Developing a trademark item of clothing in football is a lot like giving yourself your own nickname at school.
Most of the time it won’t be enough to rid you of ridicule (and often it will only accentuate it), but if you hit that sweet spot – if it’s a strong enough brand – then it can override anything else people throw at you.
For more than 20 years, Gareth Southgate’s name was associated with one item of clothing alone: that dismal, grey England shirt he was wearing when he hit his penalty too close to Andreas Köpke to send England crashing out of Euro 96.
However, once the 2018 World Cup rolled around, we were seeing a different Southgate. The garment had made way (obviously, why would he still be wearing a 22-year-old sweaty shirt) for what would become his trademark waistcoat.
Now, whenever we watch England’s men’s team, we seek out the waistcoat as if it’s a second skin for the 49-year-old. He’ll don it as if it’s an official uniform, fans will wear one in the stands to emulate him, and even England women’s manager Phil Neville has given it a go.
That association of Southgate with the drab grey of June 1996? Gone for good.
He’s not the only current or former footballer to develop such a trademark for himself, though, and we’ve taken a look at a few of the others.
Tim Sherwood’s Gilet
Southgate wasn’t the first proponent of the no-sleeves approach, of course. During his time in charge of Tottenham and Aston Villa, ‘Tactics’ Tim Sherwood wore a gilet like no other man had worn a gilet before or since.
It made sense, too. This was a man who worked in a cold country (he took the Spurs job in December, after all) so needed to keep his body warm, but who did a lot of pointing (he’s very much from the Proper Football Man school of management) so needed to free his arms. See, tactics.
Sadly for Tim, the look ended up reflecting the porousness of his Villa team in the final days. Idrissa Gueye acted as the solid middle, but there’s only so much protection one of the country’s best defensive midfielders can offer when your extremities are exposed to the elements. And when the front (no one scored more than Rudy Gestede’s three in Sherwood’s 10-game final season) and back (a 33-year-old Joleon Lescott as the anchor of the defence) are freezing cold, pointing is only going to do so much.
Jack Grealish’s tiny shinpads
A player’s attire on the pitch can play into his image – think Paul Merson’s untucked shirt, or Lee Cattermole tucking his in to the point it looks like he’s trying too hard – but none more so than Grealish, one of Sherwood’s charges during his brief Villa tenure.
The Englishman often looks like he models his game on that one guy from five-a-side who everyone hates, goading opponents into lashing out by playing just on the margins of disrespect. If there was ever a player who epitomised nutmegs so devastating that your boss refuses your handshake at the end of a work kickabout and blanks you for a full week in the office, it’s Grealish.
Which is why the teeny, tiny shinpads are a marvellous touch. His game already screams “sure, kick me, if you can catch me” and this just adds an element of danger strong enough to elevate the smirk that follows when he inevitably gets away with it.
Jorge Campos’ self-designed jersey
Jorge Campos shouldn’t have worked as a concept. No 5’6” goalkeeper should be able to win 130 caps for a country as good as Mexico, playing in two World Cups in the process.
Additionally, no footballer should be able to define himself as a “goalkeeper/striker”. A centre-back who can fill in upfront, perhaps, but a goalkeeper comfortable enough and good enough to do a job at the other end of the field? Get outta here.
Campos felt like a comic book footballer, so it’s only fitting (it’s a clothes pun! Tick that one off your bingo cards) that he ramped up the ridiculousness by designing his own kits. Not customising them, actually designing non-specification goalkeeper jerseys to wear in competitive football matches.
So, these were classy numbers, the pinnacle of style, right? Come on now, did you think a man brave and stupid enough to once play two matches in the same day was going to be a model of restraint?
They were about eight sizes too big, while looking like the packaging on a packet of sweets with enough sugar to have been outlawed in more than 50 countries.
Arsene Wenger’s big coat
It’s like a regular coat, just much bigger. To quote one Arsenal fan, it has the same fabric to human ratio as Gunnersaurus.