The curious absence of the 2020 RB Leipzig third shirt

In FOOTY.COM’s annual Top 100 Shirts list the 2020 RB Leipzig third shirt ranked 19th, just behind the popular Norway away shirt and ahead of the likes of Marseille, Roma and Venezia.

The design was a hit amongst the collecting community, with many people scurrying to pick it up as soon as it launched last summer. Across the entire range of Air Max-inspired Nike 3rd kits, RB Leipzig’s was (at least from my vantage point) close behind the Inter Milan 3rd in terms of popularity.

I was a big fan of the shirt, and in many ways I would argue the hype was justified from a design perspective, but as the season draws to a close we have to address an important detail. The 2020 RB Leipzig was never worn in a game, and despite being launched as a full kit the design will have the unfortunate distinction of never touching as much as a blade of grass in a competitive fixture.

Why was the 2020 RB Leipzig third shirt not worn?

The most pertinent question in regards to the 2020 RB Leipzig third shirt is simply; why was it never worn?

Looking at the media surrounding the launch of the shirt, everything was pointing towards its usage in official competition. In previous years, Nike teams had utilised their 3rd shirts in European competition especially, and indeed Leipzig’s own club store listed (and continues to list, at a discount) the 3rd shirt as the “RBL UEFA Champions League Jersey 20/21”.

The product description of the shirt makes for amusing reading in hindsight. “Show 100% pride as RB Leipzig attack the international stage this season in the official UEFA Champions League Jersey 20/21 by Nike.”

As if we needed to be teased any more, the club also used various social graphics during the season that incorporated the pattern of the 2020 third shirt. Without wanting to start a conspiracy theory, it’s as if the club were doing everything they could to tell us that the third shirt was indeed planned for the Champions League, but that an organisation beginning with U had pulled the rug out from under their feet.

UEFA are notorious for their shirt regulations, and many a shirt has had to have been modified in order to comply with the rules. This is typically done in more subtle ways, like the simplification of the pattern of the 2019 Roma 3rd shirt (something only real nerds were able to spot!), or the introduction of a plain back to make names and numbers easier to read, but rarely is a shirt completely pulled.

There isn’t an obvious reason why the 2020 RB Leipzig third shirt would fall foul of UEFA regulations, so the theory that they are responsible remains a theory, but given the mysterious nature of the disappearance and the continued insistence even to this day that the shirt is a European shirt, this remains a credible line of inquiry. 

Perhaps the most telling lead however is the very existence of the plain red 4th shirt that Leipzig released in 2020/21. I say released, the teamwear design seemingly came out of nowhere, but despite the low-key launch it was used multiple times during the season to avoid colour clashes.

With the white/red home and purple/orange away, the red 4th kit offered more of a contrast than the blue/orange third, throwing something of a curve ball in the story.

Most teams are rightly accused of wearing away/third/4th kits unnecessarily in order to generate interest and sales, and you can’t help but wonder why Leipzig didn’t wear their 3rd threads even just once to help boost sales? The fact the 4th shirt sold out and the 3rd shirt is still available tells you all you need to know about the negative impact there is with a shirt that simply isn’t worn in a game, no matter how good its design.

Is the 2020 RB Leipzig third shirt more or less collectable now?

This leads me on to a question which is difficult to answer. Is the Leipzig third shirt more or less collectable now on account of its curious absence?

If reports had surfaced that UEFA had swung the ban hammer, or that Leipzig or another party had had a last minute change of heart (sort of like the Chinese FA pulling out at the last minute over the amazing, but ultimately missing, 2018 China away shirt), then I think you could make a claim that the shirt is actually more collectable.

Without any such story, or even as much as a promising rumour, we’re left in the dark. It might sound funny, but a story can make all the difference in terms of a shirt’s collectability. If UEFA had indeed banned the shirt, and we saw a bit of a back and forth from the club and the European governing body, sales likely would have picked up.

Instead, the shirt is still available at the time of writing for a discount price, and we might never know why it was never worn.

To talk more about stock levels, the vast majority of shirts simply aren’t that rare in 2021 because they are produced to a scale which is showing no signs of letting up. There are notable examples, including limited edition shirts (that are actually limited and not just marketed as such) and shirts like the 2019 Roma and Inter 3rd kits which, for whatever reason, flew off the shelves and never returned to full stock levels, but the majority of shirts are available deep into the season and are by consequence not rare.

The 2020 RB Leipzig third shirt falls into that category, and if anything I would argue it’s absence from any competitive game only hurts.

And that leads us to what I think is the most damaging point on the subject of the shirt’s collectability. If a shirt is never worn in a game, is it worth much more than a pre-match or training shirt? As we discussed at the start of the piece, the kit was clearly marked out for competitive use, but with no pictures of the players wearing it in a game, will we remember the shirt as anything other than a pleasing design in the same way we often look at some of the best training or pre-match shirts with fondness, whilst not holding them up on a pedestal like many of the best match kits?

It reminds me a lot of the adidas x Humanrace shirts from the season past. The collection was much talked about, and though the merits of the aesthetics of the shirts was debatable no one could argue with the fact that the usage of the shirts in competitive fixtures for some teams like Juventus and Bayern Munich added considerable value to the shirts.

By contrast, other teams included in the collection like Arsenal and Manchester United were restricted to wearing their designs during pre-game only. It’s highly likely adidas and the clubs applied to the relevant bodies to wear the kits in a game, but the shackles that were ultimately placed on them did the shirts in question no favours.


For everyone’s sake, I hope someone comes out and clarifies exactly what happened with the 2020 RB Leipzig third shirt. Perhaps the mystery of the situation will serve the shirt well in years to come, but I’d expect the opposite effect.

I think we’ve been robbed of both the opportunity to enjoy one of the most interesting designs of the season, and on top of that an intriguing story of a shocking ban or last-minute change which would have made for a good subject for a podcast in 10 years time.

Do you own the shirt? Are you disappointed it was never worn, or instead content or even positive that you’ve got yourself a piece of history? I’d love to hear in the comments below, and indeed I want to say thank to those who got involved in the discussion on Twitter.

Phil Delves

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