The Switch

The history of Nike at the European Championships

Robbie Copeland
Jun 8, 2021, 4:58 PM GMT+1
A young Cristiano Ronaldo decked out in Nike at Euro 2004
A young Cristiano Ronaldo decked out in Nike at Euro 2004 / VINCENZO PINTO/Getty Images
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The European Championships have played a major part in bringing Nike to prominence within football.

Their journey from the American company who produced the ill-thought and unpopular 'The Nike' boot in 1971, to the international sportswear giant they are now has made them synonymous with modern football.

Here's a look at how they've done that - and the role the Euros have played in making them one of the best known brands in football.

Pre-2000s

Alessandro Costacurta of Italy
Alessandro Costacurta sports Italy's Euro 1996 kit / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Nike were a late bloomer on the European football scene.

While adidas, Umbro and Diadora were well established among the top teams throughout the 1970s and 80s, it was the 1990s before Nike ventured into European international football.

Italy's Euro 1996 kit was the first instance of a European nation wearing Nike, and though it was a lovely, simplistic effort, it didn't even feature the 'Swoosh' that has become instantly recognisable as Nike's branding today. Nike were sheepish to begin with - but that didn't last long.

Euro 2000

Patrick Kluivert
Patrick Kluivert wears Nike at Euro 2000 / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Their foothold in football steadily grew, and Euro 2000 was a big tournament for Nike. By this point, Italy had switched to Kappa, but their deal with Portugal was well underway, and agreements had been reached to produce kits for both host countries - Belgium and the Netherlands.

The Netherlands kit in particular caught the eye with its throwback style, and they - along with Portugal - made the semi-finals. That meant that both losing semi-finalists wore Nike kits, something that established them as a major player on the European stage.

Euro 2000 also saw a number of players sport Nike boots for the first time. Brazil had brought the Nike Tiempo and Mercurial boots to prominence in the mid-1990s, and these were worn by the likes of Thierry Henry and Patrick Kluivert, who won the golden boot at Euro 2000.

Euro 2004

Cristiano Ronaldo, Clarence Seedorf
Cristiano Ronaldo challenges Clarence Seedorf - both in Nike jerseys / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Portugal and the Netherlands had become the faces of the Nike brand on the European international stage. They proudly wore the Swoosh on their shirts once again at Euro 2004, and have stayed loyal to the brand to this day.

The two made the semi-finals once again, but this time met each other - with Cristiano Ronaldo among the goals as Portugal edged through to the final.

Individually, Ronaldo was beginning to look like a very smart acquisition for Nike. He had quietly signed an exclusive deal with them before joining Manchester United in 2003, and had a key role to play in the rise of the iconic Mercurial Vapor boot - which became one of Nike's most popular products in the years ahead, and Cristiano still wears to this day.

Euro 2008

Fernando Torres celebrates scoring for Spain against Germany
Fernando Torres celebrates Spain's winner against Germany - peep the Total 90s / OLIVER LANG/Getty Images

Russia were among those added to Nike's growing stable of national sides ahead of Euro 2008, but it was arguably eventual winners Spain who did the most for the Nike brand.

Vicente Del Bosque's team were at the beginning of an era of footballing dominance, and while it was adidas who produced their kits, a number of their players had boot deals with Nike.

Fernando Torres, sporting the throwback Nike Total 90s, scored the winning goal against Germany in the final, while teammates Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos were among the European champions who wore Nike boots.

Euro 2012

UEFA EURO 2012 - France v England
Yohan Cabaye in France's Euro 2012 Nike jersey / VI-Images/Getty Images

Now pioneers of longevity and modernisation in football, Nike were the most represented kit supplier at the 2012 finals.

In 2007, they had grown so huge that they were able to buy out one of their main competitors in Umbro. This meant that they supplied kits for nine of the 16 countries - the six who wore the Swoosh, as well as England, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland, who each wore Umbro.

Among the Nike debutants were France, having switched allegiances from adidas after their ill-fated 2010 World Cup campaign. Fernando Torres, still mixing an adidas jersey with the iconic Total 90s, won the Golden Boot despite netting just three goals on Spain's way to winning the tournament.

Euro 2016

UEFA EURO 2016 final - "Portugal v France"
Ronaldo and Portugal got their hands on the European Championships in 2016 / VI-Images/Getty Images

Remember that Ronaldo guy we were going on about earlier? He turned out alright.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Ronaldo grew with the Nike Football brand, cementing himself not only as one of the best players in the world, but as one of the best of all time.

His rise came to define Portugal's longstanding partnership with Nike, as they have now worn Nike at five European Championships, and will take that into a sixth in 2021.

His finest moment in a Portugal jersey came at Euro 2016 in France as he helped fire them to the title. Despite scoring just six times in normal time all tournament, they beat France after extra-time in the final, allowing Ronaldo to get his hands on an international trophy for the first time ever.

This was also the first time a Nike-branded European country won a major tournament - another watershed moment for the sportswear giant.

Euro 2020

That brings us to this year's delayed Euros, where Portugal enter as champions and one of the favourites, with a shiny new cast of stars - including Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix - set to take the continent by storm.

The Netherlands will also make their return to the big stage after missing out on successive major tournaments for the first time in their history.

They will be one of nine teams wearing the Nike logo at the expanded tournament - a decent return from a company who had almost no representation at the Euros 25 years ago.

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