Nike Shoe Deal Forcing Soccer Star To Be Traded?

Just how much sway does Nike hold over the collective global sports zeitgeist? If we’re to believe a rumor that’s popping up about a summer transfer of Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery to FC Barcelona, the answer is: Everything.

franck ribery bayern munich

(Coming soon to Barcelona, courtesy Nike.)

Last week, Ribery renewed his exclusive boot (read: shoe) and clothing deal with Nike, pushing his existing contract with the company through 2014. That means that, for the next five years, Ribery is beholden to Nike for a significant amount of his personal revenue, with some of the undisclosed bonus clauses likely reliant on how much personal paraphanalia he can sell.

According to THE SOCCER BLOG, the clauses in that Nike deal would be a lot easier to fulfill if his gear assimilated with the kits (read: uniforms), jackets, etc. sold by his club. Naturally, that’s only possible if he were playing for a team sponsored by Nike — say, Barcelona — rather than a team sponsored by Nike’s biggest rival, Adidas (like, say, Bayern Munchen).

It’s a radical suggestion, and one which, clearly, would be met with absolute horror in America. Sure, American colleges have sponsorship deals with respective shoe companies, but the idea that players will only commit to a “Nike” or “Adidas” team is relatively laughable (with the possible exception of O.J. Mayo’s commitment to USC).

Yet that’s exactly what’s being affirmed in this report, and, if the summer transfer actually goes down, it might be a watershed moment for Nike’s ascent (and the respective ascent of Adidas, to be sure) to the role of “Big Brother” in all sports. If it comes out that Ribery transfers to Barcelona because of Nike, can we retroactively go back and analyze other superstar transfers? How about Theirry Henry from Arsenal to Barcelona? Is it any wonder both of those clubs are Nike stalwarts? What about David Beckham, who left Manchester United (Nike) for Real Madrid (Adidas) after signing an Adidas boot contract? And could the fact that both L.A. Galaxy (all MLS teams are Adidas affiliated) and AC Milan have made his current loan/transfer deal a realistic possibility?

It’s a fascinating point of debate, and one which really needs to be investigated further. If it’s true, it seems hard to argue that teams will be able to buy and sell players on their merit, which will only make the current European hierarchy more intractable … and make both Nike and Adidas more powerful in the process.