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Soccer-Brazil still in love with iconic strip

Reuters

By Steve Keating

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, June 13 (Reuters) - It is more identifiable than the Brazilian flag, more instantly recognisable than Pele or Ronaldo or any of the illustrious players who have worn the world's most famous sporting kit.

It is a uniform worth a reported $1.6 billion to American sports apparel giant Nike, which entered into a rights deal with the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) in 1996 to market the strip designed 61 years ago by Aldyr Garcia Schlee, a young cartoonist and prize-winning author.

For Brazilians, the canary yellow jersey, blue shorts and white socks are more than a uniform, they have become part of their identity, a symbol of national pride as the country bids for a record sixth World Cup in the iconic colours.

Like almost every aspect of Brazilian football, the creation of the national team uniform is a tale rooted in romance.

But for Garcia Schlee it was an affair that ended in disillusionment and love lost, the award-winning novelist and journalist who gave the country one of its proudest symbols landing in prison during Brazil's military dictatorship period and turning his soccer allegiance to Uruguay.

"There's definitely a romance about the Brazilian attitude to the game and their philosophy on exciting, attacking football mirrors our own," Nike spokesman Charlie Brooks said.

"For many fans, historically, Brazil was everybody's second team and the World Cup being held here will reinforce that.

"The yellow jersey is so recognisable, it's an icon in its own right in world football and our partnership with Brazil has been crucial in our journey from being a newcomer in football in the mid-1990's to the world's leading football brand today.

"Our founder Phil Knight once said that we would only really understand football when we saw it through Brazilian eyes."

Traumatized by a loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final On home soil, Brazil was plunged into years of national mourning.

FRESH START

It was eventually determined the national team required a new identity, a fresh start that prompted one of Brazil's national newspapers to hold a competition to design a new uniform that would replace the tired white with blue trim kit.

Garcia Schlee, a teenager growing up near the Uruguayan border in the town of Pelotas, was intrigued and sketched over one hundred ideas before settling on and submitting the design that has become a soccer fashion staple.

"Initially I wasn't going to enter the competition because I didn't quite understand the rules," Garcia Schlee, explained in an interview with FIFA.com.

"I thought you had to put all four colours of the national flag on the shirt.

"I found that ridiculous and decided not to enter.

"Then I realised it was possible to interpret the rules differently by designing a shirt that favoured the colours that represent our identity the green and yellow, leaving the socks and shorts to take care of the blue and white."

From Rio to Rome, Sao Paulo to Saudi Arabia, Schlee's creation can be found in closets around the world.

The Brazil shirt is Nike's top selling international jersey and the company did one billion dollars worth of business in the South American country last year.

Nike, which also sponsors Neymar the young striker who is shouldering much of the host nation's expectation, expects Brazil to be its third largest market in the world by 2017, behind only the United States and China.

"Brazil is our best-selling national federation kit and we've seen a great response to the kits we introduced this year for World Cup. Brazil's victory in the opening game will hopefully add to that feelgood factor and momentum," said Brooks.

"The yellow jersey is so recognisable, it's an icon in its own right in world football." (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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