Football boots have come a long way from being merely a protective footwear for a player to being a performance enhancer. Today, the soccer boot is no longer even covering the ankle of the player. Known as cleats or soccer shoes in North America, this piece of footwear has undergone tremendous changes due to the high-level research, sponsorship, and commercialization that the game of football attracts.
The cuts and arrangement of studs on football boots are crafted to suit specific surfaces, sports, and the player’s position in the game. For example, hard pitches require amateur players to use the basic sneaker shoe or plastic-stud boot. A grass or wet pitch usually required screw-in studs to provide the extra-grip. The studs can be made of plastic, rubber, or metal. Indoor football boots are designed with rubber soles to increase the grip on the floor. Sports merchandise company Nike has also brought out football boots for specific use on artificial grass.
For the game of rugby, the boot design is slight different. Screw-in studs are the choice for the prop, hooker, and lock positions especially during contested scrums where good grip is essential. Rugby boots are heavier and the maximum length of the screw-in studs is 21mm. The formation of studs sets rugby boots apart from football boots. The high cut around the ankle design that was seen on rugby boots is slowly vanishing.
Today, boots are designed based on power, speed, touch or control. These factors can really add to a player’s ability and may be the difference between winning and losing.
In the 1990s, due to the frequency of injuries caused by metal studs, some of the Australian football leagues have banned them. Similarly in football, a rule requiring the referee to check the boots for damaged studs at the start of the match has been implemented to prevent injury.
One of the more recent football boot designs called blades has been criticised for causing more harm than protection. Blades have soles with bladed studs facing in multiple directions to minimise ankle injury and provide excellent grip. But this style has been blamed for causing injury.
History of Football Boots
The evolution of modern day football boots has been a long journey starting in the 1800s when football became a very popular sport in the UK. Initially people just wore their everyday work boots. The first-ever football boots designed for the sport weighed 500g, as they were made of heavy and thick leather, and would increase in weight when wet.
A crucial turning point in football boot history was in 1954 which saw the German team win the ‘very wet’ World Cup due to the screw-in studs introduced by Adolf Dassler, who is the founder of Adidas. Along with his brother Rudolph Dassler, who is the founder of Puma, he helped create the first removable studs.
The 1960s saw the low cut football boot model make an appearance. This change in technology helped players make swifter direction change and move faster. Companies such as Joma, Mitre, and Asics, began manufacturing these new models.
The 1980s saw some more sports footwear companies get in on the action. Names like Umbro, Lotto and Kelme were born during this phase. Adidas released the Adidas Predator, a very popluar design created by Craig Johnston, a former player for Middlesbrough and Liverpool. Manufacturers began using new types of soles in the 1990s to enhance the player’s balance. With the introduction of laser technology, the first fully customised football boot was created in 2006. Since then, players began having their football boots tailor-made according to their needs and style.
The new Adidas F50 is the first to include computer technology, with a miCoach Speed Cell chip inserted into the sole to measure speed and distance. The data collected will help measure performances after a game.
Innovations in Boot Materials
Traditional football boots were made from leather; however, new materials have evolved over time and today football boots are made from a combination of synthetic fibers, with or without additional leather. Adidas Predators used rubber ridges to aid swerve of ball while Concave produced a boot shaped to cup the ball and enhance its sweet-spot.
The evolving new materials are not only patented but also copyrighted. Experts believe that most of them are a type of polymer. For example, the Concave football boot’s revolutionary feature is its convex upper that is made of both leather and synthetic material with a new lace feature with only two eyes. The Concave feature covers the laces. As many serious injuries have been caused to the metatarsal, Concave has cleverly incorporated a safety feature called the ‘MetaGuard’. It is a flexible material made of thermoplastic polyurethane and reinforced cushioning foam composite. Thus, the boot both protects and enhances performance.
Nike has been involved in creating a boot made completely from carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is not only extremely light but also a very strong material. The Nike Super Light (SL) weighs only 190 g, making it one of the lightest and most flexible boots ever created. The carbon fiber is threaded together at angles, and the black aesthetic look of the Nike SL is due to the color of the carbon fiber. Another exciting feature is the plate that was produced in collaboration with German scientists. The plate is a seven layer carbon composite material combined woven with polyurethane and TPU. The boot now provides torsional stability coupled with better propulsion across the field. The player’s foot is closer to the ground thus allowing a smoother run. Finally, a reinforcing rib enhances the support to the foot with good impact resistance and prevents reverse bending when the player takes a hard kick to the toe!
The Nike GS boot is the first ever environment-friendly football boot to be created and is also the lightest boot ever at 160 g. Nike GS is made with optimized renewable and recycled materials. The bio-based traction plate is mainly composed of castor beans to upgrade the boot’s strength and flexibility on pitch. The sock liner is made of 100% castor beans. Nearly 70% of the lining, laces, and tongue are made of recycled materials while the toe board and collar are made of 15% recycled materials.
The bio-based traction plate is designed with a high-performance chassis that has a very responsive and agile shape, and a basic diamond-silhouette spine to aid agility. The sole plate is lighter than conventional ones as it is made of 50% renewable Pebax® Renew and 50% TPU. The studs are anatomically positioned to increase speed and flexible movement on the pitch.
The Kanga-Lite synthetic upper is solvent-free and provides zonal reinforcement to improve touch and control. The upper provides exceptional support to the mid-foot and arch area. The sock liner is lightweight and chemical-free as it is made of only castor beans and provides a comfortable tight fit as many layers have been eliminated. Another important feature is the anatomical and asymmetrical heel counter and heel bucket. These aid in locking the foot down and enhancing stability and support. The counter is made of Pebax® Renew which is derived from castor bean oil.
Boots That Have a Brain
Formerly known as ‘The Blackouts’, the adiZero F50 miCoach boots has now come to be known as ‘The Boot With a Brain’.
The adiZero F50 has a cavity within the outsole to house the innovative miCoach Sensor, which is a type of data capturing chip. It captures 360° movement and measures the following performance metrics:
- Average speed (recorded per second)
- Maximum speed (recorded per 5s)
- Number of sprints
- Distance covered
- Distance at high intensity levels
- Steps and stride rates.
The on-board memory can store 7h of data relating to the player’s performance during a game or training, and transmits it wirelessly to a tablet, PC or MAC. The data can also be loaded to existing training plans via the miCoach website. Then it is integrated into customized coaching programs exclusively created for a player. Every player aspires to improve their game, and this boot is a progressive tool that helps analysis of performance making it easier to set tailor-made goals.
Adidas is extending the new miCoach range to other sports such as basketball and running.
Sources and Further Reading