They say that in life and in football that there are certain moments you will never forget. When it comes to the beautiful game, I will never forget sitting in the San Siro in April 2003 to watch AC Milan beat Ajax 3-2 in the Champions League Quarter Final. I will never forget seeing my hometown club Cardiff City play at Wembley in the FA Cup and League Cup finals. I will also never forget my idol (Brazilian) Ronaldo scoring two goals in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final for Brazil against Germany.
My trip to Paris for the opening match of the 2016 European Championships is a moment I can add to that list.
Nike invited In Bed With Maradona to Paris to attend the opening match of the Euro 2016 Championships and to trial their Palais De Tokyo Innovation Experience, a limited offering during the tournament.
I flew out to Paris from Bristol airport on the Thursday night, before kicking off activities on Friday morning with a trial of Nike’s brand new boot from the Mercurial range; the Mercurial Superfly V.
The Mercurial trials took place in the Stade Sébastien Charléty, a stadium situated some 10 kilometres from Paris Saint-Germain’s Le Parc des Princes home. The stadium, built in 1939 by French architect Bernard Zehrfuss, is the home of PSG’s city rivals Paris FC, who play in Ligue 2, and PSG’s ladies team.
The stadium was picturesque; a grand location for football fans to have a kick about. As a child, you dream of playing in stadiums like this and it is even a dream come true for a 22-year old football romantic like me!
The trials were a chance for us to try out Nike’s Mercurial Superfly V boots, which are designed to be a true speed system. Whilst I don’t think my 100m sprint time was significantly improved, I must say that the design certainly does enable ease of movement and ultimately smoother traction when playing. The comfort is almost second to none.
We kicked off by taking part in various drills, a chance to showcase our new and improved movement, followed by a shooting drill. As a centre back, I can’t say shooting is the strongest part of my game, but thankfully I did hit the back of the net at least once!
After a variety of drills, where we were put through our tests by a team of French coaches, we were split into teams and got to play a game. It was great to play a game, especially with players of a multitude of nationalities. I will say it came as a surprise to me that it was the British players who wanted to keep the ball on the deck, with the continental players playing a long ball almost every time!
Following our Mercurial trial, we headed to the Nike Showroom in central Paris, where various products and design elements were on display. We also got to speak to Max Blau, VP of Nike Football Footwear and the man who designed the Mercurial Superfly V.
He told me:
Friday night saw us head to the Stade de France for the opening ceremony of the European Championships, as well as the opening game; France v Romania. For someone like me, who has never attended a major tournament, it was a dream come true and something I will never forget.
Unlike events in Marseille, the fans of both France and Romania were in high spirits and, despite high levels of security, there were no issues at all. In fact, the fans were both pleasant and friendly to each other.
Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was electric. I’ve witnessed some pretty great atmospheres in football; the San Siro, Anfield and my favourite Ninian Park, but this was special. The French fans were in full song and spirits were high amongst the host nation.
When La Marseillaise echoed around the stadium (after a godawful performance by David Guetta) the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, with almost every fan in the stadium waving the blue, white and red French flag.
The Romanian fans, singing loud and proud, played their part in a fantastic atmosphere, too.
The match itself was fairly tense throughout. Despite France taking the lead through Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud in the 57th minute, they were neither dominant nor convincing. Romania equalised through a penalty in the 65th minute.
Two players stood out for the home nation; Leicester’s N’Golo Kante was strong and powerful in midfield, recycling almost every loose ball. West Ham’s Dmitri Payet, on the other hand, was magical in attack and provided France with real inspiration as they looked to penetrate the Romanian goal. Imagine a Leicester City and a West Ham player being France's star players 4 years ago - crazy isn't it?
It was Payet himself who gave the French the lead and the win with a out of this world strike in the 89th minute. The fans, the players and staff went crazy, with the former Marseille man reduced to tears by his goal.
Leaving the stadium, the French fans burst into renditions of Allez Les Bleus and La Marseillaise. It was an emphatic atmosphere.
On Saturday, we visited Nike’s Palais de Tokyo Innovation Experience, aptly named the Palais de Speed.
The famous Palais de Tokyo, a building dedicated to modern and contemporary art, had been transformed into Nike’s hub for the summer.
There, a number of Nike exclusive experiences were on offer to celebrate their improved speed innovations. Visitors are encouraged to take part in a speed race, pitting their times against some of the game’s fastest players in Cristiano Ronaldo, Anthony Martial and more.
At the Palais de Speed, Nike also host the Winner Stays Football X European tournament on an outdoor, FIFA Street-like pitch. The tournament will end in a Final on June 18th.
We were also given the chance to meet and interview two of the game’s former stars. First up was former Portugal international and Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan star Luis Figo.
Historic boots were on display too, including the original Mercurial boot, worn in 1998 by Brazilian striker Ronaldo, a former team-mate of Figo’s at the Galactico Real Madrid. The boot, I learnt, was the first to include colour, a step away from the classic all-black boot.
Alongside Figo, I also got to meet and chat to Jay-Jay Okocha, the former PSG and Bolton star. The man known for his skill and cultured footwork told me:
With that came the end of my trip to Paris, a unique experience that I will never forget. Whilst it is a shame that I will not be able to attend a Wales game in this tournament, to be given the chance to attend the opening match of the European Championships was an unforgettable one.
Alongside it, I was able to meet some of the greats of the game, learn about new innovations in sports equipment and try out some of Nike’s latest offerings. The Mercurial Superfly V boots are amongst the best I have ever worn, with the innovations on show evidently beneficial for both the professionals and the parks players dreaming of something a little bit more.
The Palais de Speed is open between the 4th and 18th of June, weekdays 12pm-9pm and weekends 10am-9pm. Digital passes can be obtained from http://nike.com/palaisofspeed. The Nike Mercurial Superfly V are available at Nike.com.