6 of the most interesting brand switches we’ve seen players make
Like many others, I caught “The Last Dance”, ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, which provided an in-depth look
at the man who saved the Earth by winning a basketball match against aliens at the Chicago Bulls during their final championship season in 1997-98.
Off the court, Jordan’s also a big figure for Nike, with the Swoosh giving him his own brand and former CEOs admitting that he had saved the company. I was therefore, caught by surprise when the documentary revealed that not only did Michael Jordan want to sign with adidas at first, he was so vehemently against signing with Nike that his mother had to force him to listen to Nike’s pitch.
Likewise in football, while a player’s personal preference plays a part in signing endorsement deals, there are often many factors that play a part in a footballers decision to sign with a brand, including money. Here’s our list of some of the most iconic boot sponsorship swaps and the background on their switches.
Lionel Messi – Nike to adidas
Surprise surprise. The best player in the world, who signed a lifetime contract with adidas, actually began his career in Nike boots when he made his debut in 2003 at age 16. Messi started his career switching between the Nike Air Zoom Total 90, Mercurial Vapor and Air Zoom Tiempo Legend. This was most likely due to them being available to Barca’s youth team due to Nike’s role as Barcelona’s kit sponsors.
In 2006, noting the Argentinean’s rapidly rising stock, adidas reportedly offered Messi a £400,000 annual endorsement deal, almost £300,000 more than their closest competitor and the rest is history.
Eagle-eyed boot spotters would also note that the man is very particular with his boots, with most of them having special customisations.
Until the launch of the adidas Nemeziz line, his boots always had leather uppers and could have been a major factor for adidas launching a leather version of the wildly popular adizero series. Another interesting modification is his Gambatrax soleplate, which is a unique set of oval and triangular shaped studs, that was available on the retail version of his signature models, Messi 16.1 as well as his Messi 17.1 and 18.1 Nemeziz colourways.
Cesc Fabregas – Nike to Puma
In 2009, Nike launched the much beloved CTR Maestri silo, creating the control boot category. It was fronted by Cesc Fabregas who was probably the most popular playmaker in the world at that time.
Not only was Fabregas on the face of virtually every CTR 360 advertisement out there, the boot was also launched in a classy red and black colourway – a direct nod to his role as captain for Arsenal Football Club. Like Cristiano Ronaldo in the Mercurial line and Wayne Rooney in the T90 Laser series, it seemed like the boot had been made with Fabregas in mind with the two being a perfect fit.
And then in 2011, the unthinkable happened. As a statement of intent, Puma lured Fabregas away from Nike to headline their new Puma PowerCat 1.12 series and soon after, the ground-breaking Puma evoPower. Nike scrambled to find a new face to replace him for the CTR 360 series and while Iniesta was an excellent midfielder in his own right, he didn’t possess the same commercial appeal Fabregas had.
Interestingly, since Fabregas’ departure, Nike have not used individual players as the face of their silos apart from Cristiano Ronaldo in the Mercurial series, and Neymar’s short-lived time in the Hypervenom silo.
Paul Pogba – Nike to adidas
If Fabregas’ departure was a prelude to the power that players were beginning to have on brands marketing, then Paul Pogba’s move to adidas confirmed it. The Frenchman’s move to adidas heralded a new marketing era, where brands were focused not only on the pitch, but also off it.
Then only 22 years old, Pogba was one of football’s fastest rising stars, thanks to his unique blend of pace, power and technique on the pitch. Off the pitch, he was also quickly making a name for himself as a fashion icon.
As Pogba’s Nike contract wound down in 2016, he was caught in a very public battle between the two brands. While he was seen wearing some of the limited edition remakes of the Predator Accelerator during that period, Nike were making big attempts behind the scenes to persuade him to re-sign his contract to front the newly launched Magista Obra series.
In the end, adidas won the battle, signing him in time to headline the revolutionary laceless ACE 16+. The German brand quickly tapped on Pogba’s fashionista side as well, launching the Pogba Capsule series, which included custom design boots, casual apparel and sneakers.
Marouane Fellaini – New Balance to Nike
New Balance may be on a hot streak of late, having launched the Tekela v2 and Furon v6 to a wave of promising reviews, but this was not the case back in 2015. Having rebranded themselves from Warrior, they wasted no time in signing a number of notable players to ensure on-pitch support for their boots, including Marouane Fellaini.
While most of these players have since left the brand, the Belgian’s departure was most acrimonious. Furious that Fellaini had begun publicly training and playing in a pair of Nike Tiempo Legend 6, the brand terminated his contact, leading the Belgian to sue the brand for damages.
Fellaini’s complaint was that his boots, which were the New Balance Visaro 2, were extremely uncomfortable and affected his performance, leading him to wear the Tiempo Legend 6 instead. New Balance counter-claimed that they’d given him a new customised pair and he’d okayed the new boot.
It was a terribly bizarre situation, with exchanges between the brand and player becoming public information in court, giving us a unique look into the underside of boot endorsement deals.
Andres Iniesta – Nike to ASICS
One of the most common ways that boot endorsement switches come is when players come into frequent contact with a new brand, usually due to the brand sponsoring his club’s kit.
While Iniesta started his time in Japan training in a bespoke pair of Magista Opus 2.5 that were given to him by Nike for his last game at Camp Nou, he was quickly spotted in a new pair of whiteout boots. Despite headlining Nike’s control silo for many years, Iniesta’s age and move to Japan meant that his marketing value had dropped and was not a high priority in their stable of endorsed players.
As sponsors for his new club, Vissel Kobe, ASICS quickly stepped into the vacuum to sign the Spaniard and gave him his first signature colourway with the launch of their DS Light X-Fly 4. This was soon followed up by the Ultrezza AI, Iniesta’s first signature model that was built and crafted to each and every one of Iniesta’s requirements.
Honourable mention: Kaka – adidas to Mizuno
Likewise, Kaka’s move to Orlando City during the twilight of his career also saw the end of his boot endorsement contract with adidas. Unlike Iniesta, however, the Brazillian didn’t pick up a new endorsement, but instead began to wear blackout boots (due to MLS requirements) of models he preferred.
He was first spotted in a blackout Copa Mundial, before photos emerged of him training in the Mizuno Morelia 2. Having worn the adidas adipure for much of his career, the Morelia 2 was definitely a fitting replacement with a similar full-leather construction. Soon after, he was spotted in the Morelia Neo 2, which was a lighter and more modern take on the leather boot.
A testament to the quality of Mizuno’s boots which also begs the question – how many players would still be wearing their current boots if they were not offered boot endorsement deals?
Did we miss any iconic player/football boot switches? Let us know in the comments below.