Remaking an Icon: What Nike’s Cage Tournament Advert Would Like in 2020

It’s April 2002: Oasis are in the charts, the first World Cup of the new millennium is fast approaching, and all across the land people are watching TV in anticipation for the advert breaks. Why is that? Well, in April 2002, advertising truly peaked with a campaign from Nike known as the ‘Secret Tournament’.

In three minutes of screen time, Nike completely changed the ad game, presenting a first-goal-wins knock out tournament, an exhibition of pure brilliance with football skills that were emulated in school playgrounds everywhere.

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Nike were known for their genius advertising, but this took it to the next level as they pitted 24 of the world’s best players (under their sponsorship) against each other in three-a-side matches.

What, though, would happen if it were remade today? 18 years after it first hit screens, here at 90min, we’re deciding how it would be approached in 2020. And because this is purely fantasy, we’re ignoring the sponsorship rules that robbed us of seeing the likes of Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Gabriel Batistuta take part.

The Teams

The 24 players were split into eight teams of three, and given a fun name which reflected the teams unique personality. We’re going to break down each team and suggest contemporary replacements to try and maintain the essence of the originals, but with improvements here and there.

Tutto Benne – Fabio Cannavaro, Rio Ferdinand, Tomas Rosicky

With a name translating to ‘Everything Good’, you’d expect a bit more balance. While Cannavaro and Ferdinand were among the best defenders of their day, there’s not a lot going forward. Rosicky was never the most prolific, and there’s nobody to create for ahead of him. No wonder they went out in round one.

It is possible to keep the essence of this team whilst making them more competitive. Starting with Virgil van Dijk, you have not only one of the best defenders of the modern day, but a goal threat too. Putting him with David Alaba would keep the defensive feel, but also allow more going forward, especially when Hakim Ziyech is added, far more threatening in front of goal.

Equipo Del Fuego – Hernan Crespo, Claudio Lopez, Gaizka Mendieta

Roughly translating to ‘Firing Squad’, this team is full of flair, and the total opposite to Tutto Benne in that they offer nothing at the back. Mendieta having to sit and allow Lopez to create isn’t enough to go all the way, but with Crespo up front, a lucky goal is never off the cards.

We’ve not even attempted to sort their defensive frailties, this team needs to go all out if they want to win. Manchester City teammates Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling together with Memphis Depay would be scintillating to watch in such a close quarters game. If the opposition can’t get the ball, they can’t score, right?

Toros Locos – Javier Saviola, Luis Enrique, Freddie Ljungberg

Crazy by name, crazy by nature. This lot would be feared in the draw because of their sheer unpredictability. Ljungberg was in the form of his life going into this, and with Barcelona teammates Luis Enrique and Saviola in tow, well, anything could happen.

There were no goalkeepers in 2002 for obvious reasons, but the game’s evolved. Ederson would be great for this team, even if banned from using his hands. Matched with Casemiro for energy and Raul Jimenez for the goal threat, they’d avoid their first round exit while still being…let’s say ‘wacky’.

Funk Seoul Brothers – Denilson, Seol, Ronaldinho

Probably the best name, although on paper, not the best players all round. Then again, Ronaldinho could have won this tournament by himself. Denilson was still ok at this point, but the strangest inclusion is former Wolves and Reading forward Seol Ki-hyeon.

If a Korean was the building block of this side, then that should be the case in 2020 again, but with the superior Son Heung-min. Replace Denilson with Paulo Dybala to upgrade the flair, and who better to replace Ronaldinho than Neymar?

Cerberus – Edgar Davids, Lilian Thuram, Sylvain Wiltord

This team is beautiful. As balanced as a samurai sword, with two players, Davids and Thuram, who were equally capable at attacking and defending. If you thought Wiltord is out of place, you’re just showing your age. He won Arsenal the title at Old Trafford a month after this aired.

A tough team to improve upon, we’ve swapped Davids for Sergio Busquets to keep a good pivot, and Thuram for Matthijs de Ligt to keep the defensive mobility. In the grand scheme of things, Wiltord didn’t age well, but Sadio Mane will. He’ll keep the goal threat whilst adding even more flair.

Triple Espresso – Francesco Totti, Hidetoshi Nakata, Thierry Henry

These guys won the whole thing. While everyone was expecting a colossal showdown in the final, a genius ploy by Henry and Totti at kickoff caught everyone out, and probably led to a lot of kids having back pain in the weeks following. Though Henry scoring a long ranger header was very unrealistic… Up until then, it was Nakata that stood out, with a peach of a backheel volley in the semi final.

How do you improve on champions? Like this – begin with five time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. Why stop there, add Henry’s heir apparent Kylian Mbappe to keep the pace threat on the break, and finish it off with Kevin De Bruyne to pull the strings. Who would dare challenge that trio?

The One-Touchables – Patrick Vieira, Paul Scholes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Just how did this team go out in round one? So well balanced and yet they couldn’t score despite having Van Nistelrooy? This was a bit of pure fantasy as Man Utd fans got to see Vieira line up alongside two of their favourites, no matter how short lived it was.

We’re uniting three rivals in an attempt to keep the core of the One-Touchable dream alive, but give them a chance of winning. Paul Pogba would surely relish a game like this, and we’re sitting Jordan Henderson behind him to keep things ticking over. The closest we can get in todays game to Van Nistelrooy is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, so he completes the lineup.

Os Tornados – Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos

The best team on paper, the pre tournament favourites, robbed by a kickoff play…say what you want, but these three should have won it. The best in their positions in the world at the time, and always in G.O.A.T conversations, Figo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos underachieved, and we aim to fix that.

The hardest team to remake because where do you even start? We’re starting with Lionel Messi. If Ronaldo is in the team that won the original, it’s only right Messi has a chance to rewrite history. We’ll pair him with Sergio Aguero to give dynamism and synergy to the team. Finally, how do you replace the best attacking full-back in the world? With Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The Master of Ceremonies

Playing the presenter, referee and world’s most animated fan, Eric Cantona was somehow the star of it all. Who else in football has the man’s charisma? The face of Nike adverts right up until their Joga Bonito campaign, Cantona arguably has the biggest shoes to fill.

While Dimitar Berbatov is an honourable mention, and we’d all love to see Roy Keane’s take on the event, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the only choice. He has the charisma down, and he’d be great at the whole ‘I’m not playing, but only because I’d show you all up’ mantra that Cantona had.

The Production

One of the most iconic parts of the whole thing was the song. The JXL remix of Elvis Presley’s 1968 B-side A LIttle Less Conversation shot to number one in nine countries after its use in the commercial, and the lyrics read as if Elvis wrote them specifically for the campaign.

While the song arguably tied the whole thing together, if we were pressed to decide on a new song for the remake, we’d suggest an upbeat remix of a song like Kasabian’s Vlad the Impaler, Gorillaz Dare or the Arctic Monkey’s Brianstorm.

It would be difficult to see the advert anywhere but the cargo ship (we know it sank in the ‘Rematch’ advert), but other than Zlatan finding the ship out in the ocean as part of the narrative, which would be an amazing teaser by the way, there may need to be a change of location.

The idea of ‘Secret Tournament’ worked because of the remoteness of a ship in the middle of the sea that the players could only access by boat. Therefore, we’re suggesting a helicopter ride to an underground research facility deep in the mountains, far away from any civilisation, where Zlatan is waiting to welcome you to the next-gen cage.

Finally, the original advert was directed by Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. He produced a dazzling piece of work, and it would be hard to follow in his footsteps, but not impossible. There are many extremely talented directors who would relish the chance to remake this.

Our choice is Sam Mendes. He has a track record of directing huge scale action projects that feel incredibly personal, like Skyfall and 1917. He’d be able to find all the drama of a knockout tournament whilst still making it feel like it was happening in our living rooms.

The one thing about Mendes though? We don’t know whether he’s a football fan. Only someone who knows the game should tackle this, and if Mendes doesn’t care for the sport, the next best would be known Bury fan Danny Boyle. He’s already directed cage football in a scene from Trainspotting, so he’d be a safe bet too.