Football’s Greatest Adverts In Excruciating Detail - Part 1: Nike’s Brazilian Airport Classic


The summer of 1998 was a more innocent time. 

Labour were enjoying their honeymoon period in parliament. B*Witched and All Saints dominated the charts. The sun shone for 66 days straight. (One of those may not be true.)

It was also a magical period for football: the 1998 World Cup was an explosion of drama and vitality, a tournament that captured the imagination much as Euro 96 had.

For many, much the allure came not from the England side or even eventual winners France, but from Brazil. Four years after their gritty World Cup win in the USA, the Seleção came to Europe with their mystique partially restored, with thrilling players like Ronaldo and Denílson tipped to make a huge impact. It would end in tears, of course, but for much of the summer they lived up to expectations.

Brazil’s campaign can be watched online but arguably the best document of the side was Nike’s airport advert, a 90-second clip that still elicits a Proustian rush among those who emulated these players in the playgrounds. Set to the unmistakably alluring strains of ‘Mas Que Nada’, it was playful and creative – everything Brazil had been back in their pomp.

Here, then, for no real reason, is a guided rewatching of the advert, featuring all the details you may have missed at the time and certainly won’t have though about since because you have a life:

0:02 

I have been to quite a few Brazilian airports and I’ve never seen one even approaching this level of fanciness. Look at the mirrored flooring! 

Is this what business class looks like? Is this how the other half live?

0:04

“Due to weather conditions, flight 409 to Paris will be delayed,” announces the lady on the public address system. But we’ve already seen that this space-aged Brazilian airport is bathed in sun, so that can’t be the problem:

Paris, then. But even if conditions in France are bad now, there’s a good chance they’ll have improved in NINE HOURS’ TIME. Brazil clearly needs to audit the decision-making processes at its fancy, fancy airports.

0:08

Right, so this guy in the yellow can afford an early mobile phone...

But Romário – ROMÁRIO! – is forced to slum it on a pay phone like the mother in Home Alone? This is some reward for single-handedly winning the 1994 World Cup.

0:12

I know what you’re wondering: Who is that mysterious man with the oversized headphones? Well wonder no more. It’s a guy called Gonçalves, a global expert in hiding luscious locks inside a regular baseball cap.

0:14

We interrupt this article to bring you this practical guide to waking up Juninho: 

0:19

We’re now starting to get to the meat of the action, a bored Ronaldo having piqued the interest of Romário, Juninho and magazine fanatic Zé Roberto. But when Romário leaps into action to create a goal from two of those queuing posts with snap-back cords, our buck-toothed protagonist doesn’t really seem to grasp what’s going on.

He has to shoot. He’s three yards out with the goal at his mercy. But, in a haunting flash-forward to the World Cup final in Paris, Ronaldo’s killer instincts desert him, resulting an a limp backpass to Romário. Poor.

0:21

Luckily, Ronaldo doesn’t have too long to dwell on his profligacy, because here comes Roberto Carlos, sliding into the fray like an ice dancer to hack the ball away. Admittedly, it’s not a great pass, picking out the rent-a-baddie security guy. But Juninho – now fully awake – is on hand to grab the ball back.

Side note: Juninho didn’t actually make the final squad for the 1998 World Cup. Nor did Romário. But this advert is clearly a greater cultural achievement than winning the thing would have been, so no there was no lasting harm done.

0:24

OK, that Roberto Carlos side has really set them off, the Brazilians. They’re running amok now. This is only going to end in horseplay of the highest order. I just hope someone is videoing this.

0:30

We’re into the Denílson show now, and what a show it is. We’ve got stepovers, juggling and a flick over the head of an unsuspecting tourist. Brazilians call this last trick a chapéu – a ‘hat’ – and its effectiveness can is writ large on the face of the poor victim. Look at him and try telling me those aren’t longstanding psychological scars in the making.

0:35

There are a lot of neat tricks in this advert, but this one is the coolest by an absolute mile. I’d pay £21.5million to own a player who can humiliate an inanimate object.

0:37

Denílson is properly going for this now. No idea what facial expression this is supposed to be, but whatever it is, I’m fairly certain he’s nailing it.

0:39

This challenge on Romário would be a stonewall penalty these days. Let’s pause for a moment and think about how the game has changed over the past two decades.

0:42

Yes, Romário just beat two security guards and nutmegged a faceless team-mate WITH HIS SUNGLASSES ON HIS HEAD. For heaven’s sake, someone give that man the mobile phone he deserves.

0:44

The football through the scanner! Timeless. But also notable is Romário’s turn of pace to collect the ball on the full on the other side. He was 32 at this point: further proof, as if it were needed, that the first five yards are in the head.

0:49

All that tippy-tappy stuff is all well and good, but sometimes you just need to give the ball a good smack. Step forward Roberto Carlos, his thighs the size of most people’s torsos, to bring a touch of pragmatism to proceedings. 

0:53

Imagine you’re Juninho. Tiny, adorable Juninho, whisked off to Middlesbrough to face the brutes of English football. Against the odds, you stand out in one of the world’s most physical leagues. Would you be scared of an oncoming jumbo jet after that? No. No you wouldn’t.

0:54

Of course he’s reading a script.

1:10

Even in a crowded arrivals concourse, Ronaldo still manages to find a pocket of space into which to surge. You can’t teach that kind of thing.

1:11

So this is the thanks Roberto Carlos gets for sparing Ronaldo’s blushes earlier? Shoved towards a row of luggage trollies, forced to take acrobatic evasive action. It’s all take, take, take with you, Ronaldo. 

1:14

This luggage-carousel man is a conundrum. I cannot work out who it is. My best bet, after literally minutes of going through old squad lists (this was presumably shot some months before France 98, so there was some player turnover to work around) is that it’s Leonardo, in a rare moment without his trademark pretty-boy locks. He at least had some of the star power required to get a funny moment in a big ad like this.

If you know better, please tell me before I spend the rest of the week Googling old images of Zé Elias, Doriva and Rodrigo Fabri.

1:18

Now this is recognisably an actual Brazilian airport! It’s Galeão in Rio. They’re mixing it with the real people now. 

1:21

Time for the big finale. Ronaldo gets some restaurant-goers on their feet, then pirouettes around one last mark. The dramatic tension is building… but for what?

OH GOD. OF COURSE. THE GOAL. IT’S BACK! AND ROMÁRIO HAS WANDERED OFF TO THE MOBILE PHONE SHOP!

It’s a shot at redemption and Ronaldo knows it. Look at the desire in those eyes. Or it could just be fatigue after watching Denílson record 32 takes of flick-flacks. Who knows, really?

He shoots. The fans on the right are already celebrating. They think it’s all over.

BUT NO! IT’S NO GOOD! DOLPHINS LOSE THE SUPERBOWL! DOLPHINS LOSE THE SUPERBOWL!

1:28

A bad day at the office for Ronaldo, then. But a good one for Dweebs R Us talent agency, who enjoyed their most profitable summer when these three characters were included in the final cut. 

THE END