Back in the pre-digital days, it was obviously more difficult to get a full picture of a team’s kit history, especially foreign sides.
While pictures might have occasionally featured in the newspapers or in Shoot!, they were often out of context or out of date – for example, when Arsenal played France in a friendly in 1989 (wearing their away kit at home), the programme cover had an image of Michel Platini from the 1986 World Cup.
Throw in the fact that some countries, like Romania, changed so often and it perhaps becomes understandable as to why it took so long for us to realise that the France underage teams, particularly the U21 side or espoirs (‘hopes’), had adidas kits which often differed from those worn by the senior side.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the practice started. There was one shirt from around 1980 that we were sure fitted into this category, but instead it was worn once by the senior team and will be the subject of its own article soon. Equally, in Jean-Pierre Papin’s time as an U21, they wore a v-necked version of the double-pinstriped 1982 shirt, but the senior side also used this in 1983.
The first instance of a home shirt worn by the juniors and not the seniors that we can find is this mid-to-late 80s template, which was of course resurrected by adidas for Russia at the 2018 World Cup.
The long-sleeved versions differed slightly in that they had inset v-necks. Also, you’ll notice that, above, we mentioned home shirts not worn by the seniors – the long-sleeved away version of this was inexplicably used by the first team on one occasion, against Iceland in 1987 (note how they still had their bespoke shorts, with the underage sides having standard versions).
France won the European U21 Championship in 1988, beating Greece in the final – however, for that successful campaign they were wearing the same kit as the seniors wore from 1986-89. During the celebrations, both shirts featured.
Often, the annual Toulon Tournament was the showcase for these non-senior kits. In 1991, with Zinedine Zidane in the side, France reached the final, losing to an Alan Shearer-powered England. They were wearing a Frenchified version of the Colombia shirt seen at the 1990 World Cup.
For the following year’s tournament, France wore the new adidas Equipment kit that that the senior team had, but at some other stage in 1992 – we’re not exactly sure when – they had an older style, featuring dual sleeve bars.
The adidas Equipment kit was back for the 1994 European U21 Championship but, for Toulon in 1995, there was another deviation, using a template which didn’t see much use elsewhere – Montpellier are one of the few examples we can think of.
One thing of note with these two kits is that, while they had the same sleeve design on the front, they differed on the back.
The all-white was worn as France lost to Italy in the 1996 European U21 Championship final and there was also defeat in the Toulon decider against Brazil, where all-blue was worn, nearly a decade before the senior team would take the field in such a look.
The U21 team kits synched up with the seniors after that, with the hosts winning Toulon in 1997 in the more recognisable strip.
One small change came in 1999, when, for an away game against Italy, red shorts rather than blue were worn, but otherwise there was no more discord.
Or at least there wasn’t at U21 level. One final alternative came in that same year of 1999, with the France U18s wearing a kit in the same design as Spain had had at the previous year’s World Cup.