Aldyr Schlee, designer who created the Brazil soccer jersey that has become a central part of national identity – obituary
Aldyr Schlee, who died at the age of 83, was a renowned writer in his native Brazil, but he was most appreciated there for creating his main emblem of national identity, the yellow jersey worn by the football team of the country – today the most famous sports kit in the world. .
The origin of the jersey dates back to Brazil’s unexpected and humiliating defeat in Rio de Janeiro to their little neighbor, Uruguay, in the last match of the 1950 World Cup. Thanks to the unusual arrangements of the tournament, which involved a final group of four, Brazil only had to draw to become world champions, but lost the game 2-1. Among the blamed scapegoats was the side stripe, then blue and white, considered not to be sufficiently expressive colors of Brazil’s identity; its flag also featured yellow and green, chosen to represent the country’s gold deposits and forests.
Claiming the shirt lacked “moral symbolism,” Rio’s newspaper Correiro da Manhã teamed up with the Brazilian FA to hold a competition for a new design. The only requirement was that it had all four colors on the flag.
Schlee, then 19, worked as an illustrator for the sports pages of a southern newspaper. For fun, he eliminated a hundred different sketches for 10 days for a replacement strip.
Once he realized that the shirt “had to be yellow” – green tending to obscure details – the rest of the design fell into place. He used green for the trim, blue for the shorts with white details and mostly white socks. Schlee discussed his ideas with his family, but it was his cousin Adolfo who took the initiative and sent in the drawings, four days after the deadline.
A few months later, Schlee was amazed to see one morning in his journal that his design had beaten several hundred other entries. Brazil first wore the new kit in a 1954 World Cup qualifier against Chile.
Schlee speculated that after being knocked out from this tournament, it would be changed again. Instead, it was retained and rose to fame when Young Pelé’s team won the competition four years later (although they played the final in blue, as their opponents and tournament hosts, the Sweden, wore yellow).
Arguably, it became truly synonymous with the Selecão and its footballing values during the 1970 World Cup – the first one watched by most people on color television – when Brazil was playing football that no team was playing. ‘had still equaled.
And yet, remarkably, the jersey which has come for many to represent Brazil itself was created by someone who did not support the team. More than that, his loyalties were with the very rival that had led to its creation: Uruguay.