The Switch

The history of PUMA at the European Championship

Robbie Copeland
Andrea Pirlo and Italy are synonymous with PUMA on the international stage
Andrea Pirlo and Italy are synonymous with PUMA on the international stage / Boris Streubel/Getty Images

In 1924, a pair of young German men called Rudolf and Adolf Dassler opened the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory.

The company started life operating out of their parents' house, and the brothers had to take it in turns pedalling a stationary bicycle in order to power some of their equipment.

Neither of them would have envisioned, then, that almost 100 years on, their legacy would still be going. And not only is it still going, the siblings went on to found two of the biggest sportswear manufacturers on the planet.

Adolf, or Adi, started adidas - short for Adi Dassler.

Rudolf, meanwhile, went on to found Ruda in 1948. Inspired by the power, agility and endurance of the puma cat, Ruda soon became PUMA - which now employs more than 13,000 people all over the world, and carries a net worth of $5bn.

Football has no small part to play in the company's rise from a local shoe factory into one of the biggest sportswear manufacturers on the planet.

And as PUMA gets set to be heavily represented at yet another European Championship, with ten of the 40 kits on show set to be crafted from their humble beginnings, the Euros have their own story to tell in establishing PUMA as a multinational sportswear heavyweight.

The Atom football boot was soon put into production, and was worn by West Germany in their first post-war match against Switzerland. That kicked off a long association between PUMA and association football in Europe.

It was a while before PUMA products graced the Euros. While Brazil's Pele and Portugal's Eusebio embraced the King boot right off the bat, it wasn't until Johan Cruyff took a stand by the PUMA brand that mainland Europe began to truly take notice.

The 1974 World Cup was a huge win for PUMA. Because while adidas were taking over as the dominant kit manufacturer, Cruyff, who had an exclusive deal with PUMA and knew the rivalry between the two companies, refused to wear it.

Instead, he had a special two-stripe kit made up, which he wore all the way to the final along with his custom-made Kings.

He sported the same attire at the 1976 European Championship as the Netherlands - all but Cruyff still clad in adidas - finished third. It gave PUMA a notoriety that they embraced, and the platform to go on and rival the industry giants in the years that lay ahead.

A similar issue arose with Germany's Lothar Matthaus, who stuck with his PUMA boots despite intense pressure from the German FA to wear adidas. Matthaus wore PUMA as he scored against the Netherlands in the semi-finals of Euro 1988, and went on to win the World Cup and Ballon d'Or as a PUMA athlete.

The first instance of a PUMA kit emerging at a Euros came in 1996. It was a fairly low-key introduction, but Bulgaria and the Czech Republic wore PUMA kits on the big stage, and the latter carried the logo all the way to the final, where they lost out to Germany. Key Czech players at the time - such as Pavel Nedved - became the first players to bring PUMA to a mainland European audience, and it certainly stuck.

By the turn of the century, some of the biggest footballing names in the world were queuing up to try it out. The acquisition of world champions Italy - whose goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has worn PUMA gloves throughout his career - took things to a new level.

Italy shirts sold faster than any other PUMA kit had ever sold in Europe ahead of Euro 2004...even if the tournament didn't exactly go to plan for Giovanni Trappatoni and his team.

But the Italians have stuck with PUMA ever since, wearing it at seven major tournaments - including Euro 2012 when they finished as runners up.

PUMA's innovative products continue to dazzle to this day. While France fell short in the final of Euro 2016, Antoine Griezmann was seen sporting PUMA Tricks throughout, as he won the Golden Boot and the Player of the Tournament award.

At Euro 2020, five of the 20 teams will wear PUMA kits, while players in virtually every squad will wear boots whose origins lie in a German factory nearly 100 years ago.

Not too bad, considering.