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The Dream: a love letter to Nike football adverts

As Nike's new masterpiece hits our computer screens, we look at their particular knack for bringing out the fourteen-year-old boy in all of us...

The Dream: a love letter to Nike football adverts
09 June 2016

You know like how your dad goes on about how he was really into Star Wars and that he and his mates loved everything Star Wars and how the release of every new Star Wars film had him and his little swotty mates in matching parkas in an absolute frenzy? Yeah, that was what we are like every time a new Nike Football advert comes out.

The new one - The Switch - is a six-minute long riff on Freaky Friday where Cristiano Ronaldo and a ball boy - convincingly named “Charlie Lee” by someone who has never met another human - swap bodies and battle it out. What starts as a kinda-weird “Ooh, isn’t CR7 hot and rich and handsome and great at football” propaganda pic turns into an unusually stirring film about absolutely fuck-all.

There’s some funny self-effacing moments from Ronaldo where he’s all like “Yesssssssss” at winning the Ballon d’Or and a bit of casual racism from Charlie’s mum. Besides that, it’s all back-heels. Just constant, endless backheeling. Oh, and Harry Kane pops up to smash a goal in from six-yard and Kyle Walker appears for the express purpose of being backheel-nutmegged into oblivion by Ronaldo.

It’s honestly all total nonsense, and yet it thrills inside you such intense feelings of being a kid and pretending you’re someone else, somewhere else. Inside this bollocks sugar-crunch shell lies the ecstatic beating heart of every fourteen-year-old boy who just wants another pair of football boots for his birthday so he can pretend to be his hero.

And as an adult you know that’s all this is - a ploy to get you to buy expensive fluro-green plastic shoes with odd ankle-sock bits and lumps of carbon fibre glued onto the sides of it - and yet it remains irresistible all the same.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a Nike Football advert. I’m not even sure I wanted to be a footballer - that would require loads and loads of skill and hard work and, for that, I am supremely not-arsed - but I wanted to be the physical embodiment of a Nike Football advert.

I once quite sincerely shouted "PAPA LOVES MAMBO!" when I scored at five-a-side. I wanted to live in a world infinitely soundtracked by Perry Como or Elvis vs. JXL or them Brazilian lads that sung in Brazilian to those Brazilians in that airport. I wanted to murder a bunch of ghouls with well-timed interceptions with Paolo Maldini. I wanted to rob an art gallery with Edgar Davids using only around-the-worlds. I wanted to drown in a sinking ship-stadium with Eric Cantona and Luis Figo and Hidetoshi Nakata and, somehow, Tomas Rosicky. I wanted to do skills that didn’t make sense and that nobody would conceivably be able to do in a match situation, and then nutmeg a steward and then look to the camera and shrug. I wanted to feel that inevitable sliding foul in the last, dying seconds that would lead me to taking that cup final-winning penalty.

Of course, the adverts never actually showed you the final pay-off and that was fine too. The journey was what made it. I wanted that journey and made my dad spend a relative fortune on boots to service it.

That is the genius of advertising, isn’t it? Making you feel things so you want to buy stuff. And Nike, in particular, are the masters: they manage to make the joy of the game almost entirely removed from the game itself so that even if you’re awful at football you can still be a part of something. The "Nike Advert" became a genre all of its own.

In Nike Football World, there are no nil-nils, no achingly controversial offsides, no Phil Joneses. ACLs do not exist in Nike Football World. Injuries exist only as motivation for another pulsating montage. 

In Nike Football World, there is only The Dream. There is only the pure installation of The Dream inside you, a spotty fourteen-year-old boy who brings brand new Total 90 astros inside his book-bag so he can whack them on at lunchtime, a boy who stares out the window at skeleton goalposts smattered with electrical tape and thinks about putting every shot Top Bins - the toppest of Bins - even if you have to stand there on your own in the pissing rain, in the howling wind.

I remember the first time I saw Ronaldinho hit those crossbars. I was sat in a grey ICT class watching this bloke with all those huge teeth, sat in a railway-yellow Barça vest on his club’s stunning baize, trying on some white and gold boots. The guy who brought them over to Ronaldinho was faceless. I was struck with awe, staring at a tiny Quicktime window on a boxy desktop screen. Fourteen is the perfect age for your favourite player to turn into a superhero before your very eyes.

Besides the fact that he had hair like a pound-shop wig and teeth as big as picket fences, the first thing you noticed about Ronaldinho was those thighs. They were huge. Two huge slabs that tapered down into slim shins, down into feet in white boots that really did the business. Watching it now, one decade on, the video seems stark and weird. It’s practically a bloody mumblecore movie with loads of kick-ups. It’s totally wordless and without music, without anything that might detract from the echoing thk, thk, thk, thup… ping! that was to come.

It bore no relation to the game that I knew and I… was… fine with that? I was totally fine with it. Being whisked away to an empty stadium to watch someone fire endless, heavily-CGI’d volleys at a 25-foot long white piece of metal was all I wanted from life. So I watched it again. And again. And then I rung my dad and told him how my boots were too small, right, much too small for me now, dad, and that I needed these new white and gold Ronaldinho boots. And then I watched it again. And again. And again…

As the first tournament in two decades that England could feasibly win looms into shot like an ominous lion-shaped blimp, our desire for The Dream has not waned in the slightest. Scanning Twitter or Facebook you can still see a bunch of adult men turn straight back into small boys at the sight of six-minute advert. 

I’m not even sure what The Switch is selling beyond the notion that you can be whatever you want to be if you headbutt your heroes hard enough, but I’ve bought it and so has everyone else - hook, line, and traumatic head injury.