Inter’s home kit for the 2021-22 Serie A campaign has certainly turned a lot of heads. From what was a tricky summer of transition on the pitch and behind the scenes has emerged a club with a new look – in the dugout, in the playing squad and, of course, in the football kit. Where the mantra for the team has been one of steady recovery and progress, the home kit in particular has communicated a new direction of more radical imaginings.
There are so many parallels between the kit introduced this season and the club it is for. At the same time that Inter waved goodbye to more than one architect of its 2021 Scudetto success, its kit was also stripped back and given a fresh look. The first Inter shirt in two-and-a-half decades without the iconic Pirelli as sponsor and the first home kit with the club’s new badge that launched midway through last season; what was already expected to represent a striking visual change for the club has also seen Nike attempt – yet again – to reinvent the Nerazzurri’s stripes in perhaps the most radical way yet.
Taking inspiration from club and city identity, Inter have been dressed in the scales of Il Biscione, The Serpent – a symbol of great importance and significance in 113 years of club history and more than 400 years of Milanese history.
Such a clear nod to cultural symbolism is of course pertinent for such an identity crisis Inter faced this summer, yet not everything that is smart in design is just as smart in practice. What to make of Inter’s 2021-22 home kit, then? Is it an experimental eyesore or an identity-bending masterpiece?
— History —
For having one of Italian and world football’s most iconic and well-known shirt designs, recent years for Inter have arguably been some of the most experimental for any club in the game. After decades of straightforward variations on a black-and-blue-striped theme for the Nerazzurri (thick to thin, thin to thick, badge in the middle, badge on the left, badge slightly redesigned), the past eight years have seen any number of concepts thrown at the famous home shirt, from 2013-14’s incredibly dark blue-and-black approach that was immediately followed by the controversial pinstripes of 2014-15, to the barcode stripes of 2017-18, the interrupted stripes of 2018-19 and then the zig-zigs of last season.
As a design legacy, it’s a period of time like no other for the club and one that perhaps years from now we’ll look back on fondly, for the quite remarkable collection of unique templates it has created, even if fans of the club haven’t always felt so warmly towards them all. And, as a design legacy, its culmination feels present in 2021-22’s snake skin-inspired shirt.
— Design —
The solution to a problem perhaps only imagined in the offices of Inter and Nike – how to take what has become ordinary and make it new – the team’s latest home shirt does exactly that by aiming to capture the identity of the club in a whole different way, using the historical symbol (both to club and city of Milan) of ‘Il Biscione’, ‘The Serpent’ as inspiration.
It’s a smart idea that from a design perspective makes a lot of sense, tying into Inter’s cultural connection to its city at the same time as genuinely offering a completely new take on an otherwise old and fairly rigid template of stripes. It’s also a nod to symbolism and identity that unwittingly but pertinently comes in a season of relative crisis in the transfer market (less so on the pitch so far) and – more intentionally – alongside the loss of the iconic Pirelli sponsor and the introduction of a redesigned club badge. Pirelli have left after 26 years, whilst the new badge appears on the home shirt for the first time after its late-season debut on last year’s unnecessary fourth kit.
In all, it’s a collection of significant changes that present the 2021-22 shirt in a completely different light to anything that has come before.
And different is the overriding first impression of this shirt. There has been nothing quite like this before in Inter’s shirt history, nor much in the wider game to compare it to and, where taking an animal print and applying it to a football shirt could otherwise come across as tacky or tasteless, in this instance it works so well – it’s at once stylish and smart, both eye-catching on display and subtle in detail.
That is thanks primarily to the use of colour, with various tones of blue used to create accents in a scale pattern that covers the entire shirt, without overwhelming the eye nor flattening the larger design at play, that being the stripes. The scales are a complex and highly detailed pattern that have been shaped into these larger stripes through the distribution of those different shades of blue scales mixed with black scales, all across a dark blue under-skin. It’s an immersive, intricate design that is quite unique to see on a football shirt, with a distribution of pattern so skilfully applied to work both as its own subtle design point and for the wider effect of creating the shirt’s stripes. Ultimately, it makes for a visually interesting shirt that is as artistic as it may be culturally relevant to the club.
Yet, what is smart in design, though, isn’t always as smart in practice, and it’s weird to even hint that it may be case here, given what is in front of us is a beautiful shirt in almost every way. But, it is beautiful in almost every way bar one, crucial detail – those stripes aren’t quite blue and black. Instead, they are more blue on blue, and however dark it appears in certain light and however contrasted the stripe pattern may be, it’s the least blue-and-black – the least nerazzurro – that a shirt with black and blue on it could be. And whilst the scale pattern will contribute to why this is the case, the core of the issue really lies in design choice.
— Pro version vs. Stadium version —
As is the case with most kit manufacturers now, Nike offers two versions of each shirt they produce for a team – the regular, everyday ‘stadium’ version named ‘Dri-Fit’ that retails for £69.99, and the more advanced and authentic ‘player/pro’ version that mimics the fabrics and tailoring used on the shirts worn by the team on the pitch. The latest run of these ‘pro’ shirts have been coined ‘Dri-Fit ADV’ by Nike and retail for £104.99.
The 50% mark-up gets you a shirt made with a lighter, ‘quick-drying’ and more breathable fabric that is tailored to a tighter, more athletic fit, with badges, sponsors and manufacturer logos heat-pressed on, rather than stitched. There is usually a pattern to the fabric, in Nike’s case branded as a ‘raised knit in high-heat areas [to provide] additional breathability’.
The Dri-Fit ADV shirts are a curiosity we will take a closer look at in the coming weeks, and regardless of the perception of value, there is a market for them, and in catering for that market manufacturers have created a product that genuinely offers something sufficiently different to the regular Dri-Fit shirts.
That being said, there’s a bone of contention this year directed at both Nike and Adidas, for just how different two versions of the same shirt can be, even if one is for a more premium audience. Primarily in Nike’s case this season that focus is from a visual perspective, and the Inter home shirt is one that unfortunately serves as a good example for how.
This review is looking at the Dri-Fit, regular version of the home shirt, where the issue with blue-on-blue stripes is rather more pronounced, in no small part because of how light the black scales in the pattern appear. However, even just a cursory glance at the more expensive Dri-Fit ADV will highlight a huge difference and quite literally a far greater contrast in colours – the blues are more vibrant but, most importantly, the black is darker and more pronounced. The stripes you want to see on any version of an Inter shirt are really, arguably, only there on the more expensive version.
— Gallery —
— Price —
As frustrating a contrast as this is – and there are other shirts where it really is questionable practice – how much does it really matter in this instance? Where there’s an argument that – in the form of this regular, blue-on-blue stadium shirt – it once again presents an Inter shirt that flies in the face of tradition, that’s a) not necessarily a bad thing and b) can be said about more than just the depth of colours on the shirt – this is a new-look Nerazzurri in every way, shape and form, with a new badge, new sponsor and new design pattern.
It may be a shirt to get used to for some, but it’s not one to necessarily balk at just because it’s different. In fact, in a period of time where clubs are falling over themselves to offer unique takes on football shirts and not always with the best results, this is an intelligent, eye-catching and genuinely interesting design, in stadium or player edition. It’s better than the zig-zags of last season and it has a whole lot more blue than the pinstripes that really upset Inter fans a few years back. Plus, it has a Scudetto shield on the front, and that makes any shirt look even better…
The regular, stadium version of the shirt is priced at £69.99 in the UK and available now at Subside Sports with plenty of combinations of additional badges, official player name and numbering and with or without the $Inter sponsor on the front. It’s also worth noting that the sponsor-less version sold out within days upon first release in the summer – you may be considering waiting for a sale to pick this up, but there’s no guarantee it’ll still be around by then, sponsor or no sponsor on the front. That being said, Football Italia’s exclusive discount takes 10% off the price of either version of the shirt when applied at checkout using code FOOTBALLITALIA10. That means the stadium shirt comes in at under £60 before tax and delivery, and the pro version at under £80.
In terms of everything that appeals about certain football shirts, this may take a step too far out of tradition for some tastes, but it does so with such unique style and direction that it’s really one to not miss out on.
— Summary —
The 2021-22 season is one of managed change on the pitch and behind the scenes at San Siro for the black and blue half of Milan. Likewise, and almost unwittingly, this is also reflected in the kit the team are dressed in – it may take a bit of getting used to for die-hard fans, but by the end of the year this stands to be seen as one of the best kits the club has had in recent years.
And for the rest of us who aren’t so tied to the club but love a great kit, this is certainly one to add to the collection. Stadium or player version, there’s nothing quite like this set of threads anywhere else in the game. In a period of almost hyper-design of football shirts, the Inter home kit represents the perfect stylistic weave between club identity and fresh thinking.
The 2021-22 Inter home shirt is available at Subside Sports, with any number of additional options available, including League, Champions League and sponsor patches for the sleeve, Scudetto shield for the chest, versions of the shirt with or without the $Inter sponsor on the front and, of course, a choice between the Dri-Fit regular version of the shirt seen in this review and the more expensive, authentic Dri-Fit ADV version.
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