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero). But for a more mature generation of football managers, experts and executives, choosing stealthy, logo-less luxury sneakers to look in on game day means stylish restraint.
Prices and labels may vary, but the constituent elements of the anonymous sneaker remain the same: thin white sole, navy or black smooth leather upper, with discreet or absent branding. Key styles include Grenson’s Sneaker 22, Axel Arigato’s Clean 90, Adidas Supercourt, Lanx’s Ancoats, and Hugo Boss’s Mirage. The latter is in pole position, and this is not surprising: since 2018, the Mirage has been offered to Boss-sponsored clubs including Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur as part of their formal evening dress. Since then, the brand reports, sales of the style have grown by over 40%, making it one of the best-selling Boss shoes in the UK.
The anonymous shoe is emblematic of a wider relaxation of dress code diktats in football circles. “There is a clear denigration movement in top football,” says Adam Hurrey, journalist and author of Soccer clichés, a 2014 study on the language of the beautiful game. “The emphasis on ‘coaching’ (tactics, hands-on engagement with player development) replaced ‘management’ (high and inaccessible dictatorship) and dress code seems to have changed as a result. “
The ultimate approval? The sight of Sir Alex Ferguson, 79, wearing plain navy leather sneakers to visit the Manchester United squad ahead of their Champions League semi-final second leg in early May. “It’s not just the simple proliferation [of the style] but also individual benchmarks, ”explains Hurrey. “When Ferguson, perhaps the eternal frontman of Proper Football Men, embarked on the promotional tour for his recent documentary. . . they were there.
Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola is largely responsible for the sartorial gear change of the football dugout. Frequently seen in a Stone Island charcoal cashmere sweater, pressed chinos and sleek sneakers from Puma, for which he acts as a brand ambassador, or Emporio Armani, his pitch side looks are the equivalent of sipping a drink cool mineral water while others spray Bollinger with abandon.
In 2016, he received fashion acclaim for pairing Rick Owens sneakers with his cashmere turtleneck. And Guardiola has a group of acolytes – including his former assistant, Mikel Arteta of Arsenal, former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and former Watford manager Quique Sánchez Flores – working a similar smart-casual hybrid in his wake. . The trend is spreading to the boardroom: When Leicester City won the FA Cup in May, director of football Jon Rudkin, president Khun Top and manager Brendan Rodgers all wore anonymous sneakers with their navy suits.
The experts are there too. No more three-piece suits and trivial ties, with BBC talking heads Match of the day, Sky Sports and BT Sport inevitably find themselves wearing directional knitwear and anonymous sneakers.
Even Graeme Souness, whose flamboyant ’80s perm from his Sampdoria days is long remembered, succumbed to the quiet charms of Hugo Boss’s Italian-made Mirage style. “Part of the appeal, perhaps, is that they’re generally unbranded in the eyes of the viewer,” says Hurrey. They also match a tone of football commentary that has become “less stuffy and more conversational.”
In turn, they inspire a generation of football fans. Where once the terraces around 1980 were dominated by “casuals” wearing limited edition Adidas and Sergio Tacchini shirts, today’s middle-aged devotees have traded their Reeboks for a pair of Axel Arigatos. “Beautiful,” said one owner on a Reddit thread discussing the choice of discreet shoes of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. “I have them all in white.”
What could possibly dislodge the minimalist leather sneaker now? Superstition. Those wondering why Chelsea players were holding up a pair of Hoka One One Bondi 7s in the dressing room after their UEFA Champions League win on May 29 might be surprised to learn that the coaches have been credited with victory. Belonging to coach Thomas Tuchel, the shoes were a gift from the president of former Tuchel club Paris Saint-Germain, whom he led to the 2020 Champions League final where they lost to Bayern Munich.
“I promised my [former] personal, I would wear them in the final and I didn’t wear them, so we lost, ”Tuchel recalled in a post-match interview. “I wore them today and they worked.”
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