84. Puma 'Abidjan' (2012-13) *

Graphic showing examples of the Puma 'Abidjan' shirt template

Chris Oakley | 16 May 2022

It's a simple question. Why only have one, two or three colours on a football shirt when, potentially you could have thousands? Such a question would have been considered ridiculous several decades ago, but now, mercifully, technology has developed to a point where just about anything seems possible.

A suitable follow-up question might be 'Does a football shirt need thousands of colours?' From a traditional point of view, no. There aren't many teams that have made a virtue of using even four colours on a regular basis. Yet, from a creativity point of view, why not? Change kits are where we see football shirt designers testing the limits of their inventiveness, and a broad colour palette can only maximise the possibilities of the end product.

Back in 2010, Puma made their own attempt at creating a shirt that smoothly drifted from one colour to another through a myriad of incremental changes. The Africa Unity shirt of 2010 was a masterpiece of simple design based on a unique concept: bringing the nations of Africa together by providing them with one common kit. The shirt from that outfit was coloured in a gradient ranging from pale blue (representing the sky) to brown (representing the African soil), and many of the 12 Puma-affiliated African nations were encouraged to wear it as a change shirt. Aside from the unifying sentiment of the design, the combination of blue and brown worked very nicely indeed, and showed that a gradual fade of colours could freshen up the way teams looked on the pitch - an approach rarely (if ever) taken before.

Two years on, and Puma were ready to try the same trick again, this time as an away shirt design where the colours reverted back to the traditional palettes of each applicable country. Once again, those teams were African, and each one adapted the fade design to their own liking.

From left: Algeria (2012 away), Cameroon (2012-13 away), Côte d'Ivoire (2012-13 away), Ghana (2013 away), South Africa (2012 away).

Here we see what a great vehicle the gradient is for conveying colour. With the exception of the small, curved flashes that appear on both shoulders, the main hues are allowed to run riot throughout. There's no need for coloured panels, stripes or blocks of colour. Here, it begins at the top of the shirt, then gradually down it goes, changing beautifully into a second colour at the bottom. Sheer artistry itself.

Aside from the main visuals on offer, there's a contoured neckline to build up the height of the collar slightly, and the Puma logo appears on both sleeves as well as the chest, but that's about all there is to discuss. For the manufacturers, it was enough to simplify the Africa Unity shirt by taking away the fussy diagonal shoulder panel. With this successor, the shirt speaks for itself by putting colour front and centre - no distractions, no nonsense.

We've seen a few attempts to reappropriate the fade in recent years. Manchester United's Adidas home shirt of 2018-19 tried to do it with lines in a way that was not particularly popular with many fans. Nike added a fade effect to the change shirts of Manchester City and Internazionale (among others) in 2015-16, but only to the sleeves. The effect was interesting, if a little like the shirt had been left in a bag with a leaking pen for a week.

Surely, then, the fade has never been done better than Puma's foray into African eloquence ten years ago. It would have worked for so many club teams around the world, but with the current trend for retro reclamation, who's to say Puma won't save that idea for a rainy day in the future? I, for one, would look forward to it.

See also:

* Unofficial template name