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China’s Great (Football) Leap Forward

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On Monday March 16 China’s State Council (the Cabinet) released a plan to raise the stature of the country’s national soccer team. The move is not surprising; as a rising world power China is looking to raise its performance in all international arenas, among which football is a very visible component. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games China won more medals than any other country, but their national soccer team has been a perennial underachiever. The New York Times notes that China’s men’s national team is currently ranked 83rd in the world—behind Guatemala and Honduras—while their woman’s team is ranked 13th (even this is a drop from their top 10 ranking a decade ago).

It is clear that soccer in China is falling behind other sports, and that is just what president Xi Jinping’s plan is looking to remedy by “separating the country’s soccer association from the national sports administration, to give it more autonomy.” The plan hopes to “[bring] the men’s national team to the forefront in Asia, and [return] the women’s team to the top ranks in the world” by eventually hosting a World Cup. Additionally, the plan looks to bring the level of the country’s top soccer league—the Superleague—on par with other top Asian leagues by, among other things, expanding soccer education at schools and universities. Currently there are 5,000 elementary and middle schools that provide soccer coaching, this number is forecast to reach 20,000 by 2020 and 50,000 by 2025.

While the plan is ambitious, it is nothing new. Robin Jones’ article “Football in the People’s Republic of China”, published in the 2004 volume Football Goes East: Business, Culture, and the People’s Game in China, Japan, and South Korea (Ed. Wolfram Manzenreiter and John Horne, Routledge: New York (2004), outlined the difficulties of integrating football into the educational system in a country of 1.2 billion people, many of which live in cities with very few football pitches. Indeed, 11 years on, it seems as if football has not been made part of the educational system with any degree of success. Indeed Johan van de Ven, writing for the Chinese football blog Wild East Football, notes the failure of previous attempts to reform Chinese football’s standing in his article:

 

“This is not the first time that a wave of promise has swept over Chinese football. 2002 marked China’s maiden World Cup Finals appearance, the China Schools Football program got underway in 2009, and in 2011 Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin committed 480 million RMB to the CSL in sponsorship funding. But these were all false dawns. Now, Guangzhou Evergrande has opened an academy with capacity for 2,300. Evergrande is perhaps a special case: it has abundant financing, including the 1.2 billion RMB invested by Alibaba’s Jack Ma in June 2014, and has also come to be seen as a launchpad for talent to be guided into the national team set-up. If proposed reforms are implemented, it would not stand alone as China’s foremost developer of both grassroots and professional talent. In both the short and long-term, Chinese football could be set for a significantly rosier future.”

 

For me the fascinating part of China’s Great (Football) Leap Forward lies in its similarity to that other final frontier of football—the United States of America. Two weeks ago the US top flight, Major League Soccer, kicked off its twentieth season. Most commentators agree that football in the US has come a long way. A glance at attendance figures will support this: While the average attendance for 160 games was 17,406 (with a high average of 28,916 for the Los Angelese Galaxy) with total league wide attendance of 2,785,001 in the league’s inaugural season in 1996, figures started falling in subsequent seasons. The average attendance fell by almost 4,000 to a historic low of just 13,756 in 2000, while the high average fell to a historic low of 17,696 (A drop of more than 10,000 from the 1996 figure) for the Columbus Crew in 1999. The league contacted two Florida franchises—the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion—in 2001, leading many to fear for the league’s health, as they faced a historic low in league wide attendance of just 2,215,019 in the 2002 season. It took the league nine years to better the inaugural season’s figure for total attendance (2,900,716 in 2005), and a full fifteen years to better the inaugural season’s mark for average attendance—17,872 for 306 games in 2011. The 2014 season saw league records in both league wide attendance (6,185,773) and average attendance figures (19,151 in 323 games), while the average high attendance was a healthy 43,734 a game for the Seattle Sounders (their 2013 average is still the league record, 44,038).

 

China’s first professional league was the Jia-A League, founded two years before MLS in 1994. It ran until 2004, when the Chinese Super League was formed with 12 teams. The rebranding in many ways stemmed from corruption in the old Jia A League—2003 champions Shanghai Shenhua were stripped of their title while 25 former and current football officials, referees, and players where banned in 2003 as a result of the match fixing investigations. A look at attendances in the current Super League, however, shows trends similar to MLS. The old Jia-A League’s best year, in terms of total attendance, was 1998 with a figure of 3,883,000 in 182 matches. The best year in terms of average attendance was 1996, which 24,266 fans attending 132 matches. In 2003, the Jia-A League’s final season, the average attendance was 17,710 with a total attendance for the season’s 210 matches of 3,719,700. Despite these strong figures the perception of corruption plagued the first years of the re-branded Super League, and only 1,430,600 fans attended the 132 games of the 2004 season, with an average of only 10,838. Figures have been rising steadily over the last ten years, however, and the 2014 season saw a total attendance of 4,556,520 over 240 matches (the highest ever, due in some part to the increased number of matches) and an average of 18,986—the highest since the Jia-A League’s 2000 season and only 165 less than the MLS figure for the same season.

 

Clearly a stable domestic league is being viewed as a prerequisite for a sustained challenge from the Chinese national team in world football, and this was always the rationale for MLS in the United States. Following last summer’s World Cup we saw that strategy pay off; the United States is more than capable of producing a respectable product on the world’s biggest stage.

 

Meanwhile on the business (and football shirt) side of things, there are other interesting connections between the interdependent economies of these two world powers. The hold of American sportswear giants Nike on Chinese football is strong. They signed a 10 year 16 million dollar/year deal with the Chinese FA to be the exclusive outfitter for the country’s national soccer team, just in time for the government’s new soccer plan. Nike is also in the midst of a 10 year 200 million dollar deal to be the exclusive kit provider for all Chinese Superleague teams. Interestingly, no such deal exists in MLS—it is Germany’s Adidas who act as the exclusive kit providers for the United States’ top league.

 

It is in the context of a world of global modern football—filled with multi-million dollar kit deals and “Superleagues” filled with superstars—that I believe Chinese football will succeed in their “great leap forward”. Due to the power that financial interests have in modern football I find it hard to believe that the large market of both potential players and (possibly more importantly) potential consumers that China represents can be ignored for too much longer. While I do not expect China to challenge for a World Cup title any time soon—the country is simply too vast for the economic improvements to trickle down equitably—I do expect them to put out a product able to compete on a high level regularly in their region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FK Sarajevo 2007-2008, Away

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This shirt came from my visit to Sarajevo in 2008. It is a fairly simple Nike affair quartered into two shades of the team’s traditional maroon. That is, if your eyes are sharp enough to discern the two shades as they are virtually identical. It was not available at the Asim Ferhatovic stadium or at the club’s shop, rather it came from a Nike store in downtown Sarajevo. The fabric is a thick one from Nike but it works with the professionally embroidered badge, one of the shirt’s best features. Also, the collar is a bonus as I am partial to collared shirts. They give an aura of class to any shirt (no pun intended, as the sponsor “AurA” is screen printed on).

 

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Top Five World Cup 2014 Shirts and Top Five Classic World Cup Shirts

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Although I am not a huge World Cup fan since the tournament has become the definition of industrial football and mainly a cynical money making machine in recent years, I still can’t ignore the shirts. With the games in full swing I thought I would do what some sites have been doing and rank the top five shirts from World Cup 2014, along with the top five from the past World Cups that I have watched. As with everything on this blog all opinions are my own, so don’t be offended if your favorite shirt—or team—does not make an appearance. Personally, it is always hard to rank the newer shirts because the old ones hold a special place in my heart but here goes nothing.

 

World Cup 2014:

Number 5: Japan (Adidas)

Japan 2014 World Cup Home Kit (1) Japan 2014 World Cup Home Kit (2)

Japan 2014 World CUp Away Kit 4 Japan 2014 World CUp Away Kit 5

Images Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/06/exclusive-japan-13-14-2013-2014-2014.html

 

The “electricity” colored away shirt obviously needs no explanation, but the blue home shirt has a few details that make it, in my opinion, one of the best shirts of the 2014 World Cup. The rising sun motif around the badge is special, giving a sort of Japanese authenticity to the shirt. On the back, however, is a pink stripe that gives this jersey a unique detail that—when seen in person—really gets your attention. Adidas did a nice job with the socks as well, carrying that color through the kit instead of leaving it as a one-off detail on the shirt. It also harkens back to the red used in Japan’s 1995-96 kit, manufactured by Asics.

 

Numbers 4 and 4.5: Cameroon Home (Puma)

Cameroon 2014 World Cup Home Kit

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/10/unique-cameroon-2014-home-and-away-kits.html

Ghana Away (Puma)

Ghana 2014 World Cup Away Kit 1

Images Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/11/ghana-2014-world-cup-home-kit-leaked.html

 

This is really a tie, and I chose to include both because each team’s other jersey (Cameroon Away and Ghana Home) are too light colored to see any of the details which make the darker colored shirts so special. Apparently the design on the Cameroon shirt is taken from cave paintings, with “Les Lions Indomptables” written across each line. This comes from the team’s nickname, “The Indomitable Lions”.

Ghana’s away shirt is a similar design, this one with Ghana’s nickname “The Black Stars”. The sleeve details are also good looking—while not being as eye-catching as the Kente design on the home shirt, the dark red is just too nice of a color to be ignored. I might still prefer Ghana’s 2012-13 kit (the fade is something I enjoy in shirts) but this year’s is still a unique piece produced for Ghana, and that is worth something in itself.

 

Number 3: Belgium (Burrda Sports)

Belgium 2014 World Cup Home Kit Belgium 2014 World Cup Away Kit Belgium 2014 World Cup Third Kit

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2014/02/burrda-belgium-2014-world-cup-kits-jerseys.html

 

This is the only shirt in this World Cup manufactured by the Swiss/Qatari company Burrda Sports—perhaps they’re getting ready for 2022? All three of these shirts carry elements of the Belgian flag, with the black away version the best looking in my opinion with the red and yellow sash across the chest. Belgium are being picked by many as a dark horse; while the outcome of their World Cup campaign may be uncertain one thing is certain—they’ll look good, win or lose.

 

Number 2: Germany (Adidas)

Germany 2014 Home kit Adilite 1 Germany 2014 World Cup Away Kit (1)

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/05/germany-1314-2013-2014-world-cup-home.html

 

Germany’s white home shirt has a “V” design around the neck, which doesn’t represent too much of a change from their jerseys in previous years. The away shirt, however, represents a completely new move for “Die Nationalmannschaft”. Even if the red and black hoops and collar buttons make this shirt reminiscent of a rugby shirt I still found it extremely attractive when I saw it in person. In 2006 Germany moved to the black and red color scheme for their away shirts before moving to black for the 2010 World Cup. I think this represents the best Germany away shirt since they moved away from their classic emerald green kits (the Irish-looking green of Euro 2012 doesn’t count for me).

 

Number 1: Russia (Adidas)

 

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/11/russia-2014-world-cup-home-kit-leaked.html

Russia 2014 World Cup Away Kit (1)

For me, Russia’s away shirt is without a doubt the best jersey in the 2014 World Cup, and I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. Just below the collar is a view of the earth from space which then fades into white. Of course, this is in memory of the Soviet space program and Yuri Gagarin—the first human being in space. This shirt, of course, has a political connotation as well considering recent developments in Russia. As Putin looks to re-assert Russia’s strength in the modern era, this shirt advertising the greatness of Russia’s past on the world stage makes a bold nationalist statement. It will be interesting to see if this shirt starts a trend of countries visually representing their histories on football shirts—football shirt nationalism by using elements of The Modern Janus Theory (made famous by Tom Nairn).

 

 

Classic World Cups:

Number 5: Nigeria World Cup 1994 (Adidas)

Nigeria Home and Away Kits World Cup 1994

Image Courtesy of: http://kirefootballkits.blogspot.com.tr/2011/10/nigeria-kits-world-cup-1994.html

nigeria-94

 

Dancin’ the night away–in pajamas?!

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footballfoundout.com/top-five-worst-world-cup-shirts-ever/

I have no idea what this design is but it is definitely unique. Perhaps this was the beginning of the trend of providing special designs for African teams that we see now, since I have never seen this design used in any other team’s shirt. The white version looks a little pyjama-esque (hence its ranking as the ugliest World Cup shirt in history on one of the above lists) but, for my money, its still an unforgettable shirt. And that is what I look for.

 

Number 4: Croatia World Cup 1998 (Lotto)

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.croatiaweek.com/tag/brazil/page/3/

 

This shirt really needs no introduction as it is a piece of history, one of many legendary designs worn by Croatia since 1996. What makes this shirt special is the fact that just half the shirt is checkered. No one will forget Croatia’s historic run to third place while wearing this shirt, fueled by legends Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki, and Zvonimir Boban (whose kick, some say, started a war). I’m counting on Bosnia-Herzegovina to make a similar run in this World Cup, even if their shirts aren’t quite as special.

 

Number 3: Mexico World Cup 1998 (Aba Sport)

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Luis Hernandez makes another World Cup disappointent look good

Image Courtesy Of: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1936489-mexicos-best-and-worst-world-cup-jerseys/page/4

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.oldfootballshirts.com/en/teams/m/mexico/old-mexico-football-shirt-s3660.html

 

A few lists, including the one at the link above, have cited this shirt as one of the best World Cup shirts of all time and for good reason. This shirt is in Mexico’s classic shade of green with an interesting detail unique to Mexico: printed into the fabric is a design of the Aztec calendar. While this year’s Mexico design by Adidas is among the better designs on display this summer, I still think that nothing can come close to the France ’98 kit.

 

Number 2: USA World Cup 1994 (Adidas):

US national team defender Alexi Lalas jumps in the Roy Wegerle

Alexei Lalas jumps for joy at World Cup ’94, Roy Wegerle isn’t sure what to make of his kits

Images Courtesy Of: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_spot/2014/05/19/u_s_soccer_denim_kit_the_horrifying_true_story_of_the_ugliest_jerseys_in.html

 

This shirt has been derided by so many that it feels funny posting it as the number two best shirt—please see articles at Mashable.com and Slate.com for more on this shirt (albeit from a negative angle). Personally, I do not see why this shirt has so many critics–as you can see above, Alexi Lalas seems more than enthused to be wearing the shirt (!) even if Roy Wegerle gives us a more bemused expression.

The point of a football shirt, in my opinion, is to represent a country in a unique and instantly recognizable way. For me, that is exactly what the United State’s 1994 kit did. The denim look was certainly unprecedented, and it is true that it bore no relation to anything Adidas had—or has since—produced. But it was unique. In fact, it was uniquely American. As a kid watching the 1994 World Cup in I didn’t even notice the denim factor—I just thought it was a blue background with white stars, a representation of the national flag, which is fine. And for those critics of this shirt, I’d like to point out that if a USA shirt need be criticized the USA away shirt for the 2014 World Cup (a shirt I myself own) looks more French than it does American.

I would like to think that like a fine wine, football shirts also get better as the years go by. That sentiment is confirmed for me by the number one shirt on this list . . .

 

Number 1: Germany World Cup 1998 (Adidas)

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Image Courtesy of: http://37.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lwcb1unOX11r6mwuno1_1280.jpg

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Klinsmann et al make bracing for impact look good . . . or at least half-way decent

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/worldcup2010/article-1282545/John-Motson-Ten-greatest-World-Cup-games.html

And now we come to the shirt that—I think—is hands down the best shirt in World Cup history. If Helen of Troy’s face is the one that launched a thousand ships, then this is—undoubtedly—the design that launched a thousand kits. After Germany made this Adidas “basket weave” pattern famous the design became a staple for Adidas kits around the world between 1995 and 1996. The reason this kit in particular is so stunning is that the bold colors of the German flag really jump off the shirt’s white background and right into the viewer’s eyes. Adidas really did their country justice with this well designed shirt, a shirt that hasn’t lost any of its luster twenty years on.

 

 

 

Red Star Belgrade 2007-2008, Home Shirt Tutoric 13

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This shirt came from the shop in the Marakana. I had asked who the best player is and the girl working gave me a look that showed absolutely no emotion before handing me Dorde Tutoric’s number 13 shirt. I wasn’t necessarily offended, I figured it was just the Serbian way. The design is a simple Nike template with “Toyota” screen printed across the front, while the back has the Serbian National Bank sponsorship screen printed on along with the Tutoric name set and number 13. One special note for Turkish football fans–after I got this shirt I learned that Tutoric was transferred to Turkish side Kocaelispor where he played for one season before returning to Belgrade.

 

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Slovan Bratislava 2009-2010, Home Shirt

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A fairly standard Slovan Bratislava shirt from Nike, sized large. Unfortunately there is no sponsor or name on the back—but I can’t complain. It is a beautiful sky blue and I was lucky to even find the shirt, as it was taken out of an unmarked cardboard box at an office at the team’s (now long gone) Tehelne Pole Stadium in Bratislava. Perhaps the best feature of this shirt is that the girl who sold it to me was beautiful. And yes, she was astounded that I even wanted the shirt.

 

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My Favorite Nike Football Advertisements

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Since the release of Nike’s latest epic football advertisement Winner Takes All ahead of this summer’s World Cup many websites have been writing about the greatest football advertisements in history (Even Esqire got into it!) Unfortunately, many of the lists have been all too similar. So I decided to create a list of my own—one along the lines of one of the themes that this blog follows—football shirts. As I wrote about in the “About” section there is an air of nostalgia in the way that I follow football—the players and shirts are what define historical eras in my mind. Therefore, while “Winner Takes All” is certainly an incredible video that embraces the grass-roots football we grew up on, there are a few more out there that take me back to a simpler time, and still others that fully embody the true meaning of modern, “industrial”, football.

Here is my list that I hope may serve as a sort of anthology for some. I tried my best to include the directors of each film as well as the songs that provided the soundtracks, in addition to a list of the footballers featured in each advertisement. For this effort Vincent Battaglia’s website was quite useful, in addition to that bastion of free information (as long as it is double checked), Wikipedia.

 

Winner Takes All (2014, For the FIFA World Cup in Brazil)

Featuring: Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Gerard Piqué, Gonzalo Higuaín, Mario Götze, Eden Hazard, Thiago Silva, Andrea Pirlo, David Luiz, Andrés Iniesta, Thibaut Courtois, and Tim Howard.

Since this is the most recent advertisement—and the one that sparked this column—it is a fitting one to start with. The theme of young kids playing in a pick-up game is one that many of us football fans can relate to, and for that I commend Nike in returning to the theme. As a kid in Turkey my friends and I definitely embodied the stars of our time, and that’s why this video stuck a chord with me. My poor foot-work made me more of a Tony Meola at the time—so Tim Howard (or the Hulk, of course) in this video 20 years on.

This advertisement also represents many facets of “industrial football”. Note that the players who appear in their team jerseys are those whose teams (national and/or club) are contracted with Nike. That’s why Eden Hazard (Belgium/Chelsea) and Mario Gotze (Germany/Bayern Munich) wear non-descript kits in this video. Hazard plays in Burrda Sport for Belgium and Adidas for Chelsea while Gotze plays in Adidas for both Germany and Bayern Munich. It is also why Kobe Bryant has a cameo—he is, after all, contracted by Nike. And he appeals to an American audience, one very distant from European soccer. When the bottom line is making money, it explains the rather bizarre scene of Kobe Bryant conversing with Andrea Pirlo—even if Bryant grew up in Italy and is reported to be a soccer fan.

Secret Tournament (Cage Football) (2002, For the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan)

Directed by Terry Gilliam

For More Please See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Tournament

Featuring (Teams in Parantheses): (Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, Hidetoshi Nakata), (Patrick Viera, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes), (Fredrik Ljungberg, Javier Saviola, Luis Enrique), (Edgar Davids, Lilian Thuram, Sylvain Wiltord), (Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo), (Denilson, Ronaldinho, Seol Ki-Hyeon), (Fabio Cannavaro, Tomas Rosicky, Rio Ferdinand), (Claudio Lopez, Gaizka Mendieta, Hernan Crespo), and Eric Cantona.

Music: JXL Vs. Elvis Presley “A Little Less Conversation”

In my mind this is the best Nike advertisement and it takes its place at the top of my list. It is the true roots of the game with players engaged in a quick competition that focuses on individual skill while in a team setting and just one rule, as Cantona charismatically explains: “First goal wins”. The twenty-four football stars are divided into teams of three, competing in a cage football match aboard a freighter. The winners move on and the losers are dumped into the ocean to swim ashore. Notably, none of the players wear their club or national team shirts—whether contracted by Nike or not. In this sense, then, it avoids the awkwardness of “Winner Take All” with Zlatan rocking the shirt of his club side Paris Saint Germain (Sweden are with Adidas) while Cristiano Ronaldo is in Portugal’s Nike shirt (Real Madrid are with Adidas) and Hazard is in a Nike training shirt bearing no resemblance to the kit of either his club or country (his kit allegiances are explained above).

There is also a bit of nostalgia for me personally. This is a clip that made a summer classic out of JXL’s remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”. The lyrics itself invoke a summer night of world class football which is fitting since the advertisement was released in the run up to the 2002 World Cup: “Baby close your eyes and listen to the music/Drifting through a summer breeze”. Lets also not forget that two of the three footballers on the winning team from the advert—Thierry Henry and Francesco Totti—are still playing; Henry is in the USA with Red Bull New York while Totti continues to turn back the clock for his only club, AS Roma.

 

Take It To The Next Level (2008)

Directed by Guy Ritchie

For More Please See: http://www.72andsunny.com/work/nike/next-level

And: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/top-10-soccer-commercials-ever-made-130585?page=2

Featuring: Wayne Rooney, Arsene Wenger, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Materazzi, Ronaldinho, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and others including much of Arsenal’s 2008 squad.

Music: Eagles of Death Metal “Don’t Speak”

This advertisement is up there simply because it is a tour de force of football and filmmaking simultaneously. This advert is shot entirely in the first person; we are put in the shoes of an aspiring Dutch footballer who is signed to Arsenal. We follow him through his own eyes as he gets his kits from the equipment manager at Arsenal and is humbled on his first substitute appearance by the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United (Remember, both United and Arsenal’s kits at the time were—and still are—made by Nike). We follow the young footballer back to the training ground where he works hard—even vomiting from the effort—to become a top class footballer.

Guy Ritchie’s directorial acumen shows through when the kiss of a team-mate celebrating a game winning goal gives way to a kiss from a beautiful lady friend, transporting us from the on-pitch world of a professional European footballer to the glitz and glamour of European nights off the pitch. The excesses mean some failure on the pitch, of course (including a lost tooth) before more training ground work pays off for an amazingly struck free kick goal for the Dutch national team in what we assume to be the World Cup. Truly an inspiring and at times humorous three and a half minutes in keeping with Nike’s epic style.

 

Match In Hell/Good Vs. Evil (1996, For the UEFA European Championship in England)

Featuring: Eric Cantona, Paulo Maldini, Luis Figo, Ian Wright, Jorge Campos, Patrick Kluivert, Thomas Brolin, Rui Costa, Ronaldo.

This simply has to make the list if only because of the two (!) lines of dialogue. We are presented with a team of world football superstars from the era competing in a match in hell (Hell Trafford—perhaps a nod to Manchester United’s ill-fated trip to the “Hell” of Galatasaray’s Ali Sami Yen Stadium?? I don’t know . . .). In any case our superstars—including the faded star Thomas Brolin—are roughed up by a few undead footballers before coming into their own and defeating them with a hard shot by non other than Eric Cantona. Paulo Maldini’s immortal “Maybe they’re friendly?” could only be eclipsed by Cantona’s classic “Au Revoir” as he flips the collar on his shirt up in a way that only Cantona could.

For me the best part of this clearly “period” advertisement is that Nike had not yet taken a strangle hold on the brands presented in their advert—in the months leading up to Euro 1996 industrial football was still in its early stages. The team of “world all-stars” wear the shirts they’re famous for. Brolin is in Parma’s classic Puma kit and Figo carries Barcelona’s Kappa shirt while Cantona wears the Umbro kit United made famous.

 

Airport 90 (1998, For FIFA World Cup in France)

Featuring: Brazil’s 1998 World Cup Squad.

Music: Sergio Mendes “Mas Que Nada”

This is—judging by many of the lists I’ve perused—another favorite, and rightly so. Before the “Secret Tournament” made “A Little More Conversation” famous Airport 90 made Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” famous. The advert features Brazil’s World Cup squad—the one that would finish runners up to France in the summer—making the most of a flight delay. Ronaldo, who was the darling of the football world at the time, is the most prominent star in this clip while Roberto Carlos and Denilson appear alongside him. This video evokes times of a more relaxed airport atmosphere, before the draconian measures that came into force in airports worldwide following the tragedies of September 11, 2001.

 

Write The Future (2010, for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa)

Directed by Alejandro Iñárritu

Featuring: Didier Drogba, Fabio Cannavaro, Wayne Rooney, Lassana Diarra, Theo Walcott, Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jeremy Toulalan, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Thiago Silva, Luis Fabiano, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Oojier AND Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, Homer Simpson.

Music: Focus “Hocus Pocus”

Write The Future is along the lines of 2008’s Take It To The Next Level—it is, after all, a sequel. Unlike most sequels, however, this one more than holds its own. It chronicles two different outcomes of England’s future based on Wayne Rooney’s performance. He fails to stop Franck Ribery and France win, while the English stock market crashes and Rooney is reduced to a groundskeeper living in a trailer park. He stops Ribery and England win, the stock market goes sky high and babies across England are being named Wayne. Never mind that reality is somewhere between the two outcomes, its still an amusing advertisement. Perhaps the most realistic outcome is that concerning Cristiano Ronaldo—his star has only risen six years on.

As for a mention on the shirts in this advertisement note that Rooney is sporting the double diamond of Umbro in this Nike advert—since, at that point, Nike had bought Umbro. As a double dose of the globalization of world football Kobe Bryant also has a prominent cameo in this ad, along with the “like” button of social media. I can’t help but be thankful that social media made no appearance in Take It To The Next Level.

 

The Mission 90 (2000, For the UEFA European Championship in Belgium/Netherlands)

Featuring: Edgar Davids, Oliver Bierhoff, Hidetoshi Nakata, Luis Figo, Francesco Totti, Lilian Thuram, Josep Guardiola, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, and Louis Van Gaal.

This is one of the last of the Nike advertisements that didn’t go full-scale into the global marketing of the game. Like the 2002 Secret Tournament ad the players do not sport the shirts of their individual teams—as such, the cast is open to footballers regardless of the teams they may play for. The plot is someone sensationalist, similar to 1996’s Match In Hell. The players are attempting to retrieve a ball because it is “rounder”, according to mission leader Louis van Gaal. Indeed, this is the match ball for the 2000 European Championships. The stars proceed to battle cyborg samurais before escaping with their bounty before the building explodes as the advert ends. Normal stuff, right?

 

My Time Is Now (2012, For the UEFA European Championship in Poland/Ukraine)

Featuring: Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil, Neymar, and others—including . . . Lebron James??

Music: The Eighties Matchbox B Line Disaster “Chicken”

I rank this video last in my hierarchy of Nike football advertisements for many reasons. First of all, it is pretty ridiculous. Sure, many of the previous adverts listed here were ridiculous in their own right but please, hear me out. In this clip there seems to be no cohesive plot, and it seems to be a glorified pitch invasion. Having witnessed one such unfortunate event myself it doesn’t sit well with me to support such defamations of the game. Also, the blatant advertising put forth my Nike in this ad disappointed me. Yes, it is an advertisement for Nike, but please—don’t ram that down the viewer’s throats so crudely!

The fictional match is between Holland and France—both in Nike kits—while the players streaming onto the pitch are sporting Nike’s training line of apparel. As if all of that weren’t enough, Lebron James makes an appearance—a gross representation of the global advertising motives of Nike. I would have been much happier if a football goalkeeper made the “save” that James makes in this video since, well, it’s a football video! Nike chose to have Kobe Bryant return in this year’s Winner Takes All as the resident American sports star. While it is still a weird blurring of sport lines for money making purposes that makes me uncomfortable, at least Bryant has a history with the game of soccer as I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure of any similar natural associations that Lebron James has with football (other than his part-ownership of Liverpool, which is in the business realm).

(Industrial) Football Shirts from England to Eibar

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For those who complain about government’s role in people’s personal lives, the British government has come out against—of all things—the price of football shirts. On Tuesday, April 1 British newspapers blasted US Sportswear company Nike for pricing England’s World Cup Kits at 90 GBP—certainly an exorbitant amount, it is almost 150 US Dollars. Nike countered that 90 GBP was for the exact replica of what the players will wear on the field; a simpler version costs 60 GBP—still almost 100 US Dollars. Sports minister Helen Grant agreed that the pricing “needs a rethink,” while Prime Minister David Cameron supported his Sports minister, saying that Nike is “taking advantage of parents”.

His spokesman, meanwhile, made it clear that “it is ‘clearly not’ the role of the Government to set the price of football shirts, but that £90 is a ‘lot’ of money.” At least they had that much sense to acknowledge what the government’s role should and should not be. In my opinion the opposition Labour Party’s sports spokesman Clive Efford may have hit the nail on the head when he said, “The anger generated by the 90 pound price tag for an adult England shirt is symptomatic of a wider issue of the games traditional fan base being edged out by the growing costs of being a supporter.”

This spat between Nike and the British government will clearly not cause a rift between the United States and Britain but it is still emblematic of the role of corporations in the changing face of world soccer. I remember when, as a kid, I started out on my shirt collecting odyssey. I had no income, so I was reliant on my parents, and even the 45 GBP for shirts in the early 2000s and late 1990s seemed exorbitant. Now the price of shirts has doubled, but with no corresponding doubling of worldwide incomes. Even in my travels during the last few years I have never paid the equivalent of 90 GBP for a new shirt—most shirts I have acquired hover in the 60 to 80 dollar range.

This change in price stems from the English Football Association’s new deal with Nike, which replaced Umbro as England’s kit manufacturer last year. Umbro was—until Nike acquired them in 2008 for 285 million GBP—a wholly English brand. Founded in Wilmslow, Cheshire in 1924 Umbro started as the official sponsor of the Football Association. Their iconic double diamond graced classic England kits (the World Cup winning side in 1966 wore them, which coincided with the start of Umbro’s golden ageLiverpool won four of their five European cups in Umbro shirts1977, 1978, 1981 and 1984). More recently Umbro’s classic Manchester United kit—which they won the 1999 treble in—comes to mind. Indeed in terms of kit manufacturing as well we can see Clive Efford’s words being echoed—traditional fans and traditional brands are both being pushed out as the game becomes more and more globalized and thereby more commercial. The tradition of an English brand sponsoring English football was ended with Nike’s acquisition of Umbro.

Although not about kit manufacturers a story on Spanish football from ESPN.com is worth presenting here, as it is related. Sid Lowe wrote a moving piece on the struggles of Spanish second division side Eibar in the face of industrial football. Eibar, hailing from a small town of 27,000 in Northern Spain’s Basque country, are facing an uphill battle for promotion to Spain’s top-flight, La Liga. Strangely, that struggle has nothing to do with results on the field. Against all odds Eibar sit top of the second division poised for promotion despite playing in the division’s smallest ground to the smallest crowds—they average 3,000 a game—with the smallest budget (3.5 million Euros—how many England shirts will that buy? Answer: 32,294. Enough to clothe all of Eibar and then some). What is even more shocking—at least for a Spanish side—is that Eibar stay within that budget, even while pursuing promotion—they are 422,253 Euros in the black. And where is the rub? It is that Eibar must raise 1.7 million Euros by the end of the season in order to achieve promotion, regardless of results on the pitch.

This stems from a law—Real Decreto 1251/1999—which decrees that “every team has to have a capital equal to 25 percent of the average expenses of all the teams in the Second Division, not including the two clubs with the biggest outgoings and the two clubs with the smallest outgoings in the division”. Thus, the team needs to find the 1,724,272 Euros that will raise their value to the 2,146,525 Euro threshold that will allow them to continue playing in the professional divisions. Sid Lowe notes gravely that this “figure [is] set not by their budget or their ability to guarantee survival, but by everyone else’s.”

I certainly hope that Eibar can survive against the odds since grassroots football is what we all grew up on. 1,724,272 Euros isn’t so much, is it? It is only 15,910 Nike England kits. For a bit of perspective, that number is just half the 30,326 population of Wilsmslow, Cheshire where Umbro were founded 100 years ago.

 

The Controversially Priced England Kits That Could Save Eibar (Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/09/england-2014-world-cup-home-and-away.html).

England 2014 World Cup Home Kit England 2014 World Cup Away Kit England 2014 World Cup Home Kit (1) England Font