80. Puma 'Axle' (2021-22)
I know, I know. One of the least popular football shirt templates of recent times, and here I am including it in my Top 100 selection. What’s wrong with me?
I’m sorry to rob you of that last sentence, but you were bound to say it anyway. But it’s very much true; what Puma created last season earned an abnormally high amount of negative feedback. Was it justified? Perhaps, to some extent. The shirt template they provided as part of a third kit for their ten prestige clubs was somewhat simple in nature. More importantly, however, they deliberately omitted the club badge from the front of the shirt in each case. Popularity contests are not won this way.
In essence, this design is actually very versatile and, in one particular regard, quite daring. From the outset, the eye is drawn to the main colour of the shirt. There’s little to get in the way of that, and the colour in question is generally applied to the whole kit (with one exception which we’ll come to shortly).
From left: Borussia Dortmund (2021-22 home, cup), Borussia Mönchengladbach (2021-22 third),
Fenerbahçe (2021-22 third), Krasnodar (2021-22 third).
Bold use of colour - tick. Nothing wrong with that. In terms of interesting detail, there’s sadly not much to see, and some of it has been inherited from one or two other recent Puma designs. Thin stripes straddling the shoulders provide subtlety, and a pair of those stripes run in parallel across the chest. These are not merely a feature in their own right, but a way of drawing attention to the one truly brave and innovative feature - the name of the team, writ large, as a replacement for the absent badge.
It’s true to say that most football fans would rather reinstate that badge than show off the name, but that’s the point. These are third shirts which, by common consent, are an opportunity to provide something different. Here, Puma repeats what was seen in the first season of MLS, but makes it work much better.
From left: Manchester City (2021-22 third), Milan (2021-22 third), Olympique de Marseille (2021-22 third), PSV Eindhoven (2021-22 third).
The team name occupies the prime spot often taken up by the main shirt sponsor, so the latter gets pushed a little further down. Thankfully, the double dose of lettering doesn’t dominate too much, although an improvement might be to resize the name of the club a little smaller.
From here on, there’s a short list of customisation options for each team to fine tune. Of the ten teams that wore this design as a third shirt, six chose a repeating shadow pattern made up of the club’s badge, six chose visible shoulder stripes and cuffs, and one - Krasnodar - decided to display the club badge in the normal fashion anyway.
Shadow pattern details, Puma 'Axle' template.
The launch photos for each of the shirts turned out to be slightly misleading in one or two cases. Several appear to show a slighty more v-shaped neckline that became round in match situations, while Shakhtar Donetsk switched their sponsor from Paris Match to financial company SCM and Rennes dropped the large S of Samsic to leave only the company name. Valencia’s unadorned shirts of pre-season eventually acknowledged the year of their formation and their intent to carry on forever, which was nice.
But we’re forgetting that eleven teams ended up with this design, not the ten mentioned in Puma’s marketing text. That’s because Borussia Dortmund adopted it too, and notably as a home shirt for cup competitions. Perhaps the most confusing version of them all, it went through several changes, during which time BVB fans demanded a proper badge be included - not just the original embossed version Puma provided. The final shirt eventually used the ‘BVB 09’ branding from the 1975-76 home shirt, but all to little appreciation from the Dortmund faithful.
From left: Shakhtar Donetsk (2021-22 third), Stade Rennais (2021-22 third), Valencia (2021-22 third).
Taking all of the above into consideration, is this really one of the greatest football shirt templates? I believe so, even if it does rank lower than most. The core design is simple and flexible and certainly shouldn’t have been relegated to the rarely seen netherworld of third shirt ignominy. Having the name on the shirt rather than the badge? Why not... It was only ever going to be for the occasional one-off season anyway. A little bravery and boldness is exactly what we need in football shirt design these days, and Puma did that in such a way that we’ll not forget these designs for a long time to come. How many football shirts can you say that about?