Armani, Football and The Cup

For Italians, looking the part is just as important as playing like champions, and the UEFA Final was an opportunity to put away our pandemic fashions of slippers and elasticized pants. . .

For Italians, looking the part is just as important as playing like champions, and the UEFA Final was an opportunity to put away our pandemic fashions of slippers and elasticized pants. . . . we donned our Azzurri jerseys and watched breathlessly as the ball was skilfully played across the pitch -and also admired the fashions on the field. For Italians, looking the part is just as important as playing like champions.

The frenzy caused by the Italian win in the European Championships was felt across the world. I wonder if the world tilted slightly off its orbit when so many ecstatic fans all jumped up at the same time after that nail biting penalty shoot-out. Who knows? What I do know is that Australians of Italian and other ethnic backgrounds who supported Italy were up at a merciless hour of the morning, braving the winter cold to watch the game on any screen they could huddle around with friends and loved ones. Thankfully, down in Melbourne, we had been out of lockdown for a period, so our feet had re-adjusted to being shoved into real shoes instead of slippers, and we had a chance to pull on our (let's just say, snug) jeans instead of our usual gym clothes. The pandemic changed our fashion sense it seems. Leisure wear is de rigueur, elasticised and versatile, but certainly a far cry from the football fashion feast that was also part of the theatrics of the UEFA Championships. Of course, Italy was playing.

The tension in the build up to the UEFA Cup finals was palatable. Games won and lost on the way in an exciting tournament. For me, the finals meant my household was taken over by a group of young adults who had excitedly converged the night before with gourmet delights to fill several antipasto platters, complete with homemade salami and pickled olives of every sort. My ordinary household fridge was stocked with an assortment of beverages usually found at the local bar. This ensemble of youth, looking like a representation to the United Nations, slept everywhere -on couches, in spare rooms, on bedroom floors -until it was time. Alarms rang early morning. Like so many across the two hemispheres, we congregated wearing various versions of the distinctive Azzurri jerseys, scarves and assorted paraphernalia collected over the years and pulled out for this occasion. Fashion is part of the football experience.

Dutifully, nervously, we converged in front of the screen. And there they were. The Azzurri. Immaculate in their football kits.

The blue is now synonymous with football success. The colour dates to pre-Republican days when it was the official colour of the Royal House of Savoy, the monarchic line that ruled first a region, then a unified Italy from 1861 to 1946. The blue has graced many jersey designs developed by various sportswear companies over the years, all of them vying for a lucrative sponsorship deal. Puma provided the smart football kit that took the Azzurri to Wembley stadium this year and will, next year, take them to the World Cup, when, incidentally, the team hopes to collect another star to add to the official badge.

Rumour has it that from 2023 Adidas will take over. For part of the 1990s it was Nike. Collared jerseys with the colours of the Italian flag adorning the collar and sleeve trim. Roberto Baggio brought that look to life. Football fashion is big business. It was obvious in my house with all the blue jerseys worn on that happy morning in July this year. I am glad that the black kit, ordered by Mussolini at one stage, was dropped. Azzurro works for Italy.

This year the kit was worn reasonably tight compared to other years. For the momentous UEFA match, it was dark blue shorts -though sometimes white shorts -and azzurro socks. As one of my guests pointed out during the obligatory post-match dissection, "“how can you get so many combinations out of the same colour palette and basic design?" Yet, it happens. Each season something rather special is cleverly designed to entice eager fans to purchase the latest version. For the men's team, women's team and juniors, it is pure fashion magic.

That magic was on display again right there on the pitch. Roberto Mancini and his assistants, including his past Sampdoria star team-mate, Gianluca Vialli, cut dashing figures against a backdrop of sweat and lycra. During this year's UEFA campaign, the Italian coach and his staff attracted as much attention for their elegance as for the football. And here they were at the Finals, looking fashionably cool in their smartly grey-blue tailored cotton jackets with the Italian insignia, of an appropriate size, and positioned over the heart (of course). For the final, the elegant, sporty jacket was worn over a crisp white shirt, with a smart tie that matched the relaxed and classy dark pants. All providing a very suave look whilst being very comfortable in the warm weather and under the stress of Cup circumstances.

The players wore a different version of the same suit. For them, the breezy seersucker cotton jacket had a distinctive mandarin collar. The jacket was paired with the same relaxed-fit dark trousers. The four shiny largish buttons created a formal and very dapper look. Especially when the medals were worn over the jackets -a masterful stroke by the designer.

The designer? Armani. Of course!

Through the Emporio Armani line, Armani has developed a strong track record of kitting our teams with distinctive, stylish suits including Vialli's old team, Chelsea. Armani's reputation for having dressed such football greats as Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Fabio Cannavaro, Kaka and others provided him with an aura of being faithful to the "“religion" of football.

The Italian stake their fashion seriously. In fact, it seems that the team chartered an extra plane just for their outfits. Also, specialist staff were employed to ensure that garments for every occasion were meticulously arranged with respectful care. Yes, it is that serious.

At my house, during the after-game celebrations when the fridge was not so well stocked and the antipasto platters were finally set aside, photographs of the team in their suits were viewed as part of the ritual of adoration. In these photos the team and coaches wore black shirts. A sophisticated, sporty, young look, but it was not just the outfit. It was the way they were worn. Whilst the players wore their jackets buttoned up, the last one at the neck was left unbuttoned to provide a casual, almost cocky, somewhat suggestive look. The team looked like winners before they even stepped out onto the field.

Mancini took the look to the next level. When it was time to finally approach the podium, ready to take up the Cup for Italy, he slung his jacket over his shoulder and with one hooked finger held the jacket in place. Confidently, he strode over to take his place. His casual unperturbed air caused one guest to remark, "“Don't Italians ever lose their cool?" Of course, they do. Often. But not today. Not Mancini. If anyone was going to make that suit speak, it was going to be him.

The final adornment required for the outfit was the Cup.

For us, we were back in lockdown a few days later. Slippers and leisure wear for a little while longer at least. Now we wait for the World Cup -and the next football fashion magic.

Forza Azzurri!