Asmir Begovic’s glove venture has boomed in popularity over the last 12 months, and there’s only more on the way…
There are several goalkeeper glove brands in the professional game associated with professional goalkeepers past and present. Ex-Newcastle and Watford man Rob Elliot, amongst others, is on the board of The One Glove Company. Norwich City’s Tim Krul is behind PEAK Sports. RWLK is the brainchild of Dutch legend Ronald Waterreus. In recent years, Kasper Schmeichel has worn his own ‘non-branded’ gloves, in reality an Uhlsport derivative.
But none of the above brands have been as public in their affiliation with their top-level owners as AB1, named after and publicly powered by Asmir Begovic and his team. Begovic, now plying his trade with Everton, was a Sells goalkeeper up until AB1 burst onto the scene in 2019 - with Begovic himself the flagship endorsee of the brand.
“When it’s my name on the brand, I feel it’s important to be at the forefront of it”, begins Begovic, talking exclusively from his home to Goalkeeper.com.
It is immediately clear that the Bosnian goalkeeper takes a lot of pride in being the face of AB1, and recognises the responsibility that comes with that. In recent years, Begovic has essentially taken responsibility for not only his own outlet, but likewise the quality of product that fellow professionals across the world are wearing - whilst still actively playing himself.
It’s not something often seen done by players at the top level; despite several world footballing stars partnering with major brands to produce product lines, most are for a consumer market, rather than their fellow professionals. In goalkeeping, Begovic is the first to publicly sell ‘G2G’ (Goalkeeper-to-goalkeeper, if you’ll pardon the pun).
“I see it all about taking ownership of our brand and everything we do. If anyone has questions or thoughts about the brand or product, it ultimately comes down to me - I take that very seriously. Because people love that connection to the athlete. They love the connection to the story. And then of course, they want to build a connection to the product”, he continues.
AB1 now powers goalkeepers across Europe’s top leagues in the men’s and women’s games - even producing an entire line of specialist women’s gloves - including Manchester United’s Tom Heaton (with whom a partnered range was released in early 2022), Hedvig Lindahl, Sandy MacIver, George Long, James Belshaw, Eldin Jakupovic, Alex Meyer, Vanja Milinkovic Savić and England goalkeeper coach Martyn Margetson.
But AB1’s origins aren’t purely commercial.
“A few years ago, I started to run goalkeeper camps”, explains the Bosnian.
“Back home in Bosnia, nobody really does goalkeeper camps or even goalkeeper training for that matter. It was great - I remember the kids in our first few saying ‘when can we do this again?’ so I knew we had to start doing it regularly. When we started doing them weekly we then had kids asking for gloves or advice on products, so I started to have a think about what was out there.
The Asmir Begovic Goalkeeper Academies are still going strong in the UK and continental Europe, and add another string to the bow of one of the market’s fastest growing goalkeeper glove brands.
“Especially in certain countries, like Bosnia, it can be difficult to get gloves due to customs charges and things. So the idea of creating our own product came out of those sessions. I also knew that no other goalkeeper had gone into the market and put their name on the product, and it has gotten stronger and stronger from there.
The brand launched its two flagship products - the Undici and Impact Uno ranges - in early 2021, during the second COVID lockdown in the UK. Both gloves have been updated and are still in production, with the Undici sporting a range of different sub models and cuts from roll finger through hybrid to traditional negative cut. The Uno 2.0 models come in negative and roll finger cuts, with a finger protection model available.
“But it takes time to do this, so we had to put the right things in place”, continues Begovic.
“I put people in charge who knew what they were doing. I put in a managing director [Dave Sanderson] who has been in the business for 20+ years, and built the team from there. It’s got to be done step by step but now we have the infrastructure and a bigger base of products, ready to move forward.
In the past year, AB1 has flourished. As Begovic explains, “the demand for our products has never been bigger”, and the current AB1 range is vast. The Undici 2.0 now has four different colourways sporting slightly different cuts, the Uno 2.0 no less than 11 design variations across adult and junior gloves. The Uno 2.0.1 ICON features an upgraded Soft Giga latex, and is worn by Begovic himself in the Premier League. Meanwhile, AB1 is one of few brands on the market manufacturing women’s-specific goalkeeper gloves. From padded base layers to towels and tape, AB1’s non-glove merchandise is similarly wide-ranging, featuring D3 and GloveGlu products.
The company manufactures in Pakistan and doesn’t currently use any patented latexes or technologies, as Begovic explains further.
“The Uno range is a more traditional range, with a simpler strap for example. We’ve got negative, hybrid, classic roll and finger protection models available. The Undici range probably comes into the more ‘modern’ generation of gloves, with the longer strapless wrist. The gloves are a bit more colourful and have a bit more ‘flavour’, shall we say. I think it’s important to have the two ranges alongside each other; you don’t want to commit to just one model. We've added a woman's range as well because female goalkeepers have certain requirements in a glove”
The most recent addition to the AB1 team was Manchester United’s Tom Heaton. Heaton, who spent six years at Burnley in the Championship and Premier League before subsequent moves to Aston Villa and then United, teamed up with Begovic to produce a custom range - The AB1 Undici PRO Roll Finger Protekt.
“It was a natural collaboration”, states the Bosnian. “Tom was interested in the brand and what we're doing. We firstly wanted to deliver the right quality of product to him, and he wanted to get involved a bit more. We let it grow from there. Tom wears quite a different glove to me so it just adds another string to the brand’s bow, he likes finger protection and a different cut.
“Tom’s been a very successful goalkeeper over the years and it gave him the opportunity to wear a range that suits him but also create more of a connection with other goalkeepers out there. It's worked out really well!”.
There’s a lot more to AB1 than goalkeeper gloves. The brand sits at the crux of a network of associated ventures Begovic leads, including the Asmir Begovic Foundation and the Glove Bank. The Glove Bank is described as a ‘helping hand for young ‘keepers around the world’, and works on the premise of glove ‘refurbishment’ to send to those in countries where goalkeeper gloves are not available or affordable.
But how exactly do you refurbish a goalkeeper glove?
“Gloves can be used for quite a long time and there are plenty of pairs that can be reused that just get thrown away. There'll be kids and people out there who would love to have those gloves. Now, how can you refurbish a glove? It depends on the condition. I mean, some are beyond repair, and it’s actually fantastic if people really use them in to the ground, shall we say. They’re getting full use out of them. But some people like to change a bit more often.
“So, if there are holes in the gloves, you can pretty much just sew them back together, which doesn't have any huge effect on the glove and just makes it usable again. Sometimes the strap is halfway off, and we can reconnect it. It means the glove can be sent back off around the world, but it also gives a little personal touch as the gloves have been repaired by somebody for somebody else’s benefit".
Begovic’s charitable ventures tie into his wider philosophy of affordability and fairness in the goalkeeper glove market, amongst the booming commercialism of the top brands. With ambassadors leaving the likes of Nike in droves, and Puma and Adidas, despite retaining dominance, being continuously challenged by the likes of Sells and more recently The One Glove.
“We’ll be honest and say that we want to continue operating at the middle-market level, and at that price point, whilst continuing to provide high quality products”, he explains.
“When you’re charging up to £150 for gloves, that’s extortionate for parents. And that’s only gloves - kids need boots too, as every player does. This relationship is key to us, and it’s why our next place to grow is our academy network”.
“Over time, I think the goalkeeper-specific brands will get the most attention”, admits Begovic. I think this goes back to more of a general point that goalkeepers are generally an afterthought. We’re sort of individuals within the team. So, from that point of view, I think goalkeepers want to go to a place where they feel better cared for and heard. The big brands won’t ever invest as much in goalkeeping because they won’t generate the return, which opens up a market for brands like ours”.
But, for the time being, despite their growth, Begovic’s teammate - England number one Jordan Pickford - won’t be joining AB1’s ranks. “My budget and Puma’s budget are very different!” jokes Begovic, as our conversation comes to an end.