Gucci, adidas Originals and the future of football endorsement deals: Grealish, Williamson and Rashford lead the way
Earlier this year, the football rumor mill kicked into high gear. Where this type of speculation normally means a major signing or a manager about to be sacked, this time it focused on a potential endorsement deal. According to these reports, Jack Grealish was set to sign a seven-figure deal with Gucci that would make him an “official ambassador”, something described as “pretty much unprecedented for a sportsman”.
In May, Grealish appeared to confirm the rumors in an interview with The Face. Although it might seem like an unconventional move at the time, Grealish was keen to highlight just how deep his ties were to the Italian luxury house, telling the story of a Gucci toiletry bag his father bought him as a gift for joining the Aston Villa first team. . “I was only 16,” he told the magazine. “It goes back so far!”
The move doesn’t make sense just because of a 10-year-old toiletry bag. Gucci is known for working with unexpected collaborators and ambassadors, and its “friends from home” often include musicians (Harry Styles and Celeste), actors (Jared Leto and Dakota Johnson), artists (Ignasi Monreal and Coco Capitan ) and chefs (Massimo Bottura). Even the trainspotter Francis Bourgeois is regularly present at their fashion shows.
Although this list shows just how far Gucci casts the net in terms of ambassadors, Grealish’s signing is still the first time they’ve worked with a footballer. The move therefore gives Gucci an official entry into a new market – with a direct line to Grealish’s rapidly growing 5.2 million Instagram followers – and the brand has followed up by signing Lionesses captain Leah Williamson in another. “major chord”. Williamson was a special guest at the Gucci Cosmonogie show, sharing her behind-the-scenes photos with iD magazine.
Grealish and Williamson were obviously signed in part because of their footballing abilities, but sponsorship deals also depend on who they are off the pitch. Williamson is leading a new generation of footballers and, as well as now being European champions, she is also a powerful advocate for women and girls’ access to sport. This joins Gucci’s own “Chime for Change” programme, described as “a global campaign to gather, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for gender equality”.
Grealish, on the other hand, has bonded strongly with fans through his down-to-earth approach, including his Premier League victory celebrations at the end of last season. Throughout his career, Grealish has been more outspoken, playful and approachable than most Premier League or international footballers, which would endear him to Gucci’s own ideals. In 2018, Harry Styles became the face of his couture campaign, with images showing him holding a chicken at his local chippy. If you had to think of a Premier League footballer willing to do that, you’d probably go for Grealish.
In that sense, both of these partnerships are driven by player values rather than reach. Gucci is not the first luxury brand to do so with football endorsements. One of the most publicized examples is Marcus Rashford, the voice of his generation, who signed with Burberry to “champion the power to give back”. In the statement announcing the partnership, the London-based label said “Rashford’s work to support UK youth is at the heart of our partnership and embodies our commitment to the community and goes beyond.”
Far from the direct impact of Williamson and Grealish, Gucci’s decision to enter the world of football also helps him lead in a growing field. The overlap between fashion and football has come a long way since David James modeled for Armani in 1995, and nowadays players often attend fashion shows and sometimes participate in them themselves. Hector Bellerin, in many ways the OG of the new generation of forward-thinking footballers, walked the runway for Louis Vuitton in 2019 and Trent Alexander-Arnold appeared in a Bottega Veneta campaign in 2021. And then there’s Dominic Calvert- Lewin, who has become a darling of most fashion magazines since heading to New York Fashion Week with his Everton teammate Tom Davies in early 2020.
This relationship also extends to the product. Brands have been keen to play with football aesthetics in their collections, including Balenciaga, whose football-influenced releases cover everything from black leather football boots to shirts seemingly inspired by Borussia Dortmund’s away kits. Gucci also stepped in with its adidas Originals collaboration earlier this year, which nodded to terrace culture and arrived in a campaign featuring Paul Pogba, Serge Gnabry, Jude Bellingham and David Alaba.
Gucci’s partnerships with Grealish and Williamson therefore take on their full meaning. On the surface, it gives the Italian luxury house a foothold in the football industry, bringing the credibility of two global talents who both have their own platforms and reach.
Deeper than that, however, it allows Gucci to work with actors who share their values. Both Grealish and Williamson are young, progressive and not afraid to be themselves. In this sense, the partnership between these two footballers and one of the biggest fashion houses in the world is based on principles, not just on scope. In a time when gamers feel more capable than ever of staying true to themselves, this could be the future.