What the Nigerian World Cup jersey is, and what it is not

Fans queued outside Nike’s flagship store for several hours in the morning of Friday, 1 June for the release of Nigeria’s World Cup jersey for Russia 2018.  The lines snaked down London’s Regent’s Street as Nigerian and non-Nigerian fans alike waited to get their hands on the jersey. Nigeria may not be one of the favorites to win the World Cup, but the Super Eagles’ jersey seems to be a favorite with football fans around the world.

The kit is currently creating buzz around Africa’s most-populous nation, following the N743 million ($3.75 million) partnership between the Nigerian Football Federation and Nike over three-and-half-years. Discussions surrounding the kit are easily found in corners of the Internet. Some have stretched the world’s acceptance of the jersey, and used it to rekindle pride in the country. They say the success of the jazzy kit proves that Nigeria is not a shithole country, after all, referencing the January 2018 comments of American President Donald Trump, who had ​reportedly questioned why the US would want to have immigrants from Haiti and African nations, referring to some as “shithole countries”.

The World Cup’s most anticipated football kit features was designed by Matthew Wolff and inspired by the iconic strip worn for the 1994 World Cup in the USA, the first World Cup appearance where Nigeria recorded her highest ever finish by exiting in the second round, while ranking fifth in the world rankings—the highest FIFA ranking position ever achieved by an African football team.

Fans queued outside the Nike shop on Regan street in London on 1 June, waiting to buy Nigeria's World Cup jersey
Fans queued outside the Nike in London on 1 June, waiting to buy Nigeria’s World Cup jersey. Photo: Twitter

Nike’s streetwise design for the Nigeria’s World Cup team kit has made people eager to splash out N32,400 ($90) for a shirt, despite President Trump’s comments, former British Prime Minister David Cameron comments in May 2016 describing Nigeria as a fantastically corrupt country, and the reputation of internet fraud which seems to precede citizens wherever they may be. An interview with CNN saw most saying they would be rooting passionately for the team.

According to a poll by Sky Sports, the Nike design for Nigeria currently tops the list of the best kits that will be worn in Russia by the 32 teams participating in the global tournament. And when the Super Eagles wore the new Nike kit in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to England at Wembley Stadium, a Nigeria team official told KweséESPN several Three Lions players requested and exchanged shirts with the visitors after the game.

This enthusiasm is sustained in Nigeria, too, despite counterfeit shirts flooding the market for at least a month, and the original being sold at almost double the country’s minimum wage. “It’s unique, the pride of a nation, it’s a part of our country, a part of our heritage,” a fan told the Press Association. “Even people who are not Nigerians want to buy the shirt and that should say a lot.”

I doubt there is a lot to say though. Nigerians are a very fashionable people. And Nike’s designs have portrayed nothing less than the culture—which takes pride in its Ankara designs, Asoebi bellas, and Agbada nation—deserves. The Super Eagle’s kit taps into that celebratory spirit with its patterned designs and floral depictions, which are reminiscent of Kevin Wiley’s portrait of President Obama. Add that to the nostalgic feeling of the last time the country excelled at a World Cup and it is bound to get anyone into their feelings on the performance of the Super Eagles at the tournament this year.

“Those that never see anything good about Nigeria seem to have lost their voices recently about the popularity of the Nigerian football kit. Are you sure it’s the same country you call s***hole country everyday? For every 1 of you, 3 million people will preorder AND pay to believe,” said Dr Joe Abah, former Director-General of Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), on Twitter. And in the ensuing thread he added, “Keep your focus on government but don’t lose sight of the good things happening around you. When they do, pause and recognise them.” The popularity of the Nigeria kit is undeniably positive, but it’s not the proof that Nigeria isn’t a shithole country. Any goodness found in the country will have more to do with its citizens who challenge insurmountable odds and continue to put in exceptional work—even if done from countries they have emigrated to—than it will have to do with a country that lacks favourable laws, policies and structures that its citizens can take pride in and refer back to but has nice jerseys.

We hope the Nigerian team slurp off the jersey’s good vibes and live up to expectations now that everyone is involved and would be looking out for them. Throughout history, the team has qualified for six of the last seven FIFA World Cups (as of 2018), missing only the 2006 World Cup hosted in Germany, and have reached the round of 16 three times. They were the only African team to qualify for both the 2014 and 2018 tournaments.

For the Super jersey though, overwhelming demand means the green-and-white home strip, along with the away jersey and training kit, are still unavailable on the Nike online store. Fans home and abroad will just have to wait and hope Nike comes through with a new batch before the world cup starts, even though the company has said it has no plans to do this.