Last week I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to Battersea; to be part of the global launch for one of the most eagerly anticipated football boots of the year.
This time two years ago I would have been pulling pints at my local golf club. Just 24 months on and I’m surrounded by hundreds of the world’s media, sitting a few feet away from the best player on the planet.
It was a typical February evening; grey, wet, cold and frankly . . . miserable. As we entered Battersea, the appalling weather was coupled with the apprehension that my car might cease to a halt any minute, having travelled the majority of the journey with the battery light glistening a bright red.
My colleague Ben and I drove into the shadow of Battersea power station. Located on the south bank of the river Thames, the power station is now an unused derelict building; so, the idea of holding an event that’s streamed worldwide, starring international footballers seemed ludicrous. In fact, Ben’s observation that the venue “looks like a murder scene from Eastenders” seemed disturbingly accurate.
As we entered the building, we both gazed in astonishment. There were no signs of the wreckage and smashed out windows we observed as we arrived. Instead, we were walking past large LCD televisions displaying videos of Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres, whilst we were offered high-class canapés.
The media frenzy was due to the launch of the new Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly 2 football boots. Historically, Nike have revolutionised the concept of speed in the biggest and most popular game on the planet. Over the last 12 years the mercurial boot has created a legacy of defining innovation in football. In 2002 they launched the lightest and fastest boot on the market, the Mercurial Vapor.
The Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly 2 football boots design was inspired by the cheetah, the fastest animal on the planet. The cheetah can run at speeds up to 70 miles per hour, and has unique biomechanics that allow it to travel rapidly across different terrain. With the boot predominately designed for speed, there was no better design model.
Nike have the most advanced sport research laboratory in the world, and their attention to detail resembles that of a sufferer of obsessive compulsive disorder. I sat and listened as one of the designers revealed (what seemed riveting to him) a review of their ‘slip analyses’ at the 2006 World Cup.
After enduring a multitude of technical jargon from the designers on their creation of the new boots, the time finally came, the real reason behind all the publicity and the overwhelming media representation.
Spanish football correspondent Guillem Balagué opened his introduction for Cristiano Ronaldo, with: “We welcome a man who just had an average weekend for his standards. Scoring a fantastic free kick, assisting two of his teammates for goals, and was involved in three of the other goals that his team scored.” What Balagué failed to mention was that Ronaldo also threw his toys out of his pram after a dispute with teammate Xabi Alonso, about who should take a penalty.
The interview commenced with the predictably tame questions, either hand-picked to boost the Portuguese striker’s ego, or plug the Nike brand: “You are the most expensive player in history, the first Premier League player to win the FIFA World Player award, (don’t you think) history seems to follow you? “What is the secret behind your free kicks? Ronaldo replied: “The boots. It’s the Nike boots!”
The most insightful question came when the Q & A session was opened to the floor. BBC journalist Ollie Foster asked the Real Madrid man his opinions on the John Terry scandal, and the problems in the England dressing room. Unfortunately, Ronald immediately shunned the question, as he replied with that formidable cheeky grin “No comment, my friend.”
On day two of the launch, I was handed the opportunity to put the Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly 2 football boots through their paces at Burton’s Court in Kensington. The coaching staff informed us that Chelsea and Fulham often use the facility for their warm-downs after home matches.
The training session got underway, and after undergoing dribbling and speed exercises, it was clear to see Nike have been involved in a truly innovative and revolutionary design. I was impressed with the initial fit and feel. Nike can be very proud of their new traction technology, which sees the boot having adaptive studs that can automatically extend or retract by up to 3mm, depending on the pressure the player exerts, and the terrain.
As Ben and I returned to the car, we were greeted with a yellow clamp, and a plethora of stickers revealing the car was ‘illegally parked.’ After paying an extremely reasonable £110 to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in order to get the car back on the road, we returned to the Power station for Nike’s unveiling of their 2010 World Cup kits.
Once again hundreds of journalists flocked to the launch. Footballers representing federations including: England, Brazil, Holland, Portugal and the USA strolled down the stage in a catwalk style. Alexandre Pato, Nani, Jermaine Jenas and Grafite were just a handful of the stars on stage, posing as thousands of camera flashes went off. As Ben and I were the youngest journalists there, by 20 year in some cases, maybe through lack of experience and the large quantity of reporters, we found it difficult to engage in conversation with the international starlets. Although, we did eventually manage to fight our way through the crowd and strike up interviews with Robert Koren, and Premiership midfielders Clint Dempsey and Nenad Milijaš, who were somewhat more accessible.
Interviewing footballers, mingling with experienced journalists and testing out football boots worth £225, made the two-day event thoroughly enjoyable. My time at both the boot and World Cup kit launches confirmed that Nike’s methodology goes beyond the athletes. They use science, to compliment the input they get from the players. Their dedication, spent with some of the fastest players on the planet, is why I am not surprised the top scorer in the Premier League, in each of the past seven seasons, has been wearing Mercurial Vapor boots.