“Can I have jet-boosters on the back?”

Ever wondered what goes into making a top footballer’s personalised boot? FourFourTwo joins Marouane Fellaini and Tom Ince at a state-of-the-art boot laboratory as they get measured up

1 3D FOOT SCANNER

If you think Marouane Fellaini’s afro is big, you should see his feet. The Belgian places one of his weapons of mass destruction on a 3D foot scanner. A technician scans his foot with what looks like the head of Johnny Five from Short Circuit. This generates a real-time image of his foot on a TV screen. “By getting a structural map of the players’ feet we’re able to craft a boot that not only fits perfectly, but also provides support and comfort,” Pedro Rodrigues, Warrior sports research engineer, tells FFT.

2 MOTION CAPTURE SYSTEM

Dressed in skintight base layer and reflective markers, Tom Ince looks like he’s wearing a novelty Christmas onesie. Don’t laugh – this is science. The bobbles on his body send information to eight motion sensor cameras recording his actions. “This test tracks their movement so we can calculate their joint angles, accelerations and velocities, giving us a valuable insight into their unique movement patterns so we can design a boot built for purpose,” says Rodrigues.

More after the break

3 FORCE  PLATE

There appears to be a trapdoor on the artificial pitch Fellaini is playing on, but it’s a force plate. The Manchester United midfielder – now sporting his own novelty onesie – drives his foot through this surface as he explosively springs off one foot, making a sharp change in direction. “This test records the force that an athlete applies to the ground in each direction, which helps us determine stud configuration,” explains Elliot Welland, from Progressive Sports Technologies, who are helping out with the product development.

4 PRESSURE SENSOR

It’s up to the player to deal with the pressure of playing in front of thousands of screaming fans and the boot to deal with the pressure of their movements. If it doesn’t provide adequate support, they could slip at the vital moment. To ensure the boot can handle the weight of expectation an in-shoe pressure system measures the pressure under an athlete’s foot in 99 locations as they perform each movement. “The outsole plate will then be modified based on these results,” explains Welland.

5 MOVEMENT TESTS

Time to get down to business. While it’s impossible to replicate the cut and thrust of a top-level game in a laboratory, the players jump, kick and perform their signature moves. For Fellaini it’s heading and chest control. Ince is asked to conjure up some wizardry and dribble the ball. “We will explore the possibility of creating a wider base and shorter studs to ensure Marouane is able to land consistently and safely after these aerial manoeuvres,” says Welland. “We will take pressure and motion capture data to ensure the orientation of the studs matches Thomas’ movement pattern.”

6 ANALYSING THE DATA

The results are in. Now what? “We go away, analyse the data and start brainstorming ideas,” says Rodrigues. “We now ask ourselves: ‘What can we do to help our players optimise their performance?’ The whole aim of today was to gain a better understanding of what biomechanically makes these athletes elite, compared to the average player. We now have a clear understanding of their movement patterns and anatomical profile.”

7 BUILDING THE BOOT

There’s a long way to go yet. Once the data has been collated and the ideas ironed out, designers get to work. Some make the cut; some are sent to burn. The survivors are welded into prototypes and tested in the lab before being shipped out to Fellaini and Ince for trialling. “We can gather all the scientific data we want, but the litmus test comes when the players take them for a road test. We get their feedback and amend accordingly. Their input is invaluable,” says Robert Ashcroft, global product manager for footwear at Warrior.

8 THE FINISHED ARTICLE

The Cinderella moment. Blood, sweat, tears and motion capture sensors have been shed to create the perfect tools for Fellaini and Ince to ply their trade. Now, the Gambler Pro SG (below) is ready to be unleashed. “I use the Gambler because not only is the comfort better than anything I’ve had before, but it really helps with my ball control, giving me that split-second extra to use the ball,” gushes Fellaini. Ince weighs in with his own blessing. “I need to be able to control and manipulate the ball while I’m travelling at speed, a skill this boot enables me to do to the best of my ability.” The whole process is very impressive – and certainly beats some shop assistant attempting to squeeze your toes into a pair of size nines.

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