Remember the soccer team that went viral after launching a tuxedo-themed kit? Perhaps you’ve seen the excitement caused by a muscular uniform that made players look like characters in a medical school textbook? Or even the club that put together a team of players all dressed up as The Hulk? Well, behind some of the most notorious, daring, and flashy outfits in football is a former gamer turned visionary kit designer.
His name is Juan Francisco Martin Fresneda, 49, a TV manager in Castilla y Leon, Spain who has come up with something Cultural Leonesa’s jersey looks like a tuxedo and bow tie and Palencia’s “skinless” human torso strip. Astorga’s design, which after transformation like Dr. Bruce Banner looked and Zamora’s depiction of the human circulatory system are also of his creation. When released, the kits took off on social media, providing much-needed financial boost to clubs well below Spain’s glamorous elite.
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Martin is no stranger to the struggles of semi-professional teams. He played for several clubs in Spain’s lower leagues, such as his hometown of Gimnastica Segoviana, Melilla, Lorca and Murcia, and even finished third in Segunda Division B. His breakthrough into the world of kit design came in 2014 with Cultural Leonesa consulted who were on the verge of financial ruin and were desperately looking for funding ideas.
“The kits’ designs were born out of necessity,” Martin told ESPN. “Necessity is the mother of invention. I was the director of Leon TV in 2014 and Cultural had a dramatic moment, they had huge debts and were on the verge of liquidation. I worked with their board as a consultant.”
Martin’s background in marketing helped him develop the out-of-the-box idea of the tuxedo jersey. The shirt was an undisputed success, attracting the worldwide attention that Spain’s minor leagues rarely get, and from there other clubs came to it for advice.
“When someone is involved in the world of creativity, there are no limits, but you don’t have to force them either,” he says. “I have a few ideas, but I have to wait for someone to understand them and want them. We’re on a project to play basketball and there are a few other things I’m working on. I’m sure that this is happening in the near future In the future, all clubs – including Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – will have to develop an original third kit to sell because we are in the world of survival, soccer kits are a way to tell stories.
“There are three types of shirts: the beautiful ones made by Nike and Adidas; the ones that are looking for advertisements, like Guijuelo’s [a Spanish club who gained fame for their jersey that appeared to be covered in ham];; and those who play with the emotions I suggest. I got the idea of the emotional shirt that I would design for Madrid and Barca and I’m sure it would sell millions of kits. It has nothing to do with colors, but with emotions. I cannot give any hints because otherwise they would copy them from me … Look, Atletico Madrid fans will buy the Atletico shirt regardless of the design. But if you could manage to make a shirt that tells stories … and maybe have an emotional bond with the club, sales would multiply by 10. “
Martin’s relationship with football grew out of personal tragedy, and his participation in the game is a way of giving back for him.
“My life is a bit like what you can see in the movies,” he says. “When I was 17 my family died in a traffic accident and I was left alone with my father. It was a dramatic situation and football helped me a lot, the family I didn’t have gave me a reason to live I understood football as a school of values and entered the world of football as a coach. I was also on the board of my home club Gimnastica Segoviana. “
Here is the story of Martin’s unique kit designs, in his own words.
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Cultural Leonesa (2014-15)
Motto: “Cultural, the most elegant football team”
Background: “They had big debts and were on the verge of liquidation. I worked with their board of directors as an advisor. It was the 90th anniversary of the club and one night in our WhatsApp group I said I had half an idea as to their fate I asked, “What do you think if Cultural wears a tuxedo for its 90th birthday?” There were jokes that many didn’t see as a good idea. I spoke to Hummel [Cultural’s kit manufacturer at the time] and at first they had doubts, but they offered me an idea. They showed me a design and to be honest it was very ugly. I didn’t like it, but the idea worked. We made some minor changes. The idea was to customize a black shirt and some sort of sticker to make it look like a tuxedo. The final design wasn’t that much prettier, but it had the effect I was looking for. “
A hit: “Within 24 hours there was an absolute avalanche of news around the world. News on five continents. We went from debt-fighting meetings to which of the nine board members would be free to use Japanese or German television We sold between 4,000 and 5,000 of the kits. The problem was that no one expected such a success and Hummel wasn’t ready to meet the demand. We couldn’t meet all the requests. Remember, Cultural was in the third division and in a normal season only the 20 or 30 biggest fans bought the shirt.
“We created this shirt in 2014 and the Qatari group Aspire bought the club the following year[[[[when the club released updated home and away editions of its tuxedo kits]]. And before them, other people were interested in sponsoring the club. “
“There were some criticisms – there were people who said the club lost their identity with this shirt. There was a moment when Cultural played Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey [they lost 13-2 on aggregate]. I told them, “If you went out at the Bernabeu in your dress shirt and half the planet was watching the game, you’d sell 50,000 kits.” But the club prioritized their identity and played with the original kit. “
CD Palencia (2015-16)
Motto: “Leave the Skin”
Background: “A colleague I played with at Lorca called me and told me that Palencia had serious financial problems. They ran them [fourth-tier Tercera Division] Tisch, however, feared they would not be able to play the promotional playoff period of the season because the players were not paid.
“When I played there was a motto in the world of football: ‘We left our skin on the pitch’ [a popular Spanish phrase meaning ‘to give your all’]that’s how the idea of muscles came up. It was difficult because the players didn’t believe. They owed two months’ salary, were two months away from the playoffs and were demanding money or threatening to strike.
“I got one of the shirt sponsors, Ingenova, to invest some money after seeing the success of the Cultural Tuxedo kit. I told them if they support this idea it will be spread around the world. They gave that a credit club for all the money owed to keep them going. “
A hit: “We organized a great event to showcase the kit. We made a pathetic presentation with the tuxedo, it was just a press conference. I learned from that and with Palencia we did a spectacular presentation. At 12:15 pm we were there. ” Journalists from all over the world called, there were hundreds of inquiries. Kappa had predicted they would sell 200 shirts, and in just an hour they were all selling. Palencia was promoted to Segunda Division B. “
Atletico Astorga (2017-18)
Motto: “The Incredible Astorga”
Background: “I wanted to do a second version of Palencia’s muscle kit. I was thinking of something stronger like The Hulk. I was thinking of teams in the area playing green, and I remembered Astorga. I met with the club president and made her a suggestion She told me it was interesting, but we had to create a brand like we did with the others, so we came up with The Incredible Astorga, which is related to The Hulk.
“I stressed to them that the most important aspect was the disclosure, and We made a spectacular presentation at Gaudi Palace. The presentation was better than the shirt! The kit is arguably the weakest of the four in terms of identity, but the presentation was spectacular. The players kicked by breaking through a wall. “
A hit: “We had inquiries from Japan, China … the big TV channels swallowed up the small town of Astorga. It was impressive. Astorga played the promotion playoffs but didn’t rise because they lost their last game.”
Zamora CF (2018-19)
Motto: “Blood, sweat and tears”
Background: “Zamora was in a dire situation. They owed on the order of € 700,000 and were in the third division. I knew some people who were willing to invest in a football club. They looked at Zamora and I told them they were would have very nice equipment. ” I told them the kit was called Blood, Sweat and Tears. It is based on the heart of Zamora and the route that the blood makes around the body. I gave them a presentation and they liked it.
A hit: “It was a huge success. The best two [kits] In terms of impact, the tuxedo was from Cultural and the Zamora kit. Personally, I think that’s the most beautiful. Zamora did not advance in the 2018/19 season, but they did manage to achieve some stability and they were promoted to Segunda Division B the following season.
“Somehow all four clubs improved in the following years. Cultural was in the third division and they were promoted twice and even played in the Segunda division, Astorga played in the playoffs and Palencia and Zamora were promoted.”