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Breaking down German football’s explosive split with Adidas

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germany, adidas, nike

From 2027, the German national football team will have their kit supplied by American brand, Nike. The shock decision sent shockwaves through German football. Here’s why.

Some things perfectly pair together. Ice cream and sprinkles. Tea and biscuits. Socks and shoes. German football and Adidas. For the best part of 70 years, Adidas, born in the Bavarian town, Herzogenaurach, has manufactured the kits of the German national football teams, becoming synonymous with the nation’s success.

With the iconic three stripes adorned across their jersey, German football enjoyed a period of immense footballing success. With Adidas, the men’s national team won four World Cups and three European Championships, while the women’s side lifted the Euros eight times and the World Cup twice.

And yet, in a few years, the marriage between Adidas and German football will bitterly end. Over eight years from 2027, US brand Nike will be the nation’s football kit manufacturer in a shocking move viewed as unpatriotic in Germany.

German FA chairman, Holger Blask, explained the American brand “made by far the best financial offer and additionally impressed with the content of their vision, which also included a clear commitment to supporting amateur and grassroots sport, as well as the sustainable development of women’s football in Germany.”

According to various credible reports, Nike’s offer of £85.7 million per year was double what Adidas was prepared to pay. So, why is this such a big deal? Teams and federations change kit manufacturers all the time. England, for example, traded Umbro for Nike in 2013, ending a 28-year arrangement.

Germany’s split with Adidas is different. Allow us to explain.

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The sheer magnitude of German Football’s split with Adidas

In 1954, there was no greater football side than the Hungarian national football team. Prior to that year’s World Cup final, the side, dubbed the Mighty Magyars, hadn’t lost in 31 games, a run that stretched back five years. A remarkable achievement, even considering the side possessed Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskás, and Sándor Kocsis, two of their generation’s finest-ever players and Hungary’s two all-time leading scorers.

At the time of the 1954 World Cup final, contested between Hungary and West Germany, it was widely expected Hungary would extend their winning run to 32 matches and etch their name in the pantheon of great footballing sides.

In the four games preceding the final, Hunary didn’t lose, scoring 25 times, including an 8-3 group stage win over West Germany. Eight minutes into the game it looked like the final would be another walk in the park for the Mighty Magyars, who were 2-0 up.

Little did Hungary know the West Germans possessed a secret weapon: Adi Dassler.

Dassler, founder of Adidas, was a cobbler, not a footballer. Yet, his latest innovation; football boots with adjustable screw-in studs would prove the deciding factor in the final.

After a stormy, rain-soaked first half in the Swiss capital, Bern, the scores were locked at 2-2 and the game was in the balance. Dassler, aware of more rain forecast for the second half, instructed the Germans to replace their shot studs with longer alternatives, to provide greater touch and control on a water-logged and muddy pitch.

It proved a monumental masterstroke as Helmut Rahn scored in the 84th minute to give West Germany a 3-2 lead and their first World Cup. Upon his return home, Adi Dassler would be celebrated as the ‘nation’s cobbler’ and Adidas would become internationally recognisable.

The significance of the 1954 World Cup win was not solely from a sporting perspective. Of course, that was important. But West Germany was not yet a decade removed from the Second World War and struggling with its identity. That World Cup win, assisted by Adi Dassler, gifted the nation just that.

German historian, Joachim Fest, later stated the victory ‘was a kind of liberation for the Germans from all the things that weighed down upon them after the Second World War.’ Adding, ‘July 4, 1954, is in certain aspects the founding day of the German Republic.’

German football, 2003, Women's World Cup
The German national women’s team celebrate winning the 2003 Women’s World Cup

103-cap German international, Franz Beckenbauer, believed the win meant ‘suddenly Germany was somebody again.’

Beckenbauer, a World Cup winner as both a captain and manager of Germany, explained ‘for anybody who grew up in the misery of the post-war years, Bern was an extraordinary inspiration. The entire country regained its self-esteem.’

Over the coming decades, the relationship between Germany and Adidas synergised. Germany was rarely without the three stripes branding on their kits, including the kit they won the 1990 World Cup in, one of the finest jerseys ever created.

With such a rich and successful history, it’s no wonder why, 70 years after the ‘Miracle of Bern’, the split between the German FA and Adidas as its kit manufacturer sent shockwaves throughout German society and the wider footballing world.

According to a report in The Athletic by prominent German football writer, Raphael Honingstein, the decision for the German FA to bring Nike on board as its kit manufacturer in 2027 inspired one politician to call for ‘a bit more patriotism’ from the German FA.

That same report indicated the financial situation of the German FA reportedly meant they had no choice but to accept Nike’s offer, which blew Adidas out of the water, or risk being investigated for financial misconduct.

Honingstein also explained this isn’t the first time Nike has attempted to wrestle Adidas from manufacturing German football kits. In 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup, Nike offered the German FA 500 million euros for eight years. It was knocked back, in favour of the more patriotic option of Adidas.

Perhaps, in some ways, the performance of the German national side is to blame for this split. Between 2002 and 2014, the nation won the World Cup once (2014) and finished no lower than third in the other three tournaments.

In 2018 and 2022, the nation failed to progress from the group stage in consecutive tournaments, simply unheard of for a country with the footballing pedigree of Germany. At Euro 2020, they were knocked out in the round of 16, their worst Euros performance in 16 years.

These tournament failures brought with them reduced financial remuneration, with sides failing to progress from the group stage awarded USD 9 million in prize money at the 2022 World Cup, as opposed to $13 million for reaching the round of 16 and $27 million for finishing third.

According to a report from DW, the financial ramifications of these sporting failures meant the German FA made just 27 million euros in bonuses in 2018, 2021 and 2022. This figure pales in comparison to 61 million euros earned in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – a period of successful tournament performances for the nation.

This split isn’t significant from a sporting perspective. Of course, that has ramifications, but it’s not as if Germany’s footballing success hinges on whether or not they’re donned in Adidas. While the brand has been synonymous with its glory years, it wasn’t the deciding factor behind its global and European domination.

It’s glaringly obvious the split is significant from a socio-cultural element. Not only did Adi Dassler’s ingenuity and heroics at the 1954 World Cup significantly help the nation achieve its first piece of footballing silverware, but it also liberated a nation shackled by the aftermath of the Second World War.

Not only would German football not be in the position it is today without the contributions of Adi Dassler and his brand, but Germany itself would not be where it is today without the injection of confidence and patriotism the Dassler-influenced ‘Miracle of Bern’ bred within a fractured society unsure of itself.

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Perhaps this is no more obvious than in a statement by German newspaper Der Spiegel before a unified Germany welcomed many nations for the 2006 World Cup.

“In one 90-minute match against Hungary, modern-day Germany was born.”

When it’s put like that, it’s no wonder the German FA’s decision to split with Adidas is not viewed solely as an act of sporting betrayal and the end of an extremely iconic era, but rather as an unpatriotic move bordering on treason.

Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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