Creative Soccer Culture

Why adidas Must Make Erling Haaland Their Main Man

It’s no secret that Erling Haaland’s days with Nike look to be up. But with huge interest from other brands in the young superstar, should adidas be going all out to sign him?

Save for anything horrendous happening to either player, it looks like Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland are set to pick up where Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi leave off, going head to head in the scoring charts and the trophy department, because football loves a great rivalry.

As well as their constant battles on the pitch and in the stats, the Ronaldo/Messi saga was always given that added spice by seeing the players on opposite sides of eternal divides… Real Madrid and Barcelona, Nike and adidas, with the irony always being that each team was sponsored by the opposite brand to their star players. Now though, those times have moved on, and the future is upon us. Kylian Mbappé has arguably already been positioned as the main man at Nike, and as we saw with Neymar’s situation, there just seemingly isn’t room for two in that house anymore, hence the reason Erling Haaland is likely looking to find pastures new.

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PUMA look to be leading the race for the Norwegian, but a recent appearance of the Dortmund man in an adidas shirt on his Instagram stories suggests that nothing is set in stone. And be under no illusions: this was a calculated move, similar to him showing some snaps of himself in an adidas-branded Boca Juniors shirt and PUMA shorts back in October 2021. Nothing in these negotiating periods is left to chance or is done by accident, particularly when Haaland’s agent, Mino Raiola, is involved. Haaland is putting himself out there, saying “Hey, I’m available and I’m open to offers, come get me”. The race is on.

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As it is, adidas need to be looking for a new face for their global football. While the same could also be said of PUMA, they have the slightly younger Neymar in position, and it just feels like if adidas don’t line up a successor to Messi soon, it might end up being very detrimental to their future, particularly if they did lose out to their own perennial rivals and fellow Germans, PUMA.

At this moment in time Messi and Pogba are adidas’s main guys, and that’s been the case for several years, but Messi is edging towards the end of his career, while Pogba just continues to be something of an anomaly. He boasts the personality to succeed in the role, but he just lacks any type of consistency in terms of his performances, being found on the treatment table more regularly than on the pitch, while he is also nearing that 30 mark that signals the beginning of the end for any footballers career, despite how long you might make that end last for (we're looking at you Ibrahimovic).

The Three Stripes currently boast the second highest number of sponsored players in the professional game, close behind Nike, but when you look beyond Messi and Pogba it’s hard to pick out anyone that could become the face of the brand going forward. Sure there’s Salah at Liverpool, a world class talent, but one that turns 30 in June this year. Then there’s the likes of Jude Bellingham, who could well be a world beater in time but is still only 18 years old, Kopa Trophy winner Pedri who shows enormous potential at 19 years of age, and Joao Felix, who's never really kicked on from his early potential, but there’s just no obvious candidate to pick up where Messi leaves off. To have a rivalry with Mbappé, it sort of feels like there needs to be a striker.

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2022 is set to be a hugely transitional year in football, likely marking the last World Cup appearances of Ronaldo, Messi and probably Neymar as well (never say never though, but there’s only so long these super-humans can go on for). It’ll be a huge milestone and the perfect occasion for batons to be passed. 

As well as this, Mbappé looks likely to be on his way from PSG, with Real Madrid his likely destination, and while the symmetry of a perfect world would see Haaland end up at Barcelona, the Catalan club’s current financial situation suggests that that would be unlikely. Still, thanks to some keen engineering from Raiola, Haaland’s contract with Nike looks to have ended at the same time that he becomes available for a cut-price €60 million on the transfer market, probably meaning that he will be playing at a new club in a new brand come the start of the 22/23 season. Fuel was added to that speculative fire with some recent comments from Haaland about Dortmund wanting him to sort his future. So while Nike already have Mbappé in place, the battle is on for adidas and PUMA.

For adidas it’s a situation that mirrors 2006 to a certain extent. Zinedine Zidane was their face at the time, appearing in his last World Cup, and he went out with a bang (unfortunately the wrong kind). But in that situation, adidas had already lined up his replacement, having convinced a certain little Argentinian to switch his Swoosh for Three Stripes in February 2006 (yes, before anyone says anything, Messi was only 18 at that time, like Bellingham, but come on, this was a kid who was scoring goals for fun at Barcelona…).

While adidas couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams what Messi would go on to achieve in his career, all while wearing their brand, they did have a young superstar to pin their hopes on.

So while no one is going to argue with his stats, just why is Haaland in such demand? It’s something that hasn’t been fully tapped into yet, but he really has a lot of potential from a marketing perspective. He’s arguably the only currently established player that can rival Mbappé in terms of both on-pitch potential and marketability. He has a great personality (just watch any of his interviews) and that’s offset by him being very down to earth (meditating on pitch anyone?). He’s incredibly focused on his goals on the pitch (see what we did there?), earning him comparisons to the Terminator, while he actually has very quirky and likeable traits off it, lending him a charisma that’s not been tapped into. 

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Nike perhaps overlooked this side of Haaland, not rewarding him with his own commercial signature edition at any time (despite giving the likes of former teammate Jadon Sancho one, something which no doubt made Haaland think twice about remaining with the Swoosh), and this is something you can guarantee any new suitors will be desperate to offer. But do adidas have a silo in their current setup that would suit Haaland?

The X Speedform is a speed boot, headlined by the likes of Messi, Salah, and Joao Felix. Haaland, while rapid in his own way with those rangey strides, is not what you’d call a speed player. The COPA Sense is more of a midfielders boot, with Pedri and Bellingham fitting that mould perfectly, and then there’s the Predator. Historically, the Predator has always been more of a midfielder’s boot too, made iconic by the likes of Zidane and Beckham. These days it’s Pogba who fronts them, but as it is about to take on its next evolution, could it be realigned to be a boot for Haaland to move into? From a marketing perspective it certainly seems more of a match to his characteristics, while the Predator silo itself – Pogba aside – has lacked a personality to really drive it forward since its return back in late 2017, like the aforementioned Zidane and Beckham did back in the day.

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Ultimately it comes down to risk and reward. Haaland would undoubtedly cost a hefty sum, but at just 21, he’s a player that could front a brand for the next decade. If adidas fail to bring him in, and PUMA succeed, adidas risk falling behind, with PUMA taking on their role in the battle with Nike. So the question is: can adidas afford NOT to sign Haaland?

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Big decisions ahead for both adidas and Haaland...

Daniel Jones

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