Vinicius Jr, a bust-up with Nike and the race to sign football’s next big thing

Nike’s latest World Cup ad is a highly anticipated product. Footballverse, they call it. A rogue scientific quest in a Swiss laboratory is set to decide once and for all who can be considered the Greatest of All Time.

All the great players of Nike – past and present – are in a beautiful film that lasts four minutes. The original Ronaldo and Ronaldinho have been brought back from their prime to compete with today’s greats Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo, before Virgil van Dijk, Kevin de Bruyne, Alex Morgan, Leah Williamson, Carli Lloyd and Sam Kerr all join the fray. . .

Despite his absence, he is one of the greatest athletes in the Nike World Cup.

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Vinicius Jr, Brazil’s breakout striker and rising powerhouse, is nowhere to be seen in the GOAT Experience. Not even for a cream, like the one he gave Phil Foden in a far away cafe.

Vinicius has also been a rare exception since the start of the World Cup in Brazil. Rodrygo, Richarlison and Allison all modeled Nike shirts in promotional videos released in August, but not Vinicius, a forward who won the Champions League final with Real Madrid in May.

However, there is no longer a happy union between Vinicius and Nike. Far from it. As first reported by Brazil’s UOL this week, the 22-year-old began legal proceedings ahead of the World Cup to end a sponsorship deal with the sportswear firm that was due to run until 2028.

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There is said to be no turning back for Vinicius, who refused to discuss his strained relationship with Nike when he appeared in front of the media on Wednesday to preview Brazil’s World Cup quarter-final against Croatia. Peshwa believes that he has not been important in the commercial activities of Nike and sees a bigger future with another brand.

Adidas and Puma have both reportedly shown an interest in adding Vinicius to their ranks of elite footballers should a severance deal be agreed in the coming months. Both would have him in a heartbeat.

It’s an unfortunate threat to Nike, the longtime kit supplier to the Brazilian national team. One of world football’s rising stars wants to cut an association that dates back to when he was a 13-year-old in Flamengo’s youth ranks.

That Vinicius is now choosing to wear a variety of vintage Nike boots, as opposed to the Mercurial XV, only highlights the sick feeling of being the favorite to win a tournament in Brazil.

Vinicius Jr (second from left) holds his own against established stars such as Neymar (far right, photo: Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images)

“Nike doesn’t want to lose Vinicius,” says Ehsen Shah, founder and CEO of sports marketing agency B-Engaged. “One because he is in the Brazil team and two because you want to have the biggest names in an Adidas team, like Real Madrid.

“If you go back a few years ago, it was Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Gareth Bale and Luca Modric. They were the five that everyone would talk about as elite level players.

“Vinicius will be part of the back group with Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, those guys. We see Phil Foden getting recognized, Jude Bellingham as well. There is a young group of players who will be big names for the next generation.”

This World Cup effectively represents a changing of the guard commercially. Messi and Ronaldo are both competing in their final international tournament, while Neymar has hinted that it may not be until 2026.

In Mbappe, who was already a World Cup winner in 2018, Nike have the natural poster boy to fill Ronaldo’s void but the loss of Vinicius would be devastating. He was supposed to be a Nike athlete for at least six more years.

Nike have a prize in Kylian Mbappe – but will they lose another in Vinicius Jr? (Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Those close to Vinicius suggested that the motivation for leaving Nike was not financial. His reasons for calling lawyers instead are based on frustrations that do not see his profile grow.

“You have Brazil in the World Cup final, where they are one of the favourites, and they didn’t use Vinicius,” adds Shah. “They went with older Brazilian players (Ronaldo and Ronaldinho) instead of the current ones. It might be seen as a kick in the teeth. A World Cup ad, where Nike usually uses Brazil, but Vinicius is not used.

“Especially with Brazil and Brazilian players, the focus is always around the World Cups. If they produce in a World Cup then it immediately blows over. The country follows its national team so religiously in the World Cup that if you perform on that stage, you’ll do very well off of it.”



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Nike did not respond to requests for comment but has clearly chosen to place others at the top of its marketing strategies for this World Cup.

Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo, Van Dijk and De Bruyne are all World Cup veterans and therefore more recognizable to a global audience. Meanwhile, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Brazilian Edgar Davids bring a touch of nostalgia to the latest innovative ad. Nike has used Eric Cantona for similar purposes in the past.

“It’s very difficult to get to the top of the tree in terms of who is featured in global campaigns,” says Tim Crow, a sports marketing expert. “If you’re going to be recognized as a global asset you need global appeal. Great performance is what creates coverage and relevance in that business.”

Vinicius is not yet considered to be of that level of global appeal but the legal process he has initiated will show that he is being sold by Nike, which has generally maintained strong ties with Brazilian footballers in recent decades, in order to maintain its long-standing association with the national team. add to group

Nike has a long-standing relationship with the Brazilian national team (Photo: Raphael Dias/Getty Images)

Nike is already the most famous face in this Brazil World Cup team. Neymar was sacked by the American firm last year after he “refused to cooperate in a confidential investigation into credible allegations of misconduct by an employee.” Those allegations, which date back to 2016, have always been denied by Neymar, who has said Nike “betrayed” him.

Neymar is now a Puma athlete, one of seven in the current Brazil squad. Adidas, meanwhile, counts nine, including Raphinha, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli. Vinicius is one of 10 Brazilian players sponsored by Nike but not, if the legal action is successful, for a longer period.

That’s important because common logic has always pointed to Vinicius being the next big thing in world football. Signed by Real Madrid as a 16-year-old for £38m in 2017, the 21-year-old already has two La Liga titles and a Champions League winners’ medal, and is on fire again this season.

This is his first World Cup with Brazil but Vinicius is already a star in Tite’s impressive squad. He was the winner in South Korea’s last 16 tie and will again carry his nation’s hopes when they face Croatia on Friday.

Vinicius is already considered a star in South America, which brings many commercial collaborations. EA Sports and Pepsi are among the top 10 brands that youth have used in marketing campaigns.

“As a brand you’re going to ask ‘Who is the most interesting player for us to be associated with?’ and if you can’t get the best, who’s after it?” “If you can’t get Neymar in this team, then the next one you want is Vinicius,” says Shah. That would mean why he has so many commercial partnerships.

@alessia.russo23 Here’s my #duet with @pepsiglobal for their Nutmeg Challenge! Give it a try and have some fun! #PepsiNutmeg #ThirstyForMore #ad ♬ Pepsi Nutmeg (The Rockafeller Skank) – FatBoy Slim

They see value in a player who has already built up almost 27 million Instagram followers. Another 16 million can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

These numbers are no small feat for Mbappe, who boasts 75 million followers on Instagram, not to mention fellow Nike athlete Ronaldo, who is unrivaled with 509 million across the platform.

But Nike tied Vinicius up to 2028 for a reason; he was among those most likely to inherit the golden thrones that have belonged to Messi and Ronaldo for so long.

Perhaps the biggest fish out there to be landed by the sportswear giants is Haaland, who has donned the boots of Adidas, Nike and Puma as a Manchester City player so far this season, but Vinicius will certainly be at be followed. Especially if he’s part of a Brazil team that’s reclaiming a trophy it last won in 2002 next weekend.

“Mbappe and Haaland will be up there with the greats of the game,” says Crow. “These are great stars, but we can see from this World Cup that there is a unique generation in every country, whether it’s Bellingham with England or an amazing young Brazilian team that is emerging.

“If Vinicius is looking to get more attention then he should let his performances speak for themselves.”

(Top photo: Manuel Reino Berengui/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)


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