The world’s biggest sports brands are set to do battle over the sponsorship of Real Madrid sensation Vinícius Júnior as the Brazilian seeks to tear up his agreement with Nike after falling out with the American giants.
The fall-out came at the World Cup in Qatar in late 2022, with numerous reports claiming that the forward had instructed his representatives to find an escape from the contact that he had agreed until 2028.
The battle turned ugly, with Vinícius even taking to wear custom blacked-out cleats wore from the old Nike Mercurial Vapor 14 range for the first half of the LaLiga Santander match against Valencia. At half-time he swapped into his usual Volt Nike Mercurial cleats with the Nike logo prominently on display.
It was the latest step in a battle which has seen him wearing older models of Nike’s range this season, rather than their latest cleats. That was believed to be linked to his belief that he has been poorly treated by the brand.
Initially, it seemed as though Vinícius could follow in the footsteps of his international teammates Neymar Junior in joining Puma. The Paris Saint-Germain ace joined Puma in 2020 in a €25-million per year deal and became the face of their soccer branch since then.
However, Adidas have emerged as a rival. The German brand also sponsor Vinícius’ club, Real Madrid, and are looking for a superstar who can step up into the shoes of Lionel Messi as their leading brand ambassador in the soccer arena. The link has also been enhanced by the collaboration of another Vinícius teammate, Karim Benzema, with the brand.
With both of those superstars set to turn 36 in 2023, Adidas is keen to rejuvenate its team. Additionally, it’s of strategic importance for Real Madrid. Los Blancos have been working with Adidas since 1998 and have a deal in place until 2028, which was worth €1.1 billion when it was agreed four years ago.
Political tension with Brazil
The falling out between Vinícius and the sponsor of his own national team has not gone down well with the Brazilian Football Confederation and looks to be a similar case to that of Neymar in 2021.
The PSG forward’s agreement with Nike was ended in 2020 as he was accused of refusing to cooperate with a sexual assault investigation involving a Nike employee, an accusation that Neymar branded “an absurd lie” in a post on Instagram.
Vinícius’ breakdown with Nike has been much less high-profile and public, but remains a sensitive topic for Nike, who have been providing the Brazilian national team with their jerseys and kits since 1996.
The relationship between Vinícius and the brand is a long-lasting one, with Nike snapping him up when he was just 13-years-old. They stuck with him through his rise from teenage prodigy into a dominant force at one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
However, tension has been boiling. In December, Spanish newspaper Diario AS claimed that the inclusion of Brazil team-mates Richarlison and Rodrygo Goes ahead of him in Nike’s World Cup promotions was the latest incident to dent the relationship.
The arrival of offers from rival brands looking to take advantage has clearly proven too much to resist for Vinícius, who Transfermarkt rank as the third most-valuable soccer player in the game with a market value of €120 million.
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