Adidas Football has just enjoyed a stellar World Cup, with its talisman, Lionel Messi, going all the way to lift the ultimate prize in World Football. It was the highest of highs, but with Messi not getting any younger, where does the brand go from here?

The stage was set and to a certain extent it felt like the script was already written, but that didn’t make Lionel Messi lifting the World Cup feel any less fulfilling. It was a moment of history that a whole generation got to share in; a moment we’ll all get to tell our grandchildren about. The debate will forever rage on about who the true GOAT is, being as it’s ultimately subjective, but Messi certainly has nothing left to prove. It feels like the World Cup win was a fitting conclusion to an epic career – not that he’s quite done yet, of course.

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While he hasn’t yet hung up his boots, other than guiding PSG to the Champions League, it doesn’t feel like there’s much left for Messi to accomplish, and the feeling is that he’s on his victory lap to a certain extent. He’s been a shining beacon for adidas for over a decade and a half now, and following his historic World Cup win with Argentina, it feels like his unbelievable story is nearing its end. Now, we’ve said it before, and it’s never going to be an easy question to answer, but who or what comes after arguably the greatest player of all time? In other words, where do adidas go from here?

For so long it’s been Messi v Ronaldo in the adidas v Nike battle, but as the years have ticked by and these super-human stars have edged ever so slowly towards the ends of their careers, Nike have prepared and positioned Kylian Mbappé as the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo’s throne, and while CR7 has been put out to pasture in Saudi Arabia, Mbappé has more than risen to the role, scooping the Golden Boot in Qatar and getting oh so near to guiding his nation to back-to-back World Cup wins.

So what about adidas? For them it’s a situation that mirrors 2006 to a certain extent. Zinedine Zidane was their lead player at that time, appearing in his last World Cup, and he went out with a bang (unfortunately the wrong kind, unlike Messi who got it absolutely right 16 years later). However, in that situation, adidas had already lined up Zidane’s replacement, having convinced the little Argentinian to switch his Swoosh for Three Stripes in February 2006. Now though, there is no obvious replacement, no obvious candidate to pick up that baton and lead the brand into a new era.

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Looking at their options and it’s been almost a year since Erling Haaland’s Nike contract expired and rumours of a move to adidas ramped up following the Norwegian’s meeting with brand ambassador and legend Zidane at Three Stripe HQ in Herzogenaurach. Aside from the continuous flirting though, nothing has come of those rumours over the last 12 months, and Haaland remains the ultimate tease, opting instead to keep his options well and truly open and play the field.

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Away from Haaland then, and we’ve already spoken about how emerging talents such as Rafael Leão could potentially lead a new generation for adidas Football, one that doesn’t focus solely on performance and that instead takes in the broader spectrum of what football culture represents today. But however you cut it, the absence of an out-and-out superstar leading the charge would undoubtedly be felt. Yes, Leão has the potential to be that, as does Jude Bellingham and Pedri, however, another ready-made option has also presented itself in recent weeks.

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Ahead of the World Cup, Nike dropped their traditional TV spot, ‘The Footballverse’. It brought together Nike’s biggest stars – past and present – for a melee of football to see who was best. The original Ronaldo and Ronaldinho returned in their prime to compete with modern day greats Kylian Mbappé and Cristiano Ronaldo, before Virgil van Dijk, Kevin de Bruyne, Alex Morgan, Leah Williamson, Carli Lloyd and Sam Kerr got in on the action. Even Phil Foden got a little cameo. But there was one man who was conspicuous by his absence.

Vinícius Júnior has had something of a public falling out with Nike recently, spurred by his absence from the Footballverse, and not being used for Nike’s latest Brazil kit release. As a result, reports suggest that the 22-year-old began legal proceedings ahead of the World Cup to terminate his sponsorship deal with the Swoosh that had been due to run until 2028. Cue the circling of the adidas and PUMA-shaped sharks, and understandably so.

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This is a man who has long been hailed as a potential star of the future and was signed by Real Madrid as a 16-year-old for £38 million in 2017. By the age of 21 he already had two La Liga titles and a Champions League winners’ medal, and now, at 22, has established himself as a key part of the attack of one of the most celebrated international teams in history. You can see why his possible availability from a brand perspective would not go unnoticed.

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Along with Messi and Ronaldo, Neymar is also not getting any younger, and Vini Jr could well follow in his compatriot’s footsteps, not just in leaving Nike, but also in becoming the focal point for the Seleção for years to come. Neymar obviously jumped from the Swoosh ship to become the main man at PUMA, and along with adidas, they will also be more than a little interested in Vini’s position. A more natural successor to Neymar they could not wish for. That’s why adidas will need to act fast if a pursuit is on the cards.

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Another aspect to add to Vini's appeal for adidas is that they're in danger of being overwhelmed by Nike players at Real Madrid, the Three Stripes' flagship team. Currently Karim Benzema is the standout player to represent the German brand, but the Balon d'Or winner is yet another player that is in the latter stages of his career. A quick glance at the Los Blancos teamsheet, paying particular attention to those under 25 in more attacking roles, shows that Nike currently have a major advantage with the likes of Valverde, Camavinga, Tchouameni and Rodrygo all repping the Swoosh. It's an imbalance that adidas would surely be keen to redress.

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As a key part of Tite’s Brazil, Vini also offers one thing that Haaland will struggle with: success on the international stage. Meaning no disrespect to Norway, they are not in the same league as Brazil or France, and barring a Greece-esque performance from 2004, it’s unlikely Norway will win an international trophy in Haaland’s time. It’s a point that is punctuated by Norway’s – and therefore Haaland’s – absence from Qatar. But Vini Jr will likely always be present, part of a side who will always be challenging for international honours.

The Brazilian has all the attributes to be a world-beater – there’s a reason Nike tied him down to such a long contract. But their potential loss could be a huge gain for another brand. If the Three Stripes were able to tie Vini down, they’d have their natural successor to Messi – he’s already followed him to Pepsi, why not adidas?

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Ultimately, Vini wants to feel valued, wants to see his profile grown, and this would naturally come from being utilised in major marketing campaigns, and it feels like there’s a Vini-sized hole in adidas’s roster. He already has a very respectable 28.3m followers on Instagram (and growing) and he has the ability on the pitch to back up his credentials as a world-beater. There’s a long way to go before this one would get over the line, starting with the successful termination of his Nike contract, but it feels like a logical step for adidas to take, one that would see both them and Nike with their prime players at teams that they sponsor for the first time in years.

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Definitely one to watch...