After 10 years together and despite a renewed contract in 2018, the relationship between Vinicius Jr. and Nike recently looked to be beyond repair. Now though, in a dramatic u-turn, it appears that not only could Vini see out the remainder of his contract, but he could well commit to the cause and take his place at the pinnacle of Nike’s roster alongside Mbappé and Haaland.

The talent of Vinicius Jr. has never really been in doubt. This is a player that was signed by Real Madrid as a 16-year-old for £38 million in 2017, who by the age of 21 already had two La Liga titles and a Champions League winners’ medal to his name, and, by the age of just 22, has established himself as one of the most exciting players on the planet and a key part of the attack of one of the most celebrated international teams in history. To paraphrase the great Ron Burgundy: he’s kind of a big deal.

From an early age his ability and potential did not go unnoticed by Nike. At age 13, Vini signed a 10 year deal with the American giants, and that was renewed in 2018 for a further decade. But shortly thereafter, things began to deteriorate.

The Real Madrid man started to feel undervalued by the brand. Overlooked for certain ad campaigns and just generally not receiving the treatment that he felt some of his contemporary’s were enjoying, he began to feel that the terms of that 2018 extension were all-round not reflective of his rising status.

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This led to reports of a lawsuit being filed by the player ahead of the 2022 World Cup, with him trying to terminate his contract. On-pitch, the biggest indicator that all was not well between player and brand was that Vini was wearing both blackout Nike boots as well as older models – the two key signs that a contract is either up, or soon to be. Up to this point, he had become one of Nike’s key players, wearing the latest releases, and that included appearing in the premium DreamSpeed series.

The matter apparently went to court and, despite his hopes, the case was ruled to be in Nike’s favour. As a result, the partnership and Vinicius’s responsibilities within it were reduced to the 22-year-old performing only the minimal requirements, namely wearing Nike footwear, with no social media posts or appearances at Nike events.

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All of a sudden though, the first signs of bridges being rebuilt are starting to emerge. Following the vile racist abuse that Vinicius was subject to in the match against Valencia back in May, Nike were quick to show their support on social media.

Vinicius has become something of a figurehead in the battle against racism, particularly in La Liga, but on display throughout the world, and this was notable with Brazil wearing an all-black kit in the first half of their match against Guinea, obviously produced by the Swoosh.

That has since been followed up by a picture of Vinicius with a horde of Nike shopping bags, with the attacker obviously having enjoyed a recent Swoosh-fuelled shopping spree. No way that gets posted if there’s no chance of the partnership being reignited.

So, that leads to the inevitable question: what’s next for Vinicius x Nike?

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Everyone knows that Kylian Mbappé currently occupies top-billing at House Swoosh, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. He’s recently been joined at the top of the roster by the absolute goal-machine that is Erling Haaland, whose status and importance to Nike was emphasised by the tag ‘Force9’. The Norwegian’s another player who had long been associated with Nike, only to cut ties and then reestablish the relationship, paralleling the story of Vinicius somewhat. So there’s clearly a precedence for a player to once again find favour with Nike, despite seeming to have cut ties.

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Vinicius represents something very different for Nike. While Mbappé sits on the throne as the current undisputed king, happy in his Mercurial Superfly, and Haaland is just an agent of chaos, settling in his Phantom GX, the Brazilian is a Mercurial Vapor man, and offers strong appeal in the South American market. It means there’s a ready made space for him, with no proper cross over with either of the other two athletes in terms of boot choices, providing Nike with a triumvirate of talent, and that’s not even taking female athletes into account.

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Further to just the boots he’s wearing though and even his ever-improving performances on the pitch, as previously mentioned, Vinicius is becoming something of a reluctant focal point in the ongoing fight against racism – but what that’s showing is that he actually has the type of character that perhaps wasn’t as apparent earlier in his career.

The continual targeting and his staunch refusal to back down in the face of such adversity has shown a completely different perspective of the player – a strength of character that underpins his undoubted ability – and it’s something that Nike would surely be only too happy to throw their significant and influential support behind. The brand has made a point of promoting minorities and championing causes throughout its history, and Vini’s ongoing battle certainly fits the bill, expanding beyond the realms of sport to represent a greater social issue.

Another aspect to add to Vini's appeal for Nike is the Real Madrid perspective. This is adidas’s flagship team, and with the surprising loss of Benzema recently, there’s suddenly a look of dominance from Nike in the midfield and front line of Los Blancos. If – and it’s a big if at this point – but if Mbappé were to head to the Bernabeu to fill his departing compatriot’s number 9 shirt, suddenly there would be a real sign of Nike ruling the roost, with the recently recruited Bellingham sitting amongst the likes of Valverde, Camavinga, Tchouameni and Rodrygo as the sole Three Stripe representative. Add a newly invigorated and Nike-backed Vinicius, plus another striker – whether its ends up being Mbappé or not – and the Swoosh will have well and truly infiltrated the Los Blancos camp – something that won’t have escaped anyone’s notice.

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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, but 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 was punctuated by Norway’s – and therefore Haaland’s – absence from Qatar last year. However, Vinicius Jr will likely always be present, part of a side who will always be challenging for international honours, and who are also backed by Nike. He also has stepped into the number 10 shirt vacated by Neymar during the latter's latest injury spell, but likely a change that will be permanent when the PSG man's time with the National team comes to an end. Mbappé at Nike-sponsored France and Vini at Nike-sponsored Brazil… talk about hedging your bets.

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Finally, there’s Vinicius’s position in it all to consider. As mentioned, he’s been part of the Swoosh setup for his whole career, since the tender age of 13, and a glance down his Instagram profile shows what a fan of the Swoosh he is. He regularly posts pictures of himself stacked with Nike kit, from sneakers to clothing and even new boots, the majority of which you feel is not pushed officially by the brand. With a following of 39.1m followers ATTOW and counting, it’s an easy platform for Nike to enjoy. You get the feeling that his self-imposed brand blackout over the last few months would’ve been tough for him as well.

While Nike have seemingly been clearing the decks in recent years, with the likes of Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling and even Neymar all making moves away from the Swoosh, they’ve been quick to tie down players that fit the ethos and mindset of the brand. A question has always been: is there space for that many top-level superstars at one brand? And the answer is looking more and more likely to be an overwhelming yes. Mbappé, Haaland and Vinicius… quite the strike force, and one that surely couldn't be matched by any other brand in the world.

Vinicius Jr. wears the Nike Mercurial Vapor, which you can shop at