Nike's 'Secret Cage Tournament' from 2002 - What happened to the 24 players?

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Old enough to remember the 2002 World Cup? If so, then you’ll no doubt also remember Nike’s brilliant advert ahead of the finals in Japan and South Korea.

Twenty-four football stars, split into eight different teams, featured in the advert.

The eight three-a-side teams took part in a ’Secret Tournament’ in cages on a ship. Admittedly, it does sound rather bizarre written down like that.

Even more bizarrely, the tournament was ‘refereed’ by Eric Cantona.

Just as memorable - perhaps even more memorable - was the epic soundtrack that accompanied the advert. ‘A Little Less Conversation’ by Elvis vs JXL became a Number One hit single in the UK thanks to Nike’s hit commercial and it remains an absolute banger today.

But who were the 24 players who featured - and what happened to them?

Let’s take a closer look…

Triple Espresso: Henry, Totti, Nakata

Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry, one of the world’s best players in 2002, left Arsenal in 2007 before going on to play for Barcelona and New York Red Bulls.

He then combined his role as Belgium assistant manager with a stint as a pundit on Sky Sports before taking the Monaco job in 2018. That ended in disaster - but Montreal Impact have given the Frenchman another chance to prove that he’s cut out for management.

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Francesco Totti

The Italian icon finally brought an end to his career in 2017 aged 40. He spent his entire career with his beloved AS Roma.

The retired midfielder still enjoys putting on his boots in Rome’s 8-a-side leagues.

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Hidetoshi Nakata

Four years after Nike’s advert, Hidetoshi Nakata retired aged just 29 after falling out of love with the game.

The former Japan international went travelling for several years before returning to his home country.

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The Onetouchables: Vieira, Van Nistelrooy, Scholes

Patrick Vieira

The Arsenal legend went on to play for Juventus, Inter Milan and Manchester City before hanging up his boots in 2011.

He spent two years working as New York City FC’s head coach between 2016-2018 and has been in charge of French club Nice for the past couple of years.

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Ruud van Nistelrooy

Ruud van Nistelrooy was arguably the best number nine in world football back in 2002.

He left Manchester United in 2006 after falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson and played for Real Madrid, Hamburg and Malaga before retiring in 2012.

The 43-year-old worked as the Netherlands’ assistant manager between 2014-2016 and is currently in charge of PSV Eindhoven’s Under-19s.

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Paul Scholes

One of the best players English football has ever produced, Paul Scholes retired in 2011 before reversing his decision months later and re-joining Manchester United.

He added another Premier League winners’ medal to his collection before retiring for a second time in 2013.

Scholes had a (very) brief spell in management with Oldham in 2019 and works as a pundit for BT Sport - something nobody would have predicted during his playing career!

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Toros Locos: Ljungberg, Saviola, Enrique

Freddie Ljungberg

A top player for Arsenal during the early-2000s, Freddie Ljungberg went on to play for the likes of West Ham, Celtic and Mumbai City before calling time on his career in 2014.

The Swede briefly managed the Gunners in 2019 before Mikel Arteta was appointed as Unai Emery’s permanent successor.

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Javier Saviola

The Argentine forward remained on Barcelona’s books until 2007 before ending up at Real Madrid.

He retired in 2016, following a season with River Plate, and was appointed assistant manager of Andorran side FC Ordino in 2016.

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Luis Enrique

Luis Enrique, who played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona, retired in 2004.

The 49-year-old is now regarded as one of the world’s top coaches following spells with AS Roma and Barcelona, and is currently in charge of the Spanish national team.

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Cerberus: Davids, Thuram, Wiltord

Edgar Davids

Instantly recognisable thanks to those orange glasses, Edgar Davids was a world-class midfielder in his pomp.

He somehow ended up finishing his career with Barnet, while also managing the lower-league English club between 2012-2014.

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Lilian Thuram

One of the best full-backs of his generation, Lilian Thuram ended his career in 2008 following a two-year stint with Barcelona.

The 48-year-old has been politically active since retiring but is not currently involved in football, which is a shame.

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Sylvain Wiltord

Another of Nike’s ’Secret Tournament’ stars who was on Arsenal’s books at the time, Sylvain Wiltord ended his career in 2012 following a spell with Nantes.

Like Thuram, the 45-year-old is not currently involved in football.

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Os Tornados: Figo, Carlos, Ronaldo

Luis Figo

One of the best players of his era, Luis Figo ended his career in 2009 after four years with Inter.

The Portuguese icon flirted with the idea of becoming FIFA president in 2015 - and even gained the backing of Jose Mourinho and David Beckham - but revered his decision stating that he did not want “absolute power”.

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Roberto Carlos

The best left-back of all-time? Quite possibly.

Roberto Carlos left Real Madrid in 2007 and went on to play for Fenerbahçe, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala and Delhi Dynamos.

He also coached a couple of those teams but hasn’t been involved in management since leaving the Dynamos in 2015.

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Ronaldo

Completing the world-class trio, Ronaldo requires no introduction.

Since retiring in 2011, the Brazilian legend has worked as an ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme and is the current majority owner of Spanish club Real Valladolid.

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Funk Seoul Brothers: Denilson, Ronaldinho, Ki-hyeon

Denilson

The most expensive player in world football in 1998 after joining Real Betis for £21.5 million, Denilson failed to justify his price tag and his career sadly petered out.

Now 43, the South American hasn’t worked in football since leaving Nea Kavala in 2010 but has tried his hand at commentary for Brazilian TV.

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Ronaldinho

With Ronaldinho in their ranks, surely the Funk Seoul Brothers were crowned champions of Nike’s ’Secret Tournament’, right? Well, no actually - but more on that in a bit.

Ronaldinho, who hung up his boots in 2015, recently hit the headlines after spending several weeks in prison after entering Paraguay with a fake passport.

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Seol Ki-hyeon

Seol Ki-hyeon did well to get himself involved in this tournament, let’s be honest.

The South Korean was with Anderlecht at the time and went on to play for teams including Reading and Fulham before ending his career with Incheon United in 2014.

He became interim manager of Sungkyunkwan University in March 2015.

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Tutto Bene: Cannavaro, Rosicky, Ferdinand

Fabio Cannavaro

Winner of the 2006 Ballon d’Or after leading Italy to glory at the World Cup finals in the same year, Fabio Cannavaro finished his playing days with Al-Ahli in 2011.

The 46-year-old has spent the past few years managing various Asian teams including Tianjin Quanjian, Guangzhou Evergrande and even the Chinese national team.

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Tomas Rosicky

A talented midfielder whose career was sadly hindered by injuries, Tomas Rosicky’s playing days ended in 2017 after one season back at Sparta Prague.

He became Sparta’s sporting director in December 2018.

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Rio Ferdinand

A Rolls Royce of a centre-back, Rio Ferdinand joined Manchester United after the 2002 World Cup and enjoyed the most successful years of his career at Old Trafford.

Since retiring in 2015, Ferdinand has established his status as one of the best pundits on British TV.

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Equipo Del Fuego: Lopez, Mendieta, Crespo

Claudio Lopez

Claudio Lopez was with Lazio when Nike’s advert came out. The Argentine ended up finishing his career in MLS with Colorado Rapids in 2010.

What’s the 45-year-old up to these days? Answers on a postcard, please…

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Gaizka Mendieta

Gaizka Mendieta was a class act, hence why Lazio forked out €47.7 million to seal his signature from Valencia in 2001.

Unfortunately, the Spaniard was a big disappointment in Italy and he eventually ended up at Middlesbrough.

Mendieta has worked as a Spanish football pundit in recent years and has also DJed at some concerts. Yes, really.

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Hernan Crespo

A top striker in his day, Hernan Crespo ended his career in 2012 with Parma.

He’s managed several clubs in recent years, including Modena and Banfield, and is currently the head coach of Defensa y Justicia (what a name, by the way) in Argentina.

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Who won Nike’s ‘Secret Tournament’?

Triple Espresso (Henry, Totti and Nakata) sealed a 1-0 win over Os Tornados (Figo, Carlos and Ronaldo) in the final.

Here’s how the tournament’s latter stages panned out…

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Can I watch the advert?

Of course you can.

It’s still brilliant…

How about a 20-year anniversary remake with current stars ahead of next year’s World Cup in Qatar, Nike?

We’d all love to see it.

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