The 2010 World Cup is less than three weeks away, and Nike has released a dramatic three-minute movie directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu that features some of the game’s best players: Drogba, Ronaldo, Rooney, Cannavaro, Ribery, Iniesta, Fabregas, Walcott, Evra, Pique, Ronaldinho, Donovan, Howard and Silva. Non-footballers Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, and Homer Simpson also make appearances.
The ad is pretty remarkable, cramming in knowing riffs on the personalities and national implications of the performances of many of the players listed above. Cannavaro’s celebrated glitz, Rooney’s mercurial personality (and England’s tabloid obsession with him and his teammates), Howard’s slyness, the Brazilians’ joyful dancing on and off the ball, Ronaldo’s statuesque physique and persona: it’s all in there. So is the “one worldness” that the Cup quadrennially creates as people around the world tune in to the same series of events and experience them together even as they’re filtered through local perspectives.
Unsurprisingly, though, Nike elevates the role of the individual over the team. Italy, Brazil, and France won the last three Cups because of how they functioned as units, not only because of the play of Pirlo, Ronaldo, or Zidane. Yet, making and marketing icons has been key to Nike’s business model since it brought Michael Jordan into the fold, and it was so eager to release this thing that it included one towering figure, Ronaldinho, who didn’t even make the cut for his national team!
Gestures towards the way that futbol embodies a nation’s character, culture, and personality are in the ad, though they’re backgrounded to the celebration of the individual. One of the joys of watching this tournament will be observing and celebrating and theorizing the relationship between individual brilliance and the collaborative coherence of a team. Watch for how the Germans defend, the Brazilian’s creatively move the ball to space, the Italians work as a tight unit, the Americans scrap, the Dutch fly up the field, the French mix styles, and the Portuguese play dramatically. Individual brilliance will rightly be celebrated, as it will be on full and glorious display in South Africa next month. But the best teams will move forward, and their work will be just as beautiful.