The most recent KICKTV Top 5 recounted the strangest football boot designs in history. Here, we pay our dues to the classics
5. Nike Mercurial Vapor
First released: 2002
Notable admirers: Thierry Henry, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Nike’s timeless Mercurial Vapors were introduced shortly before the 2002 World Cup, in a TV commercial that saw some of the world’s finest players battle it out in a cage match. In the hull of a ship. Refereed by Eric Cantona. (Commercials were just better back then).
The Vapor evolved from the Nike Air Mercurial, which was developed specifically for Ronaldo prior to the 1998 World Cup. It was a very lightweight shoe designed with speed in mind, and in 1998, they felt they could claim to have the world’s best player in the world’s best boot. Quite a combo.
When the Vapor arrived, it was by far the lightest boot on the market, making it popular with the wingers and strikers who were constantly striving for that extra one per cent. Thierry Henry was a popular exponent of early editions:
5. The old Nike Mercurial Vapour III's. Thierry Henry slotted anything with these on! pic.twitter.com/0JvHZ0niym
— Abbott Bishop's (@AbbottBishops) January 21, 2016
In 2008, the fourth iteration of the Vapor was worn by Cristiano Ronaldo. Specifically, it was a limited-edition carbon fibre model that could apparently help a player outrun the fastest production car in the world, the Bugatti Veyron:
Those carbon fibre editions were rarer than unicorn poop and would have cost you around $600 at the time. And you probably couldn’t outrun a Veyron wearing them.
Fast forward to 2016 and we have the 10th iteration of this classic Nike cleat. The fact that this design has been on the feet of the very best players in the world for 14 years is a testament to its effectiveness. Here’s Ronaldo’s recently revealed Nike Mercurial Vapour X:
It’s in Chelsea blue! Start up the rumour mill!
4. Nike Tiempo
First released: 1994
Notable Admirers: Paolo Maldini, Ronaldinho, Andrea Pirlo, Sergio Ramos
It’s hard to believe that almost 11 years have passed since Ronaldinho “broke the Internet” with a viral clip of him (supposedly) doing amazing things with his special edition Nike Tiempos. It was the first YouTube clip to rack up over a million views and no champagne was poured on anyone’s butt during that particular Internet breakage.
In the Nike Universe, “Tiempo” has been used as a brand for all kinds of apparel, but here we are talking about the lineage of boots that goes back to the 1994 World Cup. The American manufacturer supplied kicks for 10 of the players in the World Cup Final that year, including Romario and Paolo Maldini. That helped kickstart a range of boots that has proven to be endearingly popular.
If the Vapors are renowned for speed, the Tiempo is generally famed for its comfort. The soft leathers and snug fits on these bad boys have made them popular with the likes of Sergio Ramos, Carlos Tevez and, most notably, Mr Ronaldinho.
Two of the most popular Tiempos have been the Ronaldinho 10R and the Tiempo Legend, the latter of which first arrived in 2005. The Legend had a little more pizzaz in the design department, no folder tongue and that iconic oversized Nike swoosh that makes the range instantly recognisable.
A modern icon.
— Nike Australia (@nikeaustralia) January 19, 2016
The current model is the Nike Tiempo Legend 6, a boot that combines modern creature comforts with classic aesthetics. Look! You can buy it in black!
3. Puma King
First released: 1968
Notable admirers: Pele, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Eusebio, Lothar Mattheus
Prior to 1994—when the likes of Adidas and Nike started to dominate the football boot market—Puma were the kings of the field.
Originally designed for Portuguese legend and 1966 Golden Boot Eusebio, the Puma King soon became the only boot choice for the World’s very best players. It has a storied history in the World Cup, which may have began when Pele famously bent down to tie his special edition Kings moments before the 1970 World Cup Quarter-Final kicked off:
Many believed that Pele was paid handsomely to delay kick off and tie his laces, momentarily bringing the entire world’s attention to the pieces of leather surrounding his feet.
In 1974, Johan Cruyff wore Puma Kings in the legendary World Cup Final against West Germany, while Mario Kempes scored twice in the 1978 final against the Dutch wearing his. Aside from Pele, the most famous exponent of the boot was Diego Maradona, who wore them in each of his three World Cups. They were on his feet when he scored the Goal of the Century against England (and when he punched int he Hand of God goal, too).
The King was the first boot to tackle the concept of reducing weight, and also the first that was available in multiple colors.
As the 1990s rolled on, it was no longer the world’s most popular boot, but it remained endearingly popular. Personally, when I was a kid, I remember being very jealous of anyone I played against who was lucky enough to have a pair of Kings, with their distinctive oversized tongue that served to hide the laces.
The latest iteration is the Puma King II, which lacks that big ol’ wagging tongue:
— City Sport Maroc (@CitySportMaroc) January 5, 2016
They’re not quite as cool as the used to be, but this boot was incredibly important in the development of the modern game. Much like our number two…
2. Adidas Predator
First released: 1994
Notable admirers: David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne, Raul, Kaka, Alessandro Del Piero
The hilariously awful commercial above does not justify how important the Adidas Predator was in shaping the modern football boot.
When it was released in 1994, the defining characteristic of the Predator was its rows of rubber fins, designed to offer more swerve, grip and power. This might sound like a gimmick that belongs in my Bizarre Boots list, but there was a genuine perception that the Predators could truly change the way you hit a ball.
Former Liverpool midfielder Craig Johnston came up with the idea when he was coaching kids and trying to help their ball control. He stuck the rubber from table tennis bats onto some boots and voila! The first prototype was born. Virtually every boot manufacturer passed on the concept—including Adidas—but they eventually changed their minds, thus producing one of their most popular boots.
When these boots first came out, only one kid in my school was lucky/rich enough to have them. We were all instantly scared to go near him on the field, as it was automatically assumed that he could do amazing things wearing them. (The tagline in the advertising was “100% legal, 0% fair” and this certainly seemed to be the case). The pros who wore them certainly seemed to be made of magic: Paul Gascoigne dazzles in his Predators , while David Beckham used them to score against Wimbledon from the half-way line:
I was actually at that game, where my team Wimbledon lost 3-0. Even though some unknown kid called Beckham had just embarrassed us with an amazing goal, I still wanted those boots.
As the years went by, the rubber fins on the boots got smaller and smaller, until they disappeared entirely in 2002. By then, the focus in the market was firmly on making boots lighter, rather than adding excess pieces of rubber.
Why was the Predator so important in the great pantheon of boots? It wasn’t worn by as many top stars as the Puma Kings, nor was it as ubiquitous as Nike Mercurial Vapors. But it was the first boot that did something truly innovative—before 1994, no one had tried to reinvent the wheel quite like it. It paved the way for new innovations and encouraged manufacturers to think of boots as more than just a couple of pieces of leather on your feet.
The Predator was finally discontinued in 2015, but for the millennials and folks whose first memories of the game came in the late 90s, these boots will live on forever.
1. Adidas Copa Mundial
First released: 1979
Notable admirers: Diego Maradona, Franz Becenbauer, Pele, Zinedine Zidane
First released in 1979, the Adidas Copa Mundial were developed for use in the 1982 World Cup in Spain (Because “Copa Mundial” is Spanish for “World Cup,” geddit?). Nearly 40 years later, the design has barely changed and they remain the best-selling boot of all time.
If that is not a sign of greatness, then I simply don’t know what is.
In many ways, the Copa Mundial are the antithesis of the Predator: they have no gimmicks, they have never had high-profile advertising campaigns behind them, they are reasonably plain to look at and they have always been modestly priced.
When they were first released, their selling point wasn’t in their looks, but their comfort and weight. They were made from thin and resilient kangaroo leather and were the lightest boots on the market at the time.
The likes of Michal Platini and Franz Beckenbauer shone on the biggest stage wearing Copa Mundials, which are arguably the most perfectly designed boots of all time. How else would they still be a top seller without alteration to their form and function?
The only significant changes that Adidas have made to the winning formula are some recent Blackout and Whiteout versions—but even they are subtle compared to the colourways extolled by the likes of Nike.
These boots are iconic. Frankly, you have no excuse not to have owned a pair at some point in your life.
Which other brilliant boots should make this list? Let me know in the comments!