With their buffed bodies and legions of fans, it is no surprise the world's top footballers are eagerly courted by leading fashion houses There was a time when models were the only choice for a fashion shoot. You only have to look through a handful of magazine covers to see that things have changed, with celebrities and high-profile names gracing the covers of Vogue and W. They are, after all, what sells, and that is the name of the game in an industry driven by numbers. Fashion designers have been quick to catch on, and the recent onslaught of collaborations between big names and top designers has signalled a new era for fashion. The trend is not limited to Hollywood stars: the sporting world's finest, with their good looks and buffed bodies, have also got in on the action. And the ones benefiting most from the new ventures are footballers. The first to recognise their potential was Giorgio Armani, who took on the arduous task of designing kit for the Liverpool team that played in the English FA Cup final in 1996. Armani also designed the kit for the England squad and officials for the 2002 World Cup. A succession of other alliances soon followed, including the more recent partnering of Milan-based Dolce & Gabbana and soccer team AC Milan. The duo, who have been dressing footballers such as David Beckham for years, kitted out the entire Italian Series A team in signature Dolce & Gabbana suits, revealing a classier (and much sexier side) of one of the world's most esteemed football leagues. Of course the battle to dress prestigious soccer players is not just between high-end luxury brands. English Premiership side Chelsea recently sealed an eight-year kit sponsorship deal with sports clothing manufacturer adidas. The contract, which begins on July 1 next year, is expected to net about #12 million ($179 million) a year for the Stamford Bridge club. Chelsea had earlier announced it was paying more than #24 million to get rid of Umbro, which also makes the England strip and is the country's oldest manufacturer of sports equipment. Chelsea's willingness to buy out of the deal emphasises the importance to leading clubs of the market for replica shirts. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu estimated that merchandising was worth #100 million annually to Premiership clubs, and Chelsea is one of the few with room for growth. Umbro retains the contract for England's shirts, a relationship that boosted profits by 50 per cent to #10.4 million following the Euro 2004, when the new away kit became the best-selling replica shirt. It also retains the marketing power of England striker Michael Owen, whose profile has been boosted by his move to Real Madrid, on a 15-year deal worth #1.2 million annually. Founded 85 years ago in a garage in Wilmslow, Cheshire, by brothers Harold and Humphrey, Umbro made its first association with a high-profile team in 1958 when it dressed Brazil's World Cup winning side. But it was Umbro's close association with Manchester United in the 1990s that transformed the firm's fortunes. With Everton the only Premiership club for whom Umbro still makes shirts, the announcement emphasises the decline of a firm that crested the wave of the replica shirt boom in the 1990s and was instrumental in shaping the marketing of the Premiership.