That’s shoe business
Speculation about a possible link between Wayne Rooney’s injury and his choice of footwear could mean Nike keeping its head down at the World Cup.
Scramble the damage limitation specialists for the crisis! While Wayne’s world for the next six weeks will be a special oxygen tent to speed his recovery, the men and women in suits are already hard at work to work to starve the rumour mill of air.
As England football fans hold their collective breath following Rooney’s broken foot at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, the internet has been alive with conspiracy theories. Their subject: not just Rooney’s fourth metatarsal but a whole series of injuries connected to the launch of new football boots on the eve of major tournaments.
This is potentially very bad news for Nike, whose new ‘Air Zoom Total 90 Supremacy’ boot made its Premiership debut on Wayne’s foot at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Far from kick-starting a multimillion-pound sales boom from kids across the globe, the new soccer slipper – a feathery 10.5 ounces in weight – designed specifically to cushion and protect the foot, now stands in the dock, under a bright spotlight, its studs curled in shame, accused of wrecking England’s best chance of winning the World Cup since 1966.
As the suits at Nike woke up the next morning, sick as the proverbial parrot, the downside crystallised. Their talisman and prized acquisition, shod in the boot, would now most likely not be able to pirouette around the defences of Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago and Sweden.
Rooney would be unable to plunder priceless goals, with wide-eyed kids dreamily gazing in wonder at his footwear, in the belief that £120 would buy them the chance to emulate their sporting deity in all his lightweight-booted glory.
The negative PR threatens to overwhelm Nike. But it’s not just Nike, who have been quick to exonerate themselves and their boot of blame, with the Manchester United medical staff backing them up. After all, three other England stars who have suffered metatarsal injuries – David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole – were all wearing Adidas footwear.
Nonetheless, a myriad of soccer blogs speculate that the new breed of super-lightweight boots are the major reason behind the spate of recent metatarsal injuries.
The history of boot manufacturers jostling for position has been interesting to watch: take the original rivalry between Adidas and Puma – two German companies run by brothers whose sibling rivalry fuelled a multimillion-pound war – which existed long before Nike came along.
One of the first examples of brand endorsement was in 1954, when the German team won the football World Cup for the first time, wearing Adidas shoes with then-revolutionary screw-in studs. While Adidas took the glory, Puma angrily claimed they had invented the screw in stud – and from that moment the battle lines were drawn.
Fifty years later the stakes are higher, and the catastrophe of Wayne’s injury could not only condemn England’s World Cup dream to failure, but also eclipse Nike’s marketing push around the tournament. If England fail to lift the cup, or at the very least reach the semi-finals (no doubt to be defeated on penalties by those pesky Germans), the rising tide of blame-seeking could seriously undo the Nike cool.
For now, the web rumour mill is the battleground Nike must neutralise, in the same way that MacDonald’s is successfully holding its own against the growing healthy food lobby. As candles are lit and prayers are said in hope that the wonder kid makes a remarkable recovery to help the England team emulate the heroes of ’66, Nike will be gnawing a few fingernails in the hope that those prayers might be answered.
But history is surely against us, for as all theology students know, when it comes to football, God is a Brazilian.