What We Learn from Adidas

Zidane has a word with his player-coach

I caugt Adidas’s hilarious new World Cup “equipo” ad (click here to view as MPG), whose conceit involves two ten-year-old boys in an unnamed Latin American country picking imaginary teams to play each other in a game of soccer, and then the players appear.

The ad shows the unevenness of Adidas’s “squad,” of course: There’s Zidane and Raul and Beckham and Robben, Riquelme, Lampard and Gerrard, but they seem to think (against all evidence to the contrary) that Djibril Cisse is going to the World Cup. And then there’s the rather bizarre addition of Jermain Defoe, the English striker who can’t even get a game for Spurs with any regularity these days. (One wonders how these young fans in Latin America are supposed to know his name!) Seems the kids are onto this, too, because Jermain is sent to play in goal. He actually makes a save in the sequel spot, using his feet with a pirate’s laugh. But by far the highlight of that one is Robben taking the piss out of his own habit of going to ground as if hit by shrapnel every time someone comes within a yard of him — in the spot he howls with protest on the ground after being tackled by ten-year-old Pedro.

But there’s a telling moment at the heart of the spot in which one of the kids suddenly says “Beckenbauer” — and the other cracks up laughing. Der Kaiser duly appears, of course, but that only makes you notice that the only other German player on hand is goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who may not even be at the tournament since flying into a hissy fit after being told by his coach that he’s the number 2 pick.

Now I know the press releases tell you that the likes of Michael Ballack and Kevin Kuranyi make an appearance in subsequent ones, but the point remains — there are very few internationally recognizable stars in German football today. Adidas would obviously have a particular fondness for Beckenbauer, because his ’74 chmpions were the first Adidas-branded football team ever. But having him there at all seems to reflect the reality that ten-year-olds who pay attention to the global game today may struggle to name a single player in the German team that takes the field this summer.

Beckenbauer, left, leads the original Team Adidas in ’74

But looking at the lineup Adidas has assembled, I’d have to give Nike the edge this time around. And, of course, they draw attention to a point I’ve made before about Germany’s prospects.

P.S. A second dimension of the Adidas ad campaign involves spots depicting “international” pick-up games, in which an established star recruits ten of his countrymen to play against a similar team recruited from a different country. They’re a lot of fun, particularly the Kaka vs. Riquelme spot (in which both players trawl Milan in search of Brazilian and Argentinan waiters to make up their sides. But click on Kuranyi vs. De Jong and you get further evidence in support of my sociological argument against Germany’s prospects: De Jong goes out and recruits his team in exactly the sort of place that world-class talents are produced — an Amsterdam immigrant ghetto. Kuranyi goes out in search of a German XI in a gleaming upmarket mall. This may sound like vulgar Marxism, but I think Germany is far too middle class a society now to be a consistent fount of world-class footballing talent.

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