Saturday is the Champions League final in London between Manchester United and Barcelona. What better way to get ready than by watching our picks for the 10 best soccer commercials ever made? Perhaps not surprisingly, the list is dominated by Nike (and Wieden + Kennedy), with Adidas's soccer spots often seeming to fall a bit short. We left off most of the fluffy stuff (like every Pepsi soccer spot ever done) in favor of the meat and potatoes. The choice for No. 1 is contentious, naturally, so let us know how you feel about it.
Wieden + Kennedy, 2003
Click to view. This Frank Budgen-directed spot remains advertising's most amusing celebration of the sports world's free-spirited exhibitionists. (It hardly mattered that it advertised running shoes, not soccer cleats.) Filmed in December 2002 at Millwall's pitch in London, it starred 32-year-old Mark Bowden in the title role, along with 300 extras. Bowden reportedly distinguished himself during the shoot by screaming with pain in the chilly weather. He later said: "I think I look pretty good in it, actually, but any man will tell you what happens when it's really cold."
Wieden + Kennedy, 2002
Click to view. Created for the 2002 World Cup, this campaign (which included the three-minute spot above) imagined a secret three-on-three, first-goal-wins soccer tournament held on a container ship, featuring 24 of the world's best players and refereed by former Manchester United legend Eric Cantona (seen above). It doesn't get much cooler than eight mini dream teams competing in a cage match, and director Terry Gilliam brought the concept to life with style. The campaign included 3-D gaming, downloadable posters and perhaps most important, the catch remixed version of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation."
Element 79 Partners, 2006
Click to view. A wonderful patriotic spot from Gatorade for the 2006 World Cup featuring gritty footage from the U.S. team's journey to the tournament set to the baseball standard "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Sadly, the team's journey out of that tournament was a whole lot quicker.
"Messi (Impossible Is Nothing)"
180 Amsterdam, 2007
Click to view. Plenty of athletes have starred in the "Impossible is nothing" campaign. Few have faced the kind of genuine physical obstacles to success that Lionel Messi has. All Messi did was overcome his struggles to become the best player in the world. A triumph of storytelling for Adidas, whose action soccer spots tend to fall short.
"Ronaldinho R10 Crossbar"
Framfab Denmark, 2005
Click to view. One of the truly great "Is it real or fake?" viral commercials of our time, this spot showed Ronaldinho hitting the crossbar four times in a row from 20 yards away. The Brazilian star might not be quite that skillful, but the commercial—which aired online first, and was then screened in public places—itself was masterful. It ended up winning a gold Lion in Cyber and a silver Lion in Film at Cannes in 2006.
Saatchi & Saatchi, 2006
Click to view. Most soccer spots celebrate the speed and power of youth. This one headed brilliantly in the opposite direction. It showed a Sunday pub team that happens to include some of England greatest-ever players—Peter Shilton, Des Walker, Bryan Robson, Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher, Alan Ball, Jack Charlton and Bobby Charlton, with the late Sir Bobby Robson as the manager. The run-of-the-mill premise—that if Carlsberg ran a pub team, it would be the best in the world—is elevated by the spot's aging stars, who bring the sport gloriously down to earth by playing, long past their prime, for love of the game.
Wieden + Kennedy, 1998
Click to view. The Brazilian team passes the time in an airport by playing a jubilant pickup game in this spot, directed by John Woo for the 1998 World Cup. Features a comical appearance by Eric Cantona (as the passenger on the airplane) and a brilliant ending, with Ronaldo just falling short of glory. That turned out to be prophetic, as Brazil lost to France in the final that year.
"Good vs. Evil"
Wieden + Kennedy, 1996
Click to view. Created for the Euro 96 tournament, this epic spot featured a team of European all-stars against a team of horrendous evil monsters. At first, the humans get knocked around, but soon, of course, they begin to run rings around their otherworldy opponents—and this time, the ending is emphatic, with Eric Cantona blasting a free kick right through the midsection of the evil winged monster goalie. The spot was so good, it was banned from Danish cinemas and criticized by FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.
"Take It to the Next Level"
Click to view. Guy Ritchie directed this manic masterpiece for Euro 2008, in which we get a dizzying first-person view of a young player recruited to play at London club Arsenal and then for the Dutch national team. Includes blood, vomit, the signing of breasts, lots of superstars and some remarkable camerawork that captures the pace and fury of a match at the top level. And, of course, showing all this from the viewer's perspective literally embodies the fantasy of every young boy in Europe—to rise through the ranks and become a global soccer star.
"Write the Future"
Wieden + Kennedy, 2010
Click to view. Yes, this year's spot outdid them all—a cinematic marvel executed from a fun and flexible premise. Add in some inspired cameos (Kobe Bryant, Roger Federer, Homer Simpson), and director Alejandro Iñárritu's three-minute extravaganza had just about everything—including, it turned out, an unexpected ability to put a hex on its featured players, most of whom left the 2010 World Cup early (or, like Ronaldinho, never made it in the first place). Whether the ad was actually cursed, there's no denying it was half-obsessed with the fear of failure—and maybe it just got into the players heads. They'll want to write a different future next time—while Wieden and Nike will just want to keep a good thing going.