James Corrigan: Adidas versus Nike in a World Cup final? Now that would be a horribly Messi affair
The Way I See It: Surely it is only a matter of time before the two boot giants realise that they have access to the finest talent and see the commercial possibilities
Monday 21 March 2011
Lionel Messi. Little chap, quick feet, knows where the goal is. Apart from when Argentina have dibs, he's Barcelona's superstar, right? Wrong. Messi is also Adidas's superstar. In fact, he's their lead superstar. The maestro is the life and sole of their boot-sale party. He makes the tongues wag, the toes curl. And we won't even go into what he does to the studs.
The respectable answer is to that "plenty", if the breathless reaction to the latest Adidas advert is a gauge. Released last week, the two-minute "Messi is all in..." spectacular (following quickly on last summer's two-minute spectacular) has already earned the protagonist reviews on the metrosexual side of raving. "He's a genius!" expresses one admirer on the official website. That contributor and many like him are referring to Messi's acting skills.
But then, one screening makes that viewpoint difficult to contradict. For, if Eric Cantona is to the thespian world what he was to crowd control, Messi is unarguably box-to-box office. He is a marketing dream, just as he is a managerial dream. That unique mixture of humility and brilliance, of the hard-earned and the God-given, establish him as the ultimate natural. Adidas have even dared cast David Beckham, that Olivier of Planet Brand, in a supporting role (and he hasn't been reduced to that status since that Fabio Capello X-rated production set in South Africa).
Of course, Messi has received training. Nobody is that good. Nike actually signed him up as 14-year-old and what a willing foot soldier he has proved; swapping sides to the main rivals before his size sevens were fully formed, fronting the Adidas campaign for global dominance ever since. The rewards have been staggering, starting at a paltry £400,000 a year, reportedly rising to a seven-figure sum that some poor Premier League idols are forced to call a living wage. How long before this endorsement rivals Messi's own salary? Well, consider Tiger Woods receives upwards of £25m a year from Nike...
What does seem certain is Adidas will pay whatever it takes. Looking down Nike's squad list it is obvious they could never afford to allow the world's best to leave. Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney, Torres, Drogba, Iniesta... They, and many many more of their idolised ilk, are all in the opposing camp. Messi's multitude of revered team-mates, meanwhile, include Kaka, Steven Gerrard, Xavi, David Silva, Alonso. It makes you wonder just what Sheikh Mansour was thinking in buying Manchester City? His vanity project was already assembled. Right there on the wall of an Abu Dhabi sports outlet.
Surely it is only a matter of time before the two boot giants realise that between them they have access to the game's finest talent and see the commercial possibilities. With their burgeoning power what or who will stop them setting up a fixture? It could justifiably be billed as "The Greatest Game On Earth" (although presumably not taking place at the Reebok Stadium).
It could start off as a knockabout for charity – nice angle – but would soon be hyped up into the most anticipated showdown of the season. And so it would snowball, and so it would all break apart. Within a generation every World Cup final would be Nike versus Adidas, and the company anthems would replace that Fifa dirge. At least the governing body's acronym could stay. Would Sepp Blatter and his cronies really give a hoot that they are now presiding over the Federation of International Footwear Associations? All it would mean was that rubber had replaced oil in their priorities. Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Internazionale, MK Dons would all be a mere memory. The corporation would have taken over.
That's where it will end up. Or at least that's where the paranoid among us envisage whenever our wine-free hand delves deep into the DVD drawer and locates Rollerball. Norman Jewison's 1975 classic now seems more pertinent than ever. Rollerball – a combination of rugby, hockey, motorcycling and kickboxing, taking place in a velodrome – is a sport invented by the Energy Corporation, a conglomerate ruling the world at a time when the fuel crisis has rendered countries and individual governments obsolete.
The masses are provided with everything they require – food, a crime-free society, mood-altering drugs, Emmerdale – so long as they do not rock the good ship Energy. Individuality is the enemy. It has to be. Individuals aren't reliable role models. They bow to temptation, go off message, present companies in a fallible light. Look at Woods for goodness sake. That's what happens when the individual becomes too big for his boots, if not his spikes.
So the definitive team game is designed to prove the futility of personal advancement. Then along comes Jonathan E – coolly portrayed by James Caan – who is so accomplished at Rollerball that the crowds start chanting his name. Fronted by the petrifying Mr Bartholomew – played by John Houseman as a transparent cross between Dr No and Ken Bates – the corporation commands Jonathan to retire, insisting "no man is bigger than the sport". When our hero refuses, Energy remove all the rules to precipitate his departure by more bloody means. In a play-until-they-drop encounter in Tokyo, Jonathan is the last man standing, showing individuals can make a difference.
So much for sport being that wonderful irrelevance. It certainly is as relevant as it is wonderful in making money. And it remains relevant so long as it remains wonderful. All in, it's a very Messi business.
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