Written in 2013 By Austin Ness, Michael Reintgen, Alessandro Barel Di Sant Albano, Jun Yoon, Avery Rape, Gilda Doria, Kavin Tamizhmani, Matt Ochs, Colby Leachman, and Ramsey Al-Khalil
In May of 2010 before the World Cup in South Africa, Nike released a three minute advertisement which promoted Nike’s football superstars. Entitled “Write the Future”, the video urged world-class players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribéry, and Wayne Rooney to seize the moment and lift their teams to glory and victory in the world’s biggest competition. The advertisement accumulated 7.8 millions views within its first week, and received widespread critical acclaim for its “compelling visuals” and “aspirational narrative” .
But by late June, when the World Cup had entered the quarterfinal stages, the six main stars of the video – the three previously mentioned players plus Fabio Cannavaro, Didier Drogba, and Ronaldinho – had all exited the competition. Not only were all of their teams eliminated early, but all six endured miserable tournaments. Ronaldinho didn’t even make it to South Africa, actually; he struggled with fitness issues at the end of the domestic season and was dropped from the final Brazil 23-man roster for the competition . Rooney and Drogba arrived at the World Cup with injuries, and did not play near their full capabilities as a result. Ronaldo struggled to make a difference for Portugal, and his only goal of the tournament came against hapless North Korea in a 7-0 rout . The 2006 World Cup champion Italy could only manage two draws and a loss in three games, and after failing to advance past the group stage, Cannavaro retired from international football . But perhaps Ribéry and France had the worst tournament of all. Striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home after a heated argument with manager Raymond Domenech, which led to the rest of the players refusing to train before their last match. The president of the French footballing federation resigned, and the team crashed out of their group.
The six players handpicked by Nike to feature in this prominent, widespread advertisement accumulated 2 goals in total, and their teams combined for 3 wins, 8 draws, and 6 losses . There are several marketing and advertising lessons to be learned from the “Write the Future” video. More importantly, however, the stunningly mediocre performances of the players involved reminded everyone of the unpredictable nature of football.
For our 2014 World Cup guide, we have selected one player from each of the 32 participating teams who we believe is the “player to watch” for their respective country. We have 11 contributors to this project, so each profile we have written will tonally and structurally differ from the others. Likewise, the 32 players don’t fit any particular mold. We have chosen a wide assortment of forwards, defenders, and midfielders, veterans and newcomers, and global superstars and relative unknowns.
The 2010 Nike advertisement was a calculated bet on six football players to score goals and win trophies, and as a result, earn money and marketing influence for the company. These profiles, on the other hand, offer an opportunity to learn the stories behind these 32 country’s most important players and compelling characters. We might make predictions about the players, but we don’t guarantee their success, and because we’re completing this project six months before the start of the World Cup, we can’t even promise that they won’t suffer a loss of form or major injury and miss the competition entirely. But we can offer a lesson in the history of these teams and players, and an opportunity to appreciate the game of football next summer on a deeper level than goals and results. We can’t say whether or not Cristiano Ronaldo will be the tournament’s leading scorer or win the World Cup for Portugal. We can tell you what the World Cup means to him and his country, and what impact it will have on his legacy.
We hope you enjoy reading about these 32 fascinating players. We have provided links at the bottom of every profile to facilitate navigation to other profiles within the same group or football confederation. Additionally, if you would like to read through every single profile, just click on the “Continue on to” link, which starts with Brazil in Group A and progresses through every other page in alphabetical order by group.
How to cite this article: “Players to Watch at the 2014 World Cup,” Written by Austin Ness, Michael Reintgen, Alessandro Barel Di Sant Albano, Jun Yoon, Avery Rape, Gilda Doria, Kavin Tamizhmani, Matt Berezo, Matt Ochs, Colby Leachman, and Ramsey Al-Khalil (2013), World Cup 2014, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp (accessed on (date)).
 – Haddow, Douglas. “The Curse of the Nike Ad.” Guardian. (2010): n. page. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jul/05/nike-write-the-future-advert-curse>.
 – Michaelis, Brittni. “Nike Football “Write the Future” Commercial: A Curse for the World Cup?.” Bleacher Report. (2010): n. page. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. <http://bleacherreport.com/articles/412181-nike-football-write-the-future-commercial-a-curse-for-the-world-cup>.
 – “2010 FIFA World Cup.” Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_FIFA_World_Cup>.