Michael Houston

As someone who has not watched his national side qualify for the tournament since he was in nappies, my passion for the FIFA World Cup goes far beyond who lifts the trophy.

The history, the iconic goals, the controversies and quite relevant just now, the kits.

As anyone can testify in the insidethegames office, I am a garish dresser and a firm advocate of football shirt culture. Some would shudder at an art student sporting a Fiorentina Nintendo-sponsored retro shirt whilst being unable to do a keepy-up in his chunky shoes, but I will defend them to the hilt.

Because, football shirts are designed to sell and attract. If you take away the badge and what the colours represent, they are purely aesthetic - even with a sponsor whacked on the front that does not fit the style. Looking at you, Dafabet.

Once again, the World Cup shirts are in the headlines and this time thanks to Denmark and Hummel's protest kits, finding a unique way to criticise the host nation Qatar over its human rights record which includes mistreatment of migrant workers and the prohibition of homosexuality.

On meaning alone, these are the best kits for Qatar 2022, having tackled an issue that national teams feared repercussions over if they had made their voices heard through gestures on the pitch.

Denmark's faded out crest and sponsor has become the latest notable shirt release ©Getty Images
Denmark's faded out crest and sponsor has become the latest notable shirt release ©Getty Images

This year's launch has been a mixed bag.

Adidas' range went down very well, with personal touches on the shirts of Mexico, Argentina and Japan, for example. 

In contrast, Nike have again generally been criticised for little creativity, while Puma decided to put kit numbers on the front of their away kits and take a very leftfield approach.

Yes, it is as bad as it sounds.

Across the Atlantic, Brazil's traditionally yellow-and-green home kit is causing controversy for becoming associated with the nation's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has used the colours during his campaigns.

While his Presidential election opponent Lula is trying to change that perspective, the connection is so firm that many choose not to wear the top, while Nike has banned the customisation of its shirts with political references or religious terms.

The Seleção blue away shirt has been the more popular option because of the Bolsonaro affiliation, despite Nike's efforts.

Now we have young people sporting a version of a football shirt that is older than them. Whether through politics, national pride, fashion or being the symbol of victory, World Cup shirts have always been iconic.

Nigeria's 2018 home kit is regarded as a modern masterpiece ©Getty Images
Nigeria's 2018 home kit is regarded as a modern masterpiece ©Getty Images

If we start with the most recent sensation, we have to talk about Nigeria in 2018 - the only football shirt I've seen sell out so much that a black market cannot even stock it. 

Much like anyone whose friend's brother knows a guy, I was offered replicas of international jerseys in the build up to the tournament in Russia. Who could turn down a 20 quid top and who could feel sorry for the middle-man retailer selling them at three times the price?

Alas, my hopes of being covered in green, white and black chevrons were dashed and instead was offered the inferior away version instead. 

At the time, Nike said it had no more stock for pre-orders after three million orders were placed by May - before a ball had even been kicked. To put that in perspective, the highest-selling football club shirts flog around 3.25 million units a year, in a season.

Queues formed on release day and supply could not meet the demand. It was the rare occasion where profit, fashion and homage - as it paid tribute to the 1994 kit - came together harmoniously.

Although Nigeria failed to do anything of real significance at the tournament, several shirts have become synonymous with their nation's success.

Brazil's 1970 home top is often regarded as the classic World Cup shirt. It captures the nostalgia that those Bolsonaro fans think about - the yellow shirt, green collaring, blue shorts. 

This team is often regarded as one of the greatest, if not the best, World Cup side ever; featuring then-veteran Pelé, Jairzinho, dynamic captain Carlos Alberto, and other attacking threats such as Rivelino, Tostão and Gérson. 

What football fans think of Brazil's team today, comes from 1970. Even with the political affiliation now, the national team would not dare to change those sacred colours.

France's Zinedine Zidane, two-time scorer in the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final, lifting the trophy ©Getty Images
France's Zinedine Zidane, two-time scorer in the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final, lifting the trophy ©Getty Images

Fast forward to 1998 and hosts France came into the tournament with little confidence from the public of lifting the trophy. 

Recent performances were poor, only marginally uplifted by a semi-final defeat to the Czech Republic on penalties at Euro 1996 and following on from a disastrous qualifying campaign that saw them fail to make the 1994 World Cup. 

Manager Aimé Jacquet was a man under pressure and the interest was not feverish across the country like it had been two years earlier in England for the Euros.

Yet, a team featuring younger prospects such as Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires mixed with the experience of captain Didier Deschamps, Youri Djokaeff and Marcel Desailly were dominant in the final, beating the much-fancied Brazil 3-0 which revitalised a dormant football nation.

Their red-lined strip mixed with thin white lines is always the first to come to mind, and inspired the top of the Euro 2020 kit - albeit, could not replicate that same success.

Mario Kempes at the 1978 FIFA World Cup ©Getty Images
Mario Kempes at the 1978 FIFA World Cup ©Getty Images

Argentina's victories in 1978 and 1986 will ensure the national home colours will never change, with the classy sky blue and white stripes a symbol of their two great talisman players, Mario Kempes and Diego Maradona; while England's red strip was worn when they lifted the trophy on home soil in 1966 - particularly as it showed a transition into coloured images in the years afterwards, with the famous photo of captain Bobby Moore lifted up on the shoulders of his team-mates.

West Germany's shirt when they lifted the 1990 trophy feels like the perfect time capsule for retro strips, with their traditional white complemented by a zig-zag pattern across the chest in the national flag colours.

It has aged perfectly, much like Croatia's traditional checkerboard style for 1998, a successful tournament for the newly-independent nation; while other countries have kits live on in the "so gaudy it's good" category.

The United States had the most stereotypical fit for its home World Cup in 1994 as the likes of the eccentric ginger defender Alexi Lalas donned a loud uniform with several stars draped across his torso. All it was missing was an eagle.

Alexi Lalas sporting the United States home shirt from the 1994 FIFA World Cup ©Getty Images
Alexi Lalas sporting the United States home shirt from the 1994 FIFA World Cup ©Getty Images

Conversely, the paint splatter look of the Soviet Union's 1990 top has become popular in recent times. 

Ironically, capitalism has appropriated the cool "CCCP" lettering on the front to sell more units in the West than they would have been able to at the time of its release. 

In the same vein, England's 1990 blue-diamond shirt seems to be a staple in the crowds these days at internationals, a reminder of one of the country’s best teams and how close it got to making the World Cup Final again.

Maybe the only trend we do not miss so much are the goalie tops from the nineties, that at best fall into guilty pleasure territory; although it was nice to imagine Rene Higuita and Jorge Campos were heading out to raves after the final whistle.

Jamaica and Mexico's kit for 1998 captured the imagination with its background designs, which continue to be an influence in the current era, and we still find the classy numbers associated with The Netherlands, Italy and Peru from the 1970s today, such as Germany's latest release for Qatar 2022.

And the reality is, these kits we see this winter will be associated with their national teams for years to come.

And a child born in 2030 who is writing a dissertation on the work of Damien Hurst, will be wearing the Japan 2022 home top in a nightclub in 2050.