It’s June 2004. Pop-rock band Keane are top of the album charts, Peppa Pig mania is sweeping homes and Ken Livingstone is elected as Mayor of London. In the footballing world, the summer is one of change. The old Division One is rebranded as the Championship, Wimbledon are rechristened MK Dons and Rafa Benítez is appointed manager of Liverpool. And it was a summer of change on the kit front.
The opening fixture of Euro 2004 pitted hosts Portugal against the eventual surprise winners Greece, with Figo, Ronaldo and Maniche et al. sporting Nike’s new Total 90 design. Such was its prevalence throughout the international footballing world during 2004 and 2005, it has become synonymous with an era of football where Ronaldinho was king, Wayne Rooney was still a fresh-faced Pitbull pup and José Mourinho was just about everywhere.
Since that summer, the T90 is a template which has passed into legend as one of the most iconic of the last 25 years. During the Euros, Portugal, the Netherlands and Croatia were amongst the nations that were resplendent in their own variants of the now-famous design – but it was not reserved for European teams alone. Elsewhere around the globe, Samba magicians Brazil, the Socceroos from Australia and even the US Men’s National Team made use of the simple design.
Though shirt templates have become increasingly unpopular among kit aficionados thanks to the perception manufacturers rely on them far too readily in lieu of producing genuinely innovative designs, the T90 template is a notable exception, and this is down in some part to its simplicity and its versatility.
Take the standard template that was modelled by the likes of Luis Figo, Arjen Robben and Adriano on the pitch: the chest area is delineated by thin piping contrasted against the primary colour of the shirt, the national team crest is centred over the bold, encircled squad number and the left sleeve features a flick of colour akin to the famous Nike swish. In essence, it is basic, but it is undoubtedly effective.
Its enduring legacy is also in no doubt assisted by the renowned teams of the era that donned the kit. Such is the power of nostalgia, perhaps the T90 template would not have enjoyed such longevity in the hearts of collectors were it not worn by Brazil, Portugal and Netherlands teams practically groaning beneath the weight of the iconic footballers contained within their squads.
Plus, although perhaps most famously associated with Euro 2004 and a number of international teams in particular, the T90 template was also used by several of Nike’s largest club clients of the time, including Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus and Inter Milan.
In these examples, the circular squad number elements present on the international variants are often replaced by the shirt sponsors, notably Vodafone on Manchester United shirts or O2 on Arsenal shirts where, intriguingly, the round logos of these two telecommunication brands offer subtle nods to their international counterparts.
Here's one of the famous adverts for Nike from 2004 "Ole"
The club versions, for the most part, lacked the uniformity of the international designs, however, for Nike deviated from the template to allow for elements such as stripes (both horizontal and vertical) and even classic collars to take greater precedence in accordance with the wishes of each individual club.
The homogeneity among the international kits could easily have been interpreted as a drawback, but instead it lends the range a certain immediate recognisability that perhaps all of the club editions don’t necessarily possess. It is that recognisability that is so powerful in prompting memories associated with each shirt, and why they carry such sentimental value.
Think Ronaldo in floods of tears at Euro 2004; Adriano decimating Copa America practically on his own; that Ronaldinho goal against Chelsea in the last 16 of the Champions League. The T90 template is inseparable from all of these moments – and so many more.
The summer of 2004 was in many ways a summer of change. Greece upset the traditional hegemony of Europe’s most powerful nations, José Mourinho upset the duopoly Manchester United and Arsenal enjoyed over the Premier League, but in a way there are many who wished the summer of 2004 and the months that succeeded it never changed at all. When the Total 90 template reigned supreme all too briefly.
You can see all of the T90 shirts for sale here.