Sneering that “respected US sports journalists – having ignored the sport for the past four years – will Google like fury and emerge as venerable soccer experts, shoving aside those junior hacks who spend their entire working lives trying to squeeze a mention of the game into a monolithically monocultural sports press,” the Guardian’s Steve Wells proceeds to mock dear, sweet suffering Barbaro (“tons of Diana-style polythened flora dumped outside the horse hospital came almost exclusively from America’s horsey set”) and suggests that Swoosh Inc.’s marketing mavens have lost the plot when it comes to pushing the Beautiful Game in the States.
We US soccer-bubbleheads are currently awash in Nike’s Fatty Cantona-fronted ‘Joga Bonito’ TV ads – and frankly, we’re disappointed. And so we should be. Nike’s previous US campaign was simply stunning.It consisted of a TV ad where a droning anti-soccer radio shock-jock was drowned out by a go-go anthem called Tell It To The World and the screen rejoiced in shots of street kids and meat-packers and spindle-legged teens doing amazing things with soccer balls on basketball courts, tennis courts and baseball fields. It closed with the shot of the US team smashing home a goal against England in Chicago. And it felt good, dammit, it felt evangelical.
But there was more – a print ad that bordered on genius. Using the angry, relentless and irresistible diction of Thomas Paine’s war-winning pamphlets and invoking the revolutionary image of the spitting rattlesnake with the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ logo, Nike’s ‘So Says This AMERICAN Game’ manifesto pitted players plucked from “Texas trailer parks” and “Florida projects” against the snobby French, supercilious Brazilians and arrogant English.
Every time I saw these ads my jaded British heart pounded with pride. Why? Because some bright spark in Nike marketing had managed to hit an Anglo-American emotional nail smack on the head. Both cultures revel in inverse snobbery. We like underdogs. Give us a super-horse and we’ll cheer. Cripple the bugger and we’ll cry ’till Christmas. Invincible super-cyclist Lance Armstrong was a bit of yawn until he got cancer. America’s endless legions of hypertrained Kryptonian super-sprinters and swimmers are forgotten almost as soon as they leave the winner’s podium, but the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ – when a rag-bag US ice hockey team scored a Rocky-style famous victory over the allegedly invincible USSR – still brings a tear to American eyes.