Twenty years of spectacular World Cup boots: R9s, Predators, PUMA Tricks…
After four years of anxious waiting, the World Cup is finally here. Get ready for goals, skills, penalty shootouts, Nigeria’s home kit, a 45-year-old goalkeeper, Baddiel & Skinner and, of course, your favourite player running around in the latest pair of brightly coloured hunks of leather – yours for just £300.
To celebrate what is arguably the most important part of any World Cup — feet and footwear thereon — we’re looking back at the most iconic boots from the last two decades of tournaments, highlighting one memorable pair from each World Cup since France ’98.
Some of these boots had weird colours. Some didn’t match. Some, being so symbolic of a nation’s achievements, have been snatched up by football associations in the name of cultural preservation. All, needless to say, are brilliant.
1998: Ronaldo — Nike Mercurial
1998 saw Nike release its first Mercurial boots, described as “ultralight, so your legs can be as fast as your imagination”.
Brazil’s Ronaldo, the player most strongly associated with the design, wore these silver, yellow and blue ones during the 1998 World Cup.
Through sickness, nerves or whatever reason, Ronaldo didn’t live up to expectation in the final against France, but O Fenômeno did usefully tie the boots around his neck upon receiving his silver medal.
That’s one way to ensure everyone will remember the classic R9 Mercurials.
FULL TIME at France ‘98.
A half fit Ronaldo could not stop France from winning the World Cup on home soil.
Those boots! 😍 pic.twitter.com/5OMuNAIyX8
— Football Remind (@footballremind) June 2, 2018
2002: Beckham — Adidas Predator Mania
Call your friends, put on your tux and pop open these vintage ‘champagne’ Preds worn by David Beckham at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Delicious.
Not much in the way of rubber spikes on these Predators, but a hell of a lot of tongue. So much tongue, in fact, that an elastic strap tucked under the shoe and between the studs served to hold the red piece of leather in place.
What a time to be alive.
England might have lost to the 10 men of Brazil in the quarter-finals, but these boots helped Beckham smash in that redemptive penalty against Argentina, so they’re all good in our book.
Like Ronaldo’s Mercurials, the Beckham Preds would be re-released years later to cater for the nostalgic.
2006: Totti — gold Diadora Maximus 14
Right, so a 29-year-old Francesco Totti actually wore blue or white boots throughout the 2006 World Cup as Italy, with arguably one of the greatest World Cup squads of all time, eventually won the final on penalties.
Totti played an hour of that match versus France before being replaced by the slightly less legendary Vincenzo Iaquinta, who generously allowed two defenders and a defensive midfielder to take a penalty instead of stepping up. For shame, Vincenzo.
Totti’s reward for his role in bringing the World Cup back to Italy? These limited edition gold boots from Italian brand Diadora. Lovely stuff.
Diadora Maximus Gold pic.twitter.com/hqi0etZg
— Architectide (@Architectide) July 7, 2012
2010: Tshabalala — Nike CTR360 Maestri
Zoom in on players’ feet at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa — go on, what else have you got to do? — and you’ll likely see a burst of silver and orange, with Nike using the colour scheme for its Mercurial Vapor SuperFly II, CTR360 Maestri, Total90 Laser III and Tiempo Legend III boots.
It took 55 minutes for the CTR360 Maestris to make their mark, as South African midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala fired in one of the most objectively enjoyable goals of all time in the opening match against Mexico.
Spain’s Andrés Iniesta wore the same boot as he scored the winner in the final.
Strangely, Tshabalala’s boots were deemed so monumental for the nation of South Africa, they were taken away from him to be included in an archive of the 2010 World Cup.
Leslie Sedibe, who headed South African Football Association before receiving a five-year match-fixing ban from FIFA (who hasn’t?), said: “Siphiwe Tshabalala knows those boots do not belong to him because of the historical symbolism they represent.
“They represent hope and they represent that we can deliver on a world stage.”
2014: Balotelli — mismatched PUMA Tricks
You’d completely forgotten about these, hadn’t you? With virtually every brand going with the ‘bright is best’ philosophy around the 2014 tournament in Brazil, Puma took it to the next level with the mismatched World Cup Tricks Collection.
The odd pairs were worn by the likes of Sergio Agüero and Radamel Falcao, while Gianluigi Buffon added to the vibe with a pair of mismatched gloves.
Puma’s insanity was proven when Mario Balotelli, the unlikeliest voice of reason imaginable, said: “I have to be honest, the first time I saw the Tricks boots, I thought the PUMA guy was mad. But when I realised he wasn’t, I was already excited.”
It should be noted that 2014 was also the year in which Nike decided football boots really needed a bit of sock around the ankle — a trend that has since been picked up on by all the major sportswear brands.
In all honesty though, wearing one pink boot and one blue boot seems like the bigger innovation.
2018: Nobody? — Nike Naija Mercurial 360
Will anybody be wearing these beauties at the World Cup? Possibly not: Several of Nigeria’s Nike-sponsored players, including captain John Obi Mikel, wore white boots against England on Saturday.
Nike drop the Naija-inspired Mercurial 360 boot pic.twitter.com/7vuCfpw7YT
— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 1, 2018
Nonetheless, the 2018 World Cup is all about Nigeria’s new look, and this last-minute addition to the collection — a green and white edition of the Mercurial 360 boot — is automatically better than anything else we’re going to see in Russia.