Van Nistelrooy, Vieira and a gladiatorial battle for footballing supremacy

A bevy of busty maidens are sitting around a lunch table, gossiping like a brood of clucking hens.

Oblivious to the flesh on show, a battalion of Roman centurions – one of whom is chatting away in his gladiatorial war mask – are gathered on another table chewing the fat.

As I stroll across a red carpet, into a huge, lavishly decorated ancient building, another centurion, with arms more akin to a disproportionately-sized action figure, saunters past me as he speaks in German to the person on the other end of his phone.

He is quickly followed by a flat-cap wearing Andy Ansah (co-host of Wayne Rooney’s Street Striker), who is predictably gushing about the “unbelievable tekkers” of Patrick Vieira and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

A spaghetti junction of wires, lights and cameras, are being hauled from A to B.

To understand how I find myself in this surreal situation, we need to rewind the action.

Heineken, sponsors of this year’s Champions League, have invited me to the shoot of their new advert at a studio in Prague, starring Vieira, Van Nistelrooy and Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Rene Adler.

In the commercial, former foes Vieira and Van Nistelrooy will clash for a ball dropping from the heavens into the Pantheon of Rome (a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome). The winner of the aerial battle will send a header flying towards Adler’s goal – a box in an opera house.

Before the guys start shooting the ad, I get a chance to grab a chat with them.

Adler is up first and he isn’t happy about having to concede a goal.

“It’s a great honour to be here with great players like Patrick Vieira and Ruud van Nistelrooy, but it’s going to be difficult to let the ball in. My heart will break,” says the German, who reveals a plan to broker a deal with the Dutch striker.

“I’ll agree to let Van Nistelrooy score as long as he doesn’t do it in the Bundesliga.” (The evil laugh of Van Nistelrooy could be heard on the Costa del Sol as he signed for Malaga in June).

As Adler shuffles off, Champions League veteran and former Premier League and Serie A enforcer, Vieira takes his place.

The towering Frenchman starts to speak about the difficulty of returning to Highbury in a Juventus shirt – probably because his former young apprentice Cesc Fabregas absolutely schooled him (FFT put this in much more diplomatic terms).



“It’s difficult trying to control yourself (when you play against a former team) because you spent so much time at your old football club and you know everybody there. It adds pressure,” admits Manchester City’s Football Development Executive.

“I had this feeling when I left Arsenal and went to Juventus and we played them in the Champions League. I saw all my old friends – it was difficult.”

After reliving the nightmare, Vieira slips off to nurse reopened wounds with some cake.

As he departs I see the forehead of Van Nistelrooy zig-zagging through a maze of folding screens, like a shark fin cutting through calm waters.

The penalty box predator and scorer of 56 Champions League goals in 81 games – bettered only by Raul (71 in 144) – is here to talk about the games that changed his life.

He recalls his first outing in Europe’s elite competition: “I scored a hat-trick for PSV in my first Champions League game (v HJK Helsinki, November 25, 1998) and I thought, ‘This is a big moment’,” says the Malaga hitman.

“It was a moment to breathe and look back at what I’d been through since that youth game - climbing up through the Dutch leagues with Den Bosch, Heerenveen and PSV. It was a crazy moment.

“Scoring this hat-trick gave me a lot of hope and belief towards achieving my dream - to be successful on the highest stage. I really enjoyed this moment.”

As the interview ends, van Nistelrooy gets called on to set – it was time to get the cameras rolling.

Watching from a balcony, I watch the former Premier League titans line up alongside one another, waiting for the ball to drop from the skies.

I can see them in their Arsenal and Manchester United colours, the legs have aged, the occasion is different, but the intense competitiveness is there.

“Action!” A ball drops towards the jostling pair. Under the instruction of the director, Van Nistelrooy comes out on top. The duo share an awkward laugh after the first take. But with take after the take, the heat of battle turns up a notch.

Sweat drips down their foreheads, their elbows sharpen and the veins in their necks bulge.

The PR knew it was time to leave. This shoot was about to turn into a bloodbath. As we stride off set the Arsenal fan in me took over, like the Incredible Hulk’s rage.

Looking at the smug Van Nistelrooy basking in his staged glory, I lost control.

Breaking free of the PR’s safety net I gallop towards the former Real Madrid assassin and leap into the air, arms aloft, a la Martin Keown at Old Trafford 2002, roaring, “Yyyyooouuurrrr ssshhhh****tttt aaahhhhh” as I clatter his head.

The 6ft 2in Dutchman falls to the floor holding his face, crying like a baby. Vieira holds me aloft on his shoulders as we chant, “Good to, good to be, good to be a Gooner!"

OK, the last three paragraphs are nothing more than a figment of my imagination. In reality I left the studio, profusely thanking the players for their time and wishing I had teamed up with Arsenal’s greatest No.4 (sorry, Cesc).

When the 2011/12 Champions League campaign kicks off tonight, I’ll be looking out for the advert, hoping to see Vieira catch Van Nistelrooy with a sneaky elbow to the ribs.

Clarence Seedorf, Gianluigi Buffon, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Patrick Vieira and Rene Adler star in the new films from Heineken to promote their new UEFA Champions League ‘Legendary Football’ campaign. To find out more visit facebook.com/heineken

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