But behind the mirrored glass facade which dominates the front of the property, Fabrizio Taddei told those invited to attend the consummation of a pioneering agreement between Italian sportswear manufacturer Errea, Sheffield United and their sister clubs within the United World network that people were creating magic.
“The designs are wonderful, unique and innovative,” he told the visitors from England, Belgium, France and Switzerland; where UW’s operations are based. “And the human touch, the imagination, that’s very important. We attempt to realise ideas and concepts which others either can’t or don’t want to. So let me show you inside.”
It is a sign of how significant Errea and UW believe their new partnership to be that Roberto Gandolfi and Taddei, the Italian’s vice-president and head of global partnerships respectively, were on hand to greet the chief executives of United, Beerschot and Chateauroux when they visited to company’s headquarters on Thursday. Ostensibly the event was designed to officially sign what has been described as a “multi year” contract. But as Gandolfi, Taddei and other members of staff guided their visitors along a path lined with UW flags bearing the crests of its five member teams, it quickly became apparent the tour was also designed to explain the thinking behind the project. Starting in a museum lined with kits produced by the firm, Taddei then guided his guests through the entire shirt-making process; introducing them to Errea’s designers, fabric cutters, distribution workers and finally seamstresses before presenting Abdullah Alghamdi, UW’s chief executive, with a one-off jersey to celebrate the occasion.
The party was later treated to a private viewing of Parma Calcio 1913’s museum and stadium.
Before United’s CEO Steve Bettis told The Star that the opportunity to produce bespoke kits rather than select from a series of templates was a factor behind his employers’ decision to sever their ties with Adidas, Taddei said: “Every single one of our clients and partners works with their own designer and representative from Errea. They send us their ideas and then we come up with examples, working closely together all the time to make sure it is exactly what they want.
“Sometimes, although not in this case, we have created things which are not to our taste or liking. But the customer must always come first.”
Speaking during a briefing with journalists afterwards, Bettis explained in detail how United’s relationship with Errea will be different to the one they enjoyed with the German multinational: “We enjoyed working with them and were pleased with the products but there are some important things which have changed.”
Firstly, and crucially, he called Errea “sponsors” rather than partners, because although United are paying them to produce their sporting, training and leisure apparel, they will effectively be putting money into Bramall Lane’s coffers. The deal is initially understood to be scheduled to last around four years. It is common practice for both parties to insert break clauses into such arrangements, however no details on this were provided.
Together with their counterparts from Belgium and France - logistics meant it was impossible for executives from Kerala United and Al-Hilal United, who complete the UW portfolio, to travel - United have entered into what those involved believe “to be the first of its kind with regards to multi club structures”. Others, in the spheres of finance and technology, are expected to follow as UW looks to increase collaboration between those under its banner despite Henry Mauriss’ attempted takeover of United. The American businessman’s £115m offer, which is being scrutinised and considered by the English Football League, does not extend to the rest of UW; meaning United would be removed from the structure, which was established by HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to oversee his sporting interests.
Although United have yet to unveil images of their new first, second and third choice strips, some clues about what they look like did emerge during the event. The back of the home jersey is likely to be striped, as the EFL prepare to follow the Premier League’s lead by prohibiting such designs, while Bettis acknowledged “a nod to history” has been included in the away shirts.
One difference United’s players are likely to notice, Taddei informed his audience, is the “personal touch” he insisted Errea will bring.
“In the past, people like Fabrizio Ravenelli and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink have worn our shirts, who you will know in England of course. They both liked long sleeves and some companies won’t provide these anymore. We will, if that is what the person wants and feels comfortable in. Also, if they don’t want full length sleeves for instance but want something a little bit longer than usual, we can do this for them too.”
The possible one-off’s
Paul Heckingbottom’s squad begin preparing for the new season next week, undergoing a series of fitness and conditioning tests at the Randox Health Academy before departing for a warm weather training camp near Lisbon.
Beaten in the Championship play-off semi-finals last term, they hope their visit to the Portuguese capital will help lay the foundations for a return to the top-flight after 12 months away.
Holding aloft a replica jersey Norwich City, one of Errea’s former clients, produced to celebrate a momentous occasion, Taddei said: “We bring the flexibility, being happy to work with smaller shipments, to produce one-off concepts like this if there is something that demands it.”