Creative Soccer Culture

Nike: 'The Mission' – 20 Years On

Twenty years ago, Nike bestowed upon us one of the most outlandish football ads of all time. It saw a crack squad of superstars recruited by Louis Van Gaal to complete a task: to recover the Nike Geo Merlin. But this was not just a football – No. See, it was rounder…

Two years on from the Selecao showing off their samba skills in the airport, Nike ramped up their football-based advertorial campaigns, bringing a more outlandish outlook on the abilities of their star players. Back in 1996, they gave us the – at the time – quite unprecedented ‘Good vs Evil’, and that was followed up by the outstanding ‘Parklife’ in 1997. Then came the aforementioned airport shenanigans of the Brazilians, but it was ‘The Mission’ in 2000 that really provided the springboard for the direction of future ads and campaigns such as “The Secret Tournament”. 

Mixing part Mission: Impossible and part Matrix, Nike’s iconic ‘The Mission’ advert saw a crack squad of Edgar Davids, Luis Figo, Lilian Thuram, Pep Guardiola, Francesco Totti, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Oliver Bierhoff, and Hidetoshi Nakata recruited by Louis Van Gaal to recover a seemingly stolen ball, the Nike Geo Merlin. Equipped with some Nike Air Zoom Total 90s and using their incredible skills, the team infiltrated a building before, well, it all went a bit wrong. There were some Robot Samurai type things… Y’know what, just watch it if you’re not already familiar, it’ll save us a whole lot of time. 

It was the first time that football felt proper Hollywood – Escape to Victory aside – especially given the sharp dialogue, spoken with aplomb by Van Gaal in particular: “We need this back.”

“It’s just a ball…”

“NO – It’s rounder!”


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In today’s movie world where remakes are ten-a-penny, who’d be up for a reimagining of this classic? With that in mind we've assembled what we think would be the ideal replacement squad. First up, we could see Kevin De Bruyne stepping into the Davids role. Sure he doesn’t carry the mystique of Davids, but honestly, who does or indeed ever has? But what De Bruyne lacks in glasses and dreads, he more than makes up for in pure ability.

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Then for Figo, we’ve opted for Jadon Sancho. Both unbelievably gifted players with the ball at their feet. A good like-for-like replacement in our eyes.

Then comes the unenviable task of replacing Francesco Totti. For that task we’ve turned to one of the best in the world in Kylian Mbappe. Has the ability and the chops to back it up. Would definitely take down a robot ninja/samurai or ten.

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In 2000, Nike opted for the man with a girls name to bring the muscle, with Lilian Thuram. For us, there can be no arguing with bringing in Virgil Van Dijk for that task. Same female theme to the name <ahem> but he’d bring a calm persona to the team when things inevitably turn sour.

Stepping up to take the Nakata role – one of Japan’s greatest players of all time – would be Frenkie De Jong. Confidently able to control the mission from the middle of the action.

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While Pep Guardiola wasn’t known for his pace, he is all about character. And so to replace him we’ve gone for someone that has both in abundance: Alphonso Davies – the joker in the pack, he's sure to build the camaraderie aspect. If we had to pick, it'd probably be Davies who didn't make it and for whom the team reassembles for the sequel (think we're getting a bit carried away with this now...)

Cole and Yorke took their place in the original team as one of the best strike partnerships of their generation and arguably of all time. So while Aubameyang and Lacazette don’t quite live up to that billing, they certainly carry that same partnership and understanding on the pitch. Manchester United to Arsenal… controversial.

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And then for a Bierhoff replacement. We ummed and ahhhed about Kane and Lewandowski for this role, but we ultimately settled on Lautaro Martinez, bringing a bit of South American flair to the team. Sure to be able to destroy the head honcho with a searing volley at the end as well.

And leading the team into this mission? Only one man for the job, surely? In a returning cameo and nod to the original, it could only be Edgar Davids. Older, wiser, but you still wouldn’t mess with him. Perfection.

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Yep, we'd back that team for a heist...

Daniel Jones

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