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Gold. The most revered element in human existence. A symbolism of human kind's quest to be perfect. Men have fought battles to possess it, travelled vast distances to claim it, and to this day it is a symbol of refinement. Perfection. Great human achievements are frequently rewarded with a gold token. Kings, Nobel peace laureates and most Olympians are celebrated with a crown, a medal or a trophy. Football's biggest stage has finally come to a close and the German's have grabbed glory this time round.
Circa 1800s, England. Football was the working class' game of choice to relive the pressures of the day. All one needed was a ball and a field. During these time the work boot factory workers wore switched purposes from the factories to the pitch. High cut, heavy and very ungainly, every tackle was felt as these boots were made for the factory floor and not for the football field. When it rained, these steel toed shoes would get even heavier making it almost impossible to play.
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Then, the changed happened. The growth of football in South America forced the change. The drier pitches of Uruguay and Argentina prompted a change in design, which was reflected in lighter, more aerodynamic footwear. Again, this was slow in the up-take – Leonidas da Silva, Brazil’s star player at the 1938 World Cup still took to the field in bare feet – but eventually the successes of the South Americans made it clear which was more effective. If one wanted to win, he needed a boot.
Like in any other struggle, to win is to have the edge over your opponent, whether in skill, equipment or coach. And it stays true in the world of football, the best players have their own equipment to be better than their defenders, boot engineers spend hours after hours trying to make it better, to stand out. From the humbly converted workman's boot to the latest cleats which showcases all the advances shoe making technology has to offer , the boot has come a long way Ironically, just like how Germany captured our hearts this world cup, German Adi Dassler captured the players when he revolutionised the boot that help West Germany win the world cup in 1954.
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Fast forward to World Cup 1954 in Switzerland, West Germany was able to move from whipping boys to the ranks of football elite thanks to one man's innovation. Adi Dassler revolutionised the game with his invention, the football boot with removable studs. Initially thought to be a farce in the eyes of traditionalist members of the German FA, Dassler's replaceable football studs gave the Germans an advantage no one expected. This would later become the catalyst for World Cup glory. In the finals, the highly touted Hungarian team were the favorites to lift the cup and pundits knew that the West Germans were easy pickings. The pitch that day was rained soaked and Dassler knew that for this game the players needed additional traction and instructed to use longer studs to gain this advantage. The Germans with their nimbler boots were far superior to the water logged shoes of their opponents and eventually winning their tie 3-2 against Hungary. Now known as the "miracle of Bern", this became Germany's first World Cup and placing Adi Dassler forever in football lore.
Not resting on their laurels, Adidas now a major player in the football equipment scene introduced a new gear to the game, The Predator. The Predator had the distinction of being the first boot to be designed by a professional player. Created by former Liverpool midfielder Craig Johnston, the Predator replaced part of the leather upper with rubber (initially ripped from a ping-pong bat), which greatly aided control of the ball. Rejected at first, Johnston persuaded Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner, former adidas athletes and German legends, to be filmed using the boots in snowy conditions, to demonstrate their greater grip. adidas were convinced, and bought the rights to the boot, which went on to sell millions.
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Moving forward to the modern game in the 1990s, Brazil dominated. With talent such as young 17 year-old Ronaldo in the strikers role, the Brazilian team of World Cup 1994 was heavy favorites to raise the cup. The nike mercurial was Ronaldo's weapon of choice. Boasting the times' latest technology, the mercurial was light, stable and had superior grip. As if the capoeira lads needed any more help, Samba football had another edge against their counterparts. And true to form, Ronaldo scored twice against top nation Italy and gave Brasil their 5th trophy forever cementing the footballing world's high regard to the South American's talent and panache.
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The modern day footballer is blessed by the range of boots available: every star player has his own line and model of boot, created specifically for them. In this World Cup we have seen the knitted boot, the Primeknit, as worn by Luis Suarez, the Nike Magista, which includes an contiguous upper, and has been seen across the tournament, most notably by Mario Gotze. Multicolored boots are also prevalent, with Mario Balotelli and many of the PUMA athletes wearing one pink and one blue version of their Tricks.
The Future of the Boot
As the quest between the brands to be the most superior boot producer continues, big money sponsorships will become a huge factor that will drive sales and determine success. This could also hinder football boot research and development where companies will rather have profit over innovation. Above all of these, football fans and players alike will still flock to the arenas to cheer and play for club and country. Such is the beautiful game and the football boot will forever be entwined with football's failures and victories.
Written by Marc Maayo
Part Shoehead Part Design fanatic, Marc is usually scouring the interwebs getting the latest buzz in footwear innovation. An avid basketball fan, he aims to share his modest knowledge of shoe technology with our readers and maybe direct them to the right shoe for their chosen sport.