Sportswear giant Nike couldn’t lose when Croatia met France in last Sunday’s World Cup final – it makes the shirts for both teams.
It also claimed soccer ascendancy over its main rival Adidas in China when it took over as kit provider three years ago. This month it seemed to interpret this official role as a mandate to ‘big up’ the national side, releasing an ad portraying China at the pinnacle of world football.
The futuristic storyline begins in the lead-up to the World Cup finals in 2034 with the draw for the tournament’s fixtures. The subtext is unsubtle: the Chinese are now the team to fear and English fans are open-mouthed in horror when they learn that they have been drawn to play each other in the ‘Group of Death’.
The way the Nike ad tells it, Chinese players are now such superstars that top European clubs are restricted from signing more than three of them at a time. Indeed, global adulation for Chinese football is all-encompassing: in another sequence, German children play a soccer video game where they choose Chinese teams rather than traditional giants like Bayern Munich or Manchester United.
The commercial then cuts back to young Chinese playing a match in the present day, presumably as a pointer to the grassroots football revolution that’s been inspired by soccer-loving leader Xi Jinping. It finishes with the message ‘All because I dare’ in a partial localisation of Nike’s tagline ‘Just Do It’.
But will China really ‘do it’ in the way that Nike dreams? Not many people thought so. On social media the reaction was more incredulous than inspired. As WiC has pointed out on repeated occasions, the national team is something of a joke locally. One netizen considered the premise of the new Nike ad so laughable, he wrote: “I’m so embarrassed that I’m speechless.”
Another opted for double-edged compliments, noting drily that Nike is the first international brand “daring enough to dream big about Chinese football”. All the talk of a glorious future fed puns about the government’s broader commitment to rejuvenating the nation as well, with another wondering whether “this is the same Chinese dream that our boss Xi keeps going on about?”
Other contributions were more caustic, such as the warning that the advert had been made by Americans and they “know nothing about football”. Another used the phrase “no goals, no wins, no draws and three losses”, a reference to China’s only World Cup appearance in 2002, which ended with three defeats without a single goal scored.
Nike’s dare-to-dream message did stir a few, however, including those who have greater hopes for the transformation that the sportswear giant is imagining. “Those teenagers who love playing football, please continue to dream,” one of the idealists pleaded. “This video is not made for those who laugh at Chinese football today; it is for the people of their generation. I hope that you will make the Chinese football dream come true.”
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