Iceland bring a bit of missing Italy to World Cup

Iceland will bring a little bit of missing team Italy to the World Cup in Russia as they compete in their first finals wearing a kit supplied by Italian sportswear firm Errea.

The family-run textile company based in Parma has been propelled for the first time into a world normally dominated by sportwear giants Nike, Adidas or Puma.

Blue, red stitches on the sleeves and white on the collar. Iceland's jersey, like the country's flag, is everywhere in Errea's premises in San Polo di Torrile, in the suburbs of Parma.

Four-time world champions Italy -- who are sponsored by German group Puma -- failed to qualify for the finals in Russia.

Errea are the initials -- R and A -- for Rosanna and Angelo Gandolfi, the founders, and their children Roberto and Annalisa, who are now both involved in managing the company.

With 140 employees at San Polo, and more than 1,000 in total, and an annual turnover of 57 millions euros ($67.7m) in 2017, Errea is not a small business by any means.

Their jerseys are worn by the French volleyball team, Serie B football clubs Pescara and Parma, Queens Park Rangers in England, and French rugby clubs Agen and Perpignan.

But in the world of football the Italian group are minnows compared to heavyweights Adidas and Nike, who kit out between them 22 of the 32 teams in the World Cup with Puma representing another four.

That leaves six teams for other manufacturers including New Balance (Costa Rica and Panama), Umbro (Peru), Ulhlsport (Tunisia), Hummel (Denmark) and Errea.

"They are giants who have a very different approach," Roberto Gandolfi, vice-president of Errea, told AFP of their rivals.

"The philosophy is different, the dimensions are different. We try to be very present on service, to be close to our customers, who are above all partners. It's also the case with Iceland."

"For the design of the jersey too, it's different," adds Fabrizio Taddei, head of export and professional clubs.

"It's been developed in full cooperation with federation officials, a team effort, Nike and Adidas create models and apply them to all their teams, while we do a custom job."

- 'Iceland effect' -

The partnership between Errea and Iceland, which runs until 2020, began in 2002. At the time, imagining this Nordic island nation of 330,000 inhabitants, with 20,000 licensed and 100 professional players, competing in a World Cup was the stuff of dreams.

"It's a small country, it's true, but I went for the first time in 2004, for a friendly against Italy, Marcello Lippi's first match as coach. And Italy lost 2-0. It was a great party, in any case I had a party," said Gandolfi.

"We already saw that they had a serious professional project for the sport, that's how you get results, and these are great results because it's the smallest country to go to a World Cup and they had a superb Euro 2016 in France, giving an excellent image of themselves, as well as their fans."

Iceland's unheralded run to the quarter-finals at Euro 2016 led to a boom in orders at Errea.

"Especially after the win against England, we had a lot of requests from Scotland," smiles Taddei.

"Of course, there was the Iceland effect, an important effect," continues Gandolfi.

"After the Euros, we had a significant result and we think it will be the same, or better, with the World Cup. Because we know that the presence of such a small nation is something historic."

Iceland's success has also changed the financial nature of a contract with Errea which originally did not provide for financial payment, just equipment.

"We gave extra weight to this contract," added Gandolfi without expanding. But nothing comparable with the 50 million euros ($59m) per year that Nike pays to kit out France or the 70 million euros ($83m) paid by Adidas for the jersey of the German world champions.