'The Secret Tournament' - the Nike World Cup 2002 Advert Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'The Secret Tournament' - the Nike World Cup 2002 Advert

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The opening shot is of a large oil tanker docked in an unknown harbour.

Hidden from the world, 24 elite players hold a secret tournament.

The pitch is a giant cage, the floor turf, the goals probably only a couple of feet wide, a foot tall.

With eight teams and only one rule.

A shot of the referee holding court - none other than a snappily, yet sinisterly suited Eric Cantona1, who starts proceedings by stating that rule.

First goal wins.

Game on...

The Teams

Just who are the players, whose country do they represent, and who are the teams?

Triple Espresso

  • Francesco Totti (Italy)
  • Thierry Henry (France)
  • Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan)

The Untouchables

  • Patrick Viera (France)
  • Paul Scholes (England)
  • Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Holland)


  • Sylvain Wiltord (France)
  • Lillian Thuram (France)
  • Edgar Davids (Holland)

Toros Locos

  • Saviola(Argentina)
  • Luis Enrique (Spain)
  • Freddy Ljungberg (Sweden)

Os Tornados

  • Luis Figo (Portugal)
  • Ronaldo (Brazil)
  • Roberto Carlos (Brazil)

Funk Seoul Brothers

  • Denilson (Brazil)
  • Ki Hyeon Seol (Korea Republic)
  • Ronaldinho (Brazil)

Equipo del Fuego

  • Hernan Crespo (Argentina)
  • Claudio Lopez (Argentina)
  • Gaizka Mendieta (Spain)

Tutto Bene

  • Tomas Rosicky (Czech Republic)
  • Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)
  • Rio Ferdinand (England)

With skills that would leave BBC's football commentator John 'Motty' Motson gasping for breath at the microphone, the three-a-side teams play it out. However, you don't just need sublime skills, you also need sublime cunning, as the final of the tournament demonstrates...

The Director

The man behind the advert is Pythonite Terry Gilliam, better known for his dystrophic feature films and surreal animation for Monty Python's Flying Circus than his adverts.

Unfortunately, his choice of the elite players2 seems to have taken place some time before the teams for the World Cup Finals for 2002 were confirmed, as the presence of Dutch players demonstrates.

How Was it Done?

The Location

Although the action appears to be in the belly of an oil tanker, as with most adverts, this wasn't the case. Instead, it was filmed in London and Rome.

The Timescale and its Problems

The time it took to film was two weeks, and in two separate locations this would cause problems for a significant proportion of the players, who due to other such commitments such as football, could not all take out two weeks just to film an advert. So in some scenes, look-alikes were used to fill in. In other scenes, the blue-screen was employed and actions pasted in to fill in the action.

So were the 24 named players actually there? Yes - but not all at the same time.

The full cinema 'Secret Tournament' advert is 3 minutes long - great as a pseudo-trailer, but not so good for TV. In light of this, the advert was broken down into 30-second parts; the Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Final, etc.

The Play

None of the play was in fact scripted, although the idea for the tournament was storyboarded, Gilliam made a point of filming the players doing their own thing rather than have meticulously planned every single shot. A few special effects may have been used to, let's say, 'emphasise' certain shots at the tiny goals, but the majority of moves are down to the skills of the players in question.

The Scorpion

Prior to the TV and cinema adverts being screened, Nike posted out an enigmatic campaign involving the sign of the scorpion on billboards, flyposters and sprayed onto walls.

When the advert was finally screened, the relevance of the scorpion was revealed. Nike's press release said this:

As an icon of danger and intrigue, the scorpion serves as the symbol for stinging play. Seen popping up around the world since mid-March [2002], the sinister and segmented arachnid evokes the speed and venomous strikes that bring victory.


Accept the challenge.
- The tagline for the Scorpion Knockout Tournament

The advertising campaign of flyposters, billboards and scorpions had a dual purpose - although the primary goal of any advert is to sell the company's product, the secondary goal of this campaign was to make known an event - the Scorpion Knockout.

This was an event held between June 1-15 2002 for 11-15 year olds at various locations around the world:

  • Bejing
  • Berlin
  • Buenos Aires
  • Ciudad de Mexico
  • London
  • Los Angeles
  • Madrid
  • Paris
  • Rome
  • Rotterdam
  • Santiago
  • São Paulo
  • Seoul
  • Tokyo

Specifically in London - the event was held at the Nikepark in the Millennium Dome.

Like the advert, each team has three players, no substitutes, each game lasts for three minutes and of course, first goal wins.

To spur on some healthy rivalry, each city was divided into several 'tribes'; so many people would have seen posters along the lines of 'You are now entering xxxxxx territory', with the scorpion emblazoned alongside.

The Referee

Holding court in the bowels of the ship is Eric Cantona. Much maligned after his 'ooh ahh, kung-fu star' event3, he is still respected among Manchester United fans4.

After retiring from football, he has made a passable career in acting, taking a small role as the French Ambassador de Foix in the acclaimed biopic of the consolidation of power during the early years of Queen Elizabeth I, aptly titled Elizabeth.

His presence as the sinister ref in the secret tournament makes the objective pretty clear. No pleading, no dives, no messing about, and the ref's decision is completely final. After all, who would dare argue with Monsieur Cantona?

The Rematch

This time, no one gets off easy.
- The tagline of 'The Rematch'

A follow up to the three-minute advert was 'The Rematch', where the finalists are back in the belly of the tanker, but where is the cage?

The rematch doesn't need a cage!

... says Cantona, painting out the outlines of the goals on the walls of the ship.

And this time... first to 100 wins!

At 60 seconds, this advert is considerably shorter than the original, however, as with the 'Secret Tournament', with winning comes a small price to pay...

The Music

In the background of both adverts is 'A Little Less Conversation' by 'King' Elvis Presley remixed by the Dutch dance outfit, Junkie XL. Surprisingly, it is the first time that the King's music has been remixed.

The track's unsurprising arrival at the Number One spot meant that at the time of writing, Elvis Presley has had more number one hits than any other artist in the world, beating The Beatles, who had matched Elvis' record for the previous 25 years.

The Cost

Although Nike have been pretty cagey about saying how much it all cost, it is thought to be the first advertising campaign to cost more than £10 million - far surpassing Pepsi's advert which featured the other self-proclaimed Virgin Queen, Britney Spears, which was £9 million in the making.

1A French footballer, and the other number 7 who played for Manchester United FC. He is lauded for his talent on the pitch, as well as notorious for various indiscretions in French and English football - one key event being soon after he was signed for Nîmes. After a disciplinary hearing, held due to throwing a ball at the referee in an earlier match, he went up to each member of the committee and called every one of them 'idiot'. Another key event occurred during his tenure at Manchester United where, one could say, he really put his foot in it in a match against Crystal Palace in 1995.2The definition of 'elite' in the context of this advert means 'those players who are sponsored by Nike and use their products'. Hence the absence of other top footballers such as David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Fabien Barthez, who are sponsored by a completely different sportswear company.3An example of the importance of keeping cool to all football players everywhere. After being sent off, he was walking to the tunnel while being berated by the fans. The insults, some of them racial, shouted to him from the crowd got to him, and something snapped in the temperamental Frenchman, who then launched a flying kung-fu kick into a Crystal Palace supporter in the crowd. For this, he received an eight-month ban from the game.4The vast majority of which have never set foot in, let alone lived anywhere near Manchester, England.

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