This year’s Nike advert, released to coincide with the Copa America and Euro 2016, is pretty good. Ronaldo collides with ball boy Charlie Lee, switches bodies, and both have to up their game to meet again.
It’s a return to form for Nike, whose 2014 effort included the Incredible Hulk – no, seriously. The sportswear giant had first entered the world of football adverts in 1994, with Campos, Maldini, Schulz, Romario, Cantona, Wright and Bebeto featuring in ‘The Wall’ which was way ahead of the CGI capabilities of the time.
Two years later though, in 1996, they began a golden run.
1996 – Good vs Evil
Straight out of the gate, I’m going to admit this advert has one problem. The devils team and their quasi-moko facepaint. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea to the design team, but it’s crass. Also, are there too many dentists in hell? That’s a lot of braces.
The flaming football pitch. Lucifer himself. A baying crowd. And our heroes. Brolin, Campos, Maldini, Rui Costa, Cantona, Figo, Ronaldo (Not him, the original one), Kluivert, Davids, Wright. You may question the inclusion of Brolin and Ian Wright on that list. Sponsorship deals, eh?
“Maybe they’re friendly?” offers Maldini. I hope he got paid a lot for that line.
Our heroes take a beating. Figo gets his face mashed into the turf. Rui Costa takes a flying elbow. Kluivert gets poleaxed, Wright complains to the ref and gets headbutted for his trouble. Jorge Campos comes flying out for an unreachable ball.
Maldini slides and hoofs, long to Kluivert. Headed on by the Dutchman, acrobatically bicycle kicked by Brolin to Ronaldo, the phenomenon, takes it on, rainbow flicks it over a hellspawn. Uncharacteristically, he crosses. Satan takes up position in goal and unfurls his wings as Cantona chests it down and places his foot on the ball.
What happens next would be repeated across parks, pitches and playgrounds for the rest of the year. Cantona, King Eric, flips up his collar, growls ‘Au Revoir’ and strikes the ball which bursts into flame, rips through the air and straight through Satan himself. Who explodes. The sun returns, the demons vanish. Ten of the worlds great players of the time look for a taxi rank.
1997 – Park Life
An egg drops slowly into a frying pan, from 1965’s Cup Fever, which features cameos from Sir Matt Busy, Bobby Charlton, George Best and more. “Football, football, football, it’s nothing but football morning, noon and night” “Shut up”
“Confidence is a preference of the habitual voyeur of what is known as…”. The guitar chugs and Sunday League unfolds with a pan over the endless pitches of Hackney Marsh. An elderly supporter, flat cap and coat, murmers ‘Come on Eric boy’. The camera tracks, and cuts to Eric Cantona wearing a Hull City-esque strip. His footwork takes him around a few, until he is dragged back. He waves his arms at the ref, the whistle goes.
But the camera zooms in on the action behind him as, yes, that’s Ian Wright (looking like 2004 edition Thierry Henry in a lemon yellow & blue collared shirt), watching a ball drop over his head from behind. He lashes it in on the volley and tears to the corner, knees pumping while wildly windmilling.
The camera has moved on again to the penalty box melee behind him. The keeper, England’s David Seaman, frozen attempting a punch. Time unfreezes and the ball is thumped clear.
Cut to Robbie Fowler, still lean, in sky blue. He slaloms through opponents, tapping it inside for his striker partner, a rather less lean bloke, to stick it in the net. The celebration is a pile on.
Rapid shots of Sunday Leafgue players scoring, interspersed with superstars. The whole purpose of the advert, to join up the way most people play with the way those at the top did. In those days it seems like the two were closer. Perhaps, with the stories of Vardy etc, they are closer than they appear.
Team shots. Eric in the back row. “Whatever level you play at…” and that familair Nike slogan.
“…know what I mean?”
1998 – Airport
Joga Bonito. Mas Que Nada. Il Fenomeno. In terms of updating the myth of the Brazilian team as a supernatural force in football, playing with smiles on their faces and tapping into some kind of quasi mystic relationship between samba and football, this advert struck gold.
For a start, you’d never get away with this these days. The whole team would have been tasered by airport security the minute they kicked the ball away from the guard, let alone the penalties for getting out on the tarmac or busting through the security checkpoint. It really was a different world.
It has all of the archetypal skills of the players on show and Mas Que Nada would be hummed whenever anyone tried a flick that summer. Ronaldo, back then a lightning quick striker with skills that dazzled Europe, begins and ends the advert. Roberto Carlos, fresh from THAT goal at the Tournoi the year before, making a crunchy slide tackle and hammering the ball with more power than was needed. And Denilson, poor Denilson who never lived up to his billing after his move to Europe, dodging and tricking his way down the travelator and providing the second best facial expression of the whole advert.
Then there’s that finale. Through on goal, the waiting passengers rise in expectation. Ronaldo, who’d scored 34 goals in 47 appearances for Internazionale that season. There’s only one outcome. He hits the post. Worse was to come in the final that year.
Nike would continue to score hits with, 2002’s Terry Gilliam directed $100,000,000 budget, ‘The Secret Tournament’. It brought Elvis back into the charts and brought together some of the world’s greatest players in a three-on-three cage competition that I would pay good money to see in real life. Henry, Totti and Nakata? Phwoar.
The elevation of Cantona to ringmaster was a nice touch too. As was the rematch.
There was also the Ole! Advert, featuring Figo’s Portugal (with a youthful other Ronaldo in his side) and (the original) Ronaldo’s Brazil taking it to concourse, resulting in Ronaldinho pulling off the sickest elastico and ensuring park footballers everywhere knackered ankles attempting to repeat it in 2004.
Yes, it’s commercialisation of the sport. Yes it’s Nike, and they’re typically not a good company at all. But when they strike the right nerve between ambition, belief and fantasy with these adverts, they make something that exceeds what you’d call an advert. They capture the beautiful game itself.
Categories: Throwback Thursday
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.