From London to Paris, fashion weeks are a time in which the worlds of creativity collide, and self-expression is encouraged.
It’s a space that footballers have become far more comfortable in, and symbolises how far the game has come with regards to cultural fluidity.
The relationship between fashion and football has developed to such an extent that ballers aren’t just passive guests, but active contributors. Last summer, Eduardo Camavinga walked for Balenciaga alongside Nicole Kidman, Dua Lipa and Kim Kardashian. The same week, Moise Kean walked for NYC label KidSuper.
The lines between these fields of play aren’t just blurred, they arguably no longer exist. It’s a new reality but some still have their heads in the clouds. Just ask Serge Gnbary.
The last two weeks has seen Gnabry at the centre of an ugly and public tug-of-war between two competing ideals in the modern game: ‘footballers should stick to football’ vs ‘footballers are allowed to be humans with outside interests’.
The Bayern Munich baller attended Paris Fashion Week on his day off – time granted by the Bundesliga club – and was spotted at an array of shows including Gucci’s. Most would consider Gnabry’s attendance to be inoffensive and a natural fit, given he’s someone who takes an outside interest in fashion and modelled adidas’ collab with Gucci last year.
But someone who did take offence was Bayern’s Sporting Director, Hasan Salihamidžić, who labelled the German winger’s behaviour (during his down-time) as “amateurish”.
Instead of seeing Gnabry’s visit to Paris as a trip centred around his interests and passion points, Salihamidžić called him out for “messing around on a day off”. CEO and German legend Oliver Kahn went one step further and said he hopes Gnabry learns his lesson and “responds by scoring goals”.
For context, Gnabry did play in the game that immediately followed his return from PFW but was dropped from the Starting XI for the side’s most recent draw against Eintracht Frankfurt.
What’s important to highlight and reiterate is that Gnabry’s ‘day off’ was actually sanctioned by the club, and by flying out to PFW he had not broken any rules at all. The criticisms by the club in the immediate aftermath therefore weren’t only confusing, but point to a bigger issue: what is football’s problem with fashion?
"It points to a tension that exists around race and class between those who run the game, and those who play it."
It seems some people take issue with anything deemed ‘untraditional’ in the world of football. We’ve repeatedly seen Marcus Rashford’s level of professionalism called into question as a result of his humanitarian endeavours. We’ve seen Vinícius Júnior experience the most abhorrent racist abuse simply because of his exuberant, amazingly Brazilian dancing. We’ve seen Dele Alli be ridiculed on public television by former players and pundits for choosing to wear a Prada jacket and Lanvin sneakers to a player unveiling. And when we say ‘people’, we’re specifically talking about the likes of Salihamidžić. Those who are out of touch with not only the modern game, but the modern-day player. Individuals who are threatened by athletes showing the world they’re more than machines, simply focused on winning.
All of the above examples also point to a tension that exists around race and class between those who run the game, and those who play it. For a prime example, compare the reaction to Manuel Neuer’s recent ski trip – where he broke his leg – with the moral outcry caused by Gnabry’s decision to watch a runway show.
Oliver Kahn said the club will “stand by Neuer and accompany him on his way to recovery”. Salihamidzic said “Manuel will receive all the support he needs…he can rely on FC Bayern!”
Our point isn’t that Neuer should be subject to criticism like Gnabry, instead that Gnabry should receive similar levels of support and not be subjected to public shaming or questions of professionalism. Why he faced such criticism, and why Neuer didn’t, is open to interpretation.
A wise scholar once said that people fear what they do not understand. And just because people do not understand fashion, does not make it a negative.
What’s worrying is, individuals like Salihamidžić are the ones in positions of power. They’re the ones pulling the strings whilst those who pull the strings in midfield are being persecuted for simply showing their personalities off the pitch, on their days off.
In 2023, we should not be in a place in which players' personalities and interests are called into question purely because they’re not understood or ‘liked’ by those with authority.
Gnabry’s behaviour was neither “amateurish” nor in need of a “strong performance” to rectify his actions. In fact, prior to the winter break Gnabry scored six goals in just as many games, his best spell of the season so far.
If anything, feeling as if he can take a break from his job in order to continue – or better his recent run of form – should be encouraged.
Human first, athlete second. Always.