The best football ads of all time

A look back into some of the most memorable football ads.

As Arrigo Sacchi once put it: "Football is the most important of the unimportant things in life." In times of global pandemic, football seems even less important so the fact that most championships, including the Euros, have been cancelled or postponed is not of big concern. But the lack of football on the screen might be a good reason to revisit some of the most memorable TV football adverts of all time (with a heavy feature on Nike).

So, in almost no particular order:

Nike Good vs Evil (1996)

Probably the ad that kick-started what we can call the “Galacticos” era when it comes to football advertising. As a comment made by user Tony Balderrama, who apparently worked on this commercial, points out, this was the most expensive ad at the time and features a vintage selection of players (Cantona, Kluivert, Ian Wright) and a memorable one liner from the eternal Paolo Maldini.

Nike Airport (1998)

This absolutely cult ad was released in 1998 ahead of that year’s World Cup. Brazilian flair and “Mas Que Nada” lit up a boring airport delay in a way that we probably didn’t see during the actual tournament.

At this time Brazilian Ronaldo was not only the biggest football star in the world but a new breed of sporting phenomenon. Asking him to miss the last kick in the advert remains to this day a very ballsy and refreshing move. Also, look out for the first cameo from Eric Cantona who had retired at that point.

Nike The Mission (2000)

Everything about The Mission screams a new millennium. The design of the Nike Geo Merlin ball, the slick colour grading, the dreadlocked goggles wearing Edgar Davids and tons of robotic samurai warriors. We can forgive a little bit of cultural inaccuracy — the advert doesn’t explain why the iconic Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome is inhabited by these samurai cyborgs (nor why it blows up in the end), but the beautiful shots, trickery and young Guardiola might just nick it as our favourite football advert of all time.

Nike The Cage

A firm fan favourite, this Terry Guilliam directed ad (wow, right?) pips some of the modern stars in a 3 vs 3 competition. We’d go on record and say that this ad actually does not deliver on its promise but judging by the comments it has left a lasting impression on football fans.

Nike Ole (2004)

This advert was created for the 2004 European Championship so it’s a bit strange that it focuses on a game between Portugal and... Brazil. Things get even stranger (and quite violent) while the teams are about to go onto the field, eventually forcing the referee to commit a cynical foul on Ronaldinho. Look out for yet another cameo from Cantona and this time — from Dutch master Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Ole!

Nike Take It To The Next Level (2008)

Probably the spot that’s truest to what a career in football looks like. Directed by Guy Ritchie in a gritty POV-style reminding of Prodigy’s classic “Smack My Bitch Up” this ad follows the path of a Dutch youngster to footballing glory. While some of the montage doesn’t hold up you can’t take anything away from the script and the Eagles of Death Metal soundtrack. Love it!

Nike Write The Future (2010)

It is highly doubtful that you’ve never seen Write The Future — the most epic football advert and probably one of the best ones ever. It is directed by none other than Alejandro González Iñárritu (“The Revenant”, “Birdman”, “21 Grams”, etc.) and manages to pack an unreal amount of cultural and sporting context into hectic 3 minutes. No wonder it won the Film Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes Lions.

Fun fact — Ronaldinho wasn’t called up to the Brazilian team that went to the 2010 World Cup in Africa and there is a slightly less engaging version of the ad in which his part is reenacted by Robinho.

Also worth noting is that the advert ends with a monument of Ronaldo that is way more visually pleasing than the now infamous Ronaldo monument.

This is a good moment to talk about the so-called curse of “Write The Future”. In other words — the players that featured in the ad failed to “write their future” during the real tournament.

So let’s change the focus to other brands.

Adidas Futbollitis (2002)

Very on point for the pandemic, this ad was created for the 2002 World Cup and examines the effect of football on top professionals like Zidane, Barthez and Pablo Aimar. Unlike COVID-19, “Futbollitis” seems to affect dogs and especially dachshunds. To our knowledge no cure exists once you develop a passion for football.

Adidas Jose+10 (2006)

When you play football as a kid you don’t simply play with your friends but with all your current and past favourite players. With this beautiful insight in mind Adidas have created a dream game that features an amazing ensemble of stars that truly lives up to the brand’s slogan “Impossible is nothing”. Another fun fact — Lampard being denied a clear goal against a German goalkeeper did happen four years later in the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup.

Puma Cellulator (1998)

Ok, this is a very obscure one and we include it mainly because of the Bulgarian trace — national treasure Hristo Stoichkov is in it. But you can’t deny the crazy aesthetics — The X-Files meets Love Parade — and the bonkers storyline. Also, notice that the alien overlord obliterates Juventus goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi because he murmurs something into Enrico Chiesa’s ear. Absolutely no chill!