Bukayo Saka takes the ball out from the back and switches it across the pitch to Tanguy Ndombele, who after a pirouette around his opposing midfielder lays it off to Rose Lavelle. The USWNT midfielder holds the ball, allowing Sadio Mané to find the necessary space to receive the ball, after which he feints to shoot with his right, before instead dinking the ball to Raheem Sterling who is coming off of his left wing and into the path of the ball. Clear on goal, Manchester City’s talisman controls with one touch, before striking the ball low into the bottom corner.
At this point I should probably explain where this hypothetical team of ballers has come from, and where such a goal could be constructed. This is what a 5-a-side team of the best New Balance footballers would look like, and – in my head anyway – this would be one of the many goals they would score in some sort of intra-brand, round robin 5-a-side competition, taking on Messi’s adidas and Mbappe’s Nike.
And if one of Lavelle, Mané and co. get tired, then they can simply sub off for one of Harvey Elliott or Ebere Eze. They might be a bit lacking in the goalkeeping department, but I’m trusting the running of Saka and press-resistance of Ndombele to keep the ball for NBFC. As for their kits, they can choose from any one of Porto, Lille or, as of next season, Roma’s shirts.
What this fantasy 5-a-side team represents is the growth of New Balance’s football activities. Having been written-off by many following their loss of the Liverpool and Celtic kit manufacturer deals last season, the American brand have re-emerged this season with stunning kit designs for some of Europe’s most interesting teams, sleek and stand-out boot designs, and the signing of some of the game’s hottest talent.
New Balance are staking their claim in the football landscape, and this is how they are doing it.
New Balance kits
Losing the fan base and commercial reach of clubs the size of Celtic and Liverpool is undoubtedly difficult, but New Balance responded in the best possible way this season, producing some of the best kits in Europe. Pivoting from those clubs, NB’s current roster of teams still includes a selection of teams with a prestigious history in the game, and now they have the shirts to match.
Let’s start with newly crowned French champions, Lille. The shock title winners claimed their winners medals wearing their classic chevron home shirt, but in truth it has been their away and third jerseys that have really grabbed our attention. The black away outfit is brought to life with splattered dots of red white and blue – the clubs main colours – while the third shirt is a white jersey that allows its crest and logo to stand out thanks to subtle blue and red drop shadows.
Porto were another team who caught our eye wearing New Balance this season, and once again it was all about the features. Having nailed the use of thinner stripes on the home shirt, the use of bright yellow features made the entire shirt pop, and showed just how important such a subtle change can be. This effect was replicated in the team’s away shirt, which featured a dark shade of blue, complimented by silver features, along with a splash of burnt orange on the sleeves.
Accompanying these clubs on the New Balance roster are Athletic Club and Dynamo Kyiv, with the latter’s upcoming 2021/22 away shirt being highlighted by New Balance designer Joe Gillibrand as “something we should keep an eye out for”.
There is certainly an aesthetic that goes with all New Balance kits which mixes linear, panelled designs with engaging features. This approach to design has undoubtedly won over fans in France, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine and beyond this season, and all of this is before we have even seen next season’s Roma kits!
New Balance boots
If the football shirt manufacturing world seems overly dominated by Nike and adidas, then it is still nothing compared to the world of football boots. Whether it is the Nike Mercurial or the adidas Predator, both brands have spent decades ensuring that their name – and their boots – are firmly part of every football viewer’s lexicon.
Trying to elbow your way into that world is no mean feat (or feet?) but New Balance are certainly making a go at it. Their two main models right now are the Tekela and the Furon, with the former in its third edition, while the latter is in its sixth. Previous editions of these boots looked solid, but arguably lacked imagination in allowing the intricate design details to truly stand-out.
With the latest versions, however, the panelling and midsole design catch the eye immediately thanks to new colour schemes. This also allows the brand’s logo to sit and stand out on the boot, letting everyone know that New Balance have most definitely arrived on the scene, and luckily they now have the players to show them off.
New Balance players
Tying footballers down to your brand is a difficult task, unless you are Nike or adidas. For decades, the practice of the larger brands has seen players backed from their teenage years, with large endorsement contracts enticing promising players, and as a result ensuring that the big brands get their hands on the next big thing before anyone even knows his or her name.
But that strategy is beginning to change. The Athletic reported back in February that Nike in particular were restructuring their approach to endorsement, and as a result offering fewer renewal deals to players coming to the end of a boot deal. In the report, Adam Crafton listed the players released as including – but not limited to – “Thiago, PSG star Neymar, Real Madrid trio Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marco Asensio, Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka, as well as Bayern Munich’s Leroy Sane and Robert Lewandoswki.”
For other brands, this signalled the opportunity to sign-up players that previously seemed out of reach, and New Balance have acted quickly to secure some of the game’s most exciting players.
The most recent of those signings was announced last week in the shape of Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling. After his Nike deal expired in 2020, the forward has regularly been playing in blacked-out boots this season – a common practice amongst players looking for a new endorsement deal, as they try not to annoy potential manufacturers looking to sign them – but last week was able to debut his ‘Furon RS edition’ boots, as he signed a long-term deal with New Balance, promising collaboration both on and off the field.
Sterling joins Liverpool winger, Sadio Mane, and USWNT and OL Reign midfielder, Rose Lavelle, on the NB Football roster, with Lavelle’s bespoke, all white ‘Tekela V3 Sweet Chaos’ boots grabbing our attention in March. This tailored, personal care, alongside off-field activities, is a huge selling point for those New Balance are courting, and hopefully it will mean their team continues to grow.
New Balance young talent
Perhaps more important than signing the current best players, is the ability of brands to sign the up-and-coming players, and those who will be the next to dominate the world game. This is where New Balance’s approach has really been able to shine, as they have set-about signing deals with some of the hottest young talent in the Premier League.
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka was first, meaning that as well as those beautiful adidas x Arsenal shirts, we will also get to see the Hale End boy in some New Balance boots. Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott was the next to be announced, and coming off the back of a stunning season with Blackburn Rovers at just 17 years-old, this is a signing that could pay off for both parties for years to come. Eberechi Eze also joined the team, after having impressed all season long for Crystal Palace. Hopefully his recent long-term achilles injury does not prevent us from seeing him in New Balance boots for too long.
All three players have a strong connection with their clubs’ fan bases, and represent the dynamic path New Balance is looking to take. It feels inevitable that one day these Young Lions could line-up alongside Raheem Sterling for the England senior team, which would surely be a moment that New Balance have been building towards for a long time. And who knows, when that day comes they might be the ones kitting out England.
As a brand, New Balance may still have some way to go in terms of making that ‘NB’ logo as synonymous with football as their competitors at Nike and adidas, but with the help of eye-catching designs, bespoke boots and engaging, culturally relevant players wearing those threads and kicks, their rise is something we should all be paying attention to. We cannot wait to see what they come out with next.