Earlier this year, the football rumour mill went into overdrive. Where this kind of speculation normally means a major signing or a manager on the verge of being sacked, this time it focused on a potential endorsement deal. According to those reports, Jack Grealish was poised to sign a seven figure deal with Gucci that would make him an b official ambassador,b something described as b pretty much unprecedented for a sportsperson.b

In May, Grealish appeared to confirm the rumours in an interview with The Face. While it may have seemed an unconventional move at the time, Grealish was keen to stress how deep his ties were with the Italian luxury house, telling the story of a Gucci wash bag his dad bought him as a present for joining the Aston Villa first team. b I was only 16,b he told the magazine. b It goes that far back!b

The move doesnb t just make sense because of a 10 year old wash bag. Gucci is known for working with unexpected collaborators and ambassadors, and its b Friends of the Houseb often includes musicians (Harry Styles and Celeste), actors (Jared Leto and Dakota Johnson), artists (Ignasi Monreal and Coco Capitan) and chefs (Massimo Bottura). Even trainspotter Francis Bourgeois is a regular presence at their fashion shows.

While this list shows how far and wide Gucci throws the net in terms of ambassadors, the signing of Grealish is still the first time theyb ve worked with a footballer. This move, therefore, gives Gucci a formal entrance into a new market b complete with a direct line to Grealishb s rapidly growing 5.2 million Instagram followers b and the brand followed it up by signing Lionessesb captain Leah Williamson in another b major deal.b Williamson was a special guest at the Gucci Cosmonogie show, sharing her behind-the-scenes pictures with i-D magazine.

Both Grealish and Williamson were obviously partly signed due to their footballing abilities, but the sponsorship deals also hinge on who they are off pitch. Williamson is the leader of a new generation of footballers, and as well as now being a European Champion is also a powerful advocate for women and girlsb access to sports. This ties up with Guccib s own b Chime for Changeb program, described as b a global campaign to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for gender equality.b

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Grealish, on the other hand, has built a tight bond with fans through his down-to-earth approach, including his Premier League winning celebrations at the end of last season. Throughout his career, Grealish has been more outspoken, more up-for-a-laugh and more approachable than most Premier League or international footballers, something that would endear him to Guccib s own ideals. In 2018, Harry Styles became the face of its tailoring campaign, with images showing him holding a chicken in his local chippy. If you had to think of one Premier League footballer willing to do that, youb d probably go for Grealish.

In that sense then, both of these partnerships are driven by the playersb values rather than just their reach. Gucci isn\’t the first luxury brand to do this with football endorsements. One of the most high-profile examples is voice-of-his-generation Marcus Rashford, who signed with Burberry to b champion the power of giving back.b In the statement announcing the partnership, the London-based label said that Rashfordb s b work to support the UKb s youth sits at the heart of our partnership and embodies our commitment to community and going beyond.b

Away from the direct impact of Williamson and Grealish, Guccib s decision to enter the footballing world also helps it lead in a growing area. The overlap between fashion and football has come a long way since David James modelled for Armani in 1995, and nowadays players often attend fashion shows, and sometimes participate themselves. Hector Bellerin, in many ways the OG of the new fashion-forward generation of footballers, walked for Louis Vuitton in 2019 and Trent Alexander-Arnold appeared in a Bottega Veneta campaign in 2021. And then thereb s Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has become a darling of most fashion magazines since he went to New York Fashion Week with Everton teammate Tom Davies in early 2020.

This relationship extends to product as well. Brands have been keen to play with football aesthetics in their collections, most notably Balenciaga whob s football-influenced releases cover everything from black leather football boots to jerseys seemingly inspired by Borussia Dortmund away kits. Gucci also got in on the act 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.

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Guccib s partnerships with Grealish and Williamson therefore make sense in a number of different ways. On a surface level, it gives the Italian luxury house a foothold in the football industry, bringing credibility from two global talents who both have their own platforms and their own reach.

Deeper than that, though, it allows Gucci to work with players who share their values. Both Grealish and Williamson are young, progressive and not scared of being themselves. In this sense, the partnership between these two footballers and one of the worldb s biggest fashion houses is based on principles, not just reach. In an era where players feel more empowered than ever to stay true to themselves, this could be the future.

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