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Why did Neymar decide to leave Nike?

What's behind the divorce between O'Ney and the swoosh

Why did Neymar decide to leave Nike? What's behind the divorce between O'Ney and the swoosh

"Neymar Jr will no longer be a Nike player as of August 31, 2020".
With these words Josh Benedek, one of Nike's main spokespersons, replied to the AFP email, confirming the news: Neymar and Nike have terminated the partnership and there do not seem to be specific reasons. The expiration of the contract that linked Neymar to Nike was dated 2022 and the interruption of the collaboration two years in advance is a symptom of a lack of economic agreement between the parties. An end that should be considered as a turning point for the player and the brand, but above all it tells how the football marketing market has changed in recent years. With the decline of the empire formed by the Ronaldo-Messi duo, the cycle of testimonial footballers that began in the late 1990s is closing.

Nike charted the path of its perfect testimonial during that period, when the world began to know Luís Nazário de Lima Ronaldo. From the first agreement with the former Inter and AC Milan striker, the prototype of the fast and technical Brazilian striker entered the swoosh's DNA. So many other Brazilian strikers have become Nike athletes and when videos of a 13-year-old boy - thin and technical - started to travel around the world, everyone knew who would be ready to sign such a talent.

Neymar's career has always been linked to Nike and it is no secret that in his only two transfers there is the influence of the American brand. The transition from Santos to Barcelona and from Barça to PSG is made up of stages that have made him an icon in a short time: from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, of which he became a symbol of the Champions won by Messi's shoulder in one of the strongest teams in always (2014-15). The 222 million that PSG had to pour into the coffers of the Catalans made him the highest paid player in the world, but his role at PSG goes well beyond the pitch. Being the face of the Jordan brand x PSG collaboration has meant so much to Parisians, to Nike and to the world of sport.

The divorce between the # 10 of Paris and Nike did not spark rumors about the next signing, because there are not only two parties involved. A third unknown must be added to the equation, which corresponds to the name of PUMA. In the tweet of Mohamed Bouhafsi of RMCsport (one of the first agencies to cover the news) it clearly says that Neymar will soon become a PUMA athlete, but there is still no absolute certainty about the agreement between the PSG forward and the rivals of Nike.

Neymar is not the first athlete to leave the swoosh to be the main face of a brand: Cesc Fabregas and Paul Pogba did it, moving from Nike to PUMA and adidas respectively; MVP of the last NBA Finals Kawhi Leonard did it last year to sign a super contract with New Balance; Stephen Curry did it in 2013, preferring the attention and ambitions of Under Armor to those of the Beaverton brand.

Nike's change of strategy tries to go beyond individuals, beyond "mainstream" players and to think in terms of key cities for a market that is constantly changing. Sponsoring "only" teams like Inter, Barça, PSG (with an active role in O'Ney's transfer to Paris in 2017), Chelsea, Tottenham, Galatasaray and Liverpool means attacking the European markets that are considered the most important: Milan, Paris, London, Barcelona, without forgetting investments in New York, Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Mexico City and Seoul.

No longer the idea of the "player at the center of the strategies" - except for cases that disregard any rule such as CR7, LeBron James, Rafa Nadal or Tiger Woods - but prefer an approach that is more total, which takes into consideration not only the strength of the individual but the strength of the brands it can represent. Investing in Neymar does not only mean having a great player in your customer portfolio, but it also means entering the French market more forcefully, making a breakthrough in an ever-growing global fan base such as PSG's and trying to experiment new paths in one of the places where contamination is the order of the day.

PUMA is following a much more aggressive strategy: in just under two years, the German brand has managed to put its name on all the clubs associated with the City Football Group for an amount close to 700 million euros, in addition to adding to the package clients of teams such as AC Milan, Valencia, PSV Eindhoven and Olympique Marseille. Even on an individual level, PUMA has very clear ideas: to represent athletes who have a very active social role (just think of Lukaku, Lewis Hamilton and the next hit Raheem Sterling), young people and who represent the new generation.

The speculations then went as far as the Messi-gate and the alleged phone call from Leo to Neymar a few weeks ago, in which it seems that the two former team-mates at Barça have met at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Rumors denied in the last few hours, directly from Paris # 10: "I will stay at PSG next season! And with the ambition to return to the Champions League final, this time to win it. I like the idea of doing everything to leave my name in my club's history books".