Kitbag.com is home to scores of football’s most established clubs; but also a number of rising forces on the European scene. While recent weeks have seen German champions Bayern Munich’s throne threatened by newly-promoted RB Leipzig, Bundesliga enthusiasts have been similarly impressed by the stunning form of Hoffenheim, whose unbeaten start to the season stands 11 matches strong. Meanwhile in France, the Eaglets of Nice have soared to the pinnacle of Ligue 1, establishing a three-point lead at the time of writing over Monaco and holders Paris Saint-Germain. In light of the success of Leicester City in England, could the phenomena of the underdog champion be spreading to mainland Europe? Kitbag.com recounts the surge in success at these clubs, along with some of the history that led them to this point.
Representing a miniscule German village of little more than 3,000 dwellers, Hoffenheim have never won the Bundesliga championship, nor the nation’s flagship DFB-Pokal Cup. In fact, as recently as 2000, the Baden-Württemberg club was a fifth division outfit, before a cash injection from local software billionaire and former Hoffenheim youth player Dietmar Hopp kick-started their rapid rise. Labouring to a 15th place finish in 2016 after a number of seasons floating around the mid-table, the appointment of fresh-faced manager Julian Nagelsmann was seen by some parties as a mere publicity stunt. Nevertheless, the 29-year old has done much to revive Hoffeinheim’s fortunes, bringing the side up from a lowly starting block of 17th in last season’s standings. Starting the current campaign with four consecutive draws, Hoffenheim bounded to five wins on the bounce under Nagelsmann’s tutelage. Meanwhile, in their first league outing of November, Hoffenheim even led at the Allianz Arena, only to be denied a famous victory over Bayern Munich by an unfortunate own goal. While their contemporaries in Leipzig have certainly divided opinion, the neutral will surely be hoping Hoffenheim can continue their unlikely strides as the ongoing season progresses.
Unlike Hoffenheim, Nice are not without top flight championship pedigree, winning Ligue 1 multiple times in their 112-year history. However, the club’s most recent success was as long ago as 1959, with all four of their French titles accrued during what proved to be a golden decade for the club. In the nation’s flagship Coupe de France, Nice captured silverware twice in the 1950s, winning the 1952 final against Bordeaux by five goals to three, before edging out Marseille 2-1 two years later. In 1978, a near-miss saw Nice beaten 1-0 by Nancy at Paris’ Parc des Princes; a game where a certain Michel Platini popped up with the only goal. Nevertheless, Nice would go on to lift the trophy at the Parc de Princes, albeit not for almost another 20 years. The 1997 Coupe de France final was the very last to be held at the famous old ground, before the opening of the Stade de France months later. A closely-fought affair, Nice broke the deadlock against Guingamp through Youssef Salimi and held onto their advantage for almost an hour, until Nicolas Laspalles pulled the opposition level. A climactic penalty shoot-out ensued, with Dutchman Arjan Vermulen converting the winning spot kick.
Fast-forwarding to more modern times, Nice earned a fourth-placed finish in 2015-16, but were significantly bolstered in the summer by the signing of maverick marksman Mario Balotelli; the former Liverpool and Manchester City man arriving at the Allianz Riviera on a deadline day free transfer. Despite his past controversies, Balotelli has thus far proven to be a choice addition to the Nice squad, scoring an ultimately-crucial penalty in the 3-2 win over Marseille and a brace in the 4-0 thumping of Monaco ten days later. While October saw Balotelli dismissed for two late bookings against Lorient, he had already contributed another goal to the cause that day and would bounce back before the month was out, making the scoresheet again in the 4-1 destruction of Nantes. Nice’s first defeat of the season came against lowly Caen in November, but the Eaglets would quickly recover to win at St. Etienne a fortnight later. Meanwhile, in addition to their Ligue 1 exploits, Nice are one of 18 clubs on Kitbag.com still involved in this season’s UEFA Europa League. As things stands, Nice’s European results have not exactly reflected their domestic success, with a home defeat to Schalke being followed by a 5-2 thrashing by Krasnodar. Nevertheless, a useful 1-0 win at Salzburg in October has kept Lucien Favre’s side in the hunt, for now at the very least.
Worn in the victories against Marseille, Monaco, Lorient, Lyon and Nantes, Nice’s home shirt design for 2016-17 carries a slim silhouette and a ribbed collar finish; the French team’s vertical striping embellished effectively by smart colour sleeve trim. In addition to Macron’s signature shoulder motif branding, each jersey bears club-specific ‘Issa Nista’ wording at the back neck, derived from a popular supporters’ song. Nice fans can furthermore enjoy a superior level of comfort as their Ligue 1 title chase hots up, courtesy of special micromesh inserts, as well as Macron’s sweat-eradicating MPerformance System fabric. The new Nice change jersey meanwhile, worn against Rennes in the season opener and later in the win at Metz, preserves the home shirt’s colours at the sides, not to mention the sleeve and collar trim sections. Mirroring the style employed for the first kit, each away jersey carries Nice’s eagle-themed crest with pride, with their 1904 formation date presented within its scroll.
Crossing the French/German border, Hoffenheim’s efforts for 2016-17 differ in their core and collar styles, yet retain the consistency of an effective sea blue, white and black palette. Used for the Bundesliga wins against Schalke, Freiburg and Hertha Berlin, the club’s modern cut home jersey is defined by its four diagonal stripes; divisive elements that create an unconventional flat wave-style patterning. Some might see this as fitting, with Hoffenheim riding the crest of their out-of-the-ordinary start. Other aspects of note meanwhile include the team’s modern and minimalist crest (represented in impactful 3D form), as well as a two-colour collar and brand-specific sleeve variation which integrates the Lotto logo. However, while the Hoffenheim home shirt fuses features and function effectively, its away day equivalent may well take the fashion crown; a fresh and understated white effort with cool, classic polo collar and button placket. With both jerseys carrying ‘achtzehn99’ lettering at the neck (a nod to the team’s 1899 origins), today’s Hoffenheim outfit, much like their Nice counterparts, are clearly aware of their story. However, only time will tell if one or both of these proud European clubs ends up completing their most famous chapter to date. AC