It was a former footballer who invented the Adidas Predator boot. Australian Craig Johnston was intrigued by the idea of using rubberised panels on football boots. It was all about getting better control.
Johnston's idea was based in science but it became a visual icon as the millennium dawned. The likes of David Beckham and Steven Gerrard were pioneers of the Predator; they had velvet touch, sure, but they were also the coolest players in the country. Some players definitely chose the Pred for its raised rubber control pads - others picked it because it was a beautiful design.
“It’s a marriage of art and science, I think that’s the thing that defines this franchise,” David Surace agrees, a designer on the brand new Predator Freak boots. He's worked at Adidas for 20 years - not exclusively on this brand - and he agrees with us when we tell him he has a hugely cool job.
“When the Predator first came out, it really was disruptive. It was bold - both technically in what it promised to do but also visually at the time. And I would say that that’s a key element of the Predator DNA, which comes all the way up to today with the Predator Freak.”
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The Predator Freak is very much in that vein. The first few Predator designs had subtle rubberised patches specifically on the part of the boot where you'd bend a ball like Beckham; the Freak has amplified with this idea to the max. These boots have what look like little rubber teeth across the boot itself - DemonSkin, Adidas calls it - for control all over.
Interestingly though, Adidas have almost halved the number of DemonSkin spikes from the last model. These boots are far lighter than the ones that Beckham and Gerrard would have worn. The Freak is an evolution from last year's Mutator, which really modernised the design.
“We’ve always had these rubberised friction elements on the upper which were about control and swerve, but oftentimes in the past, they were quite heavy,” David tells FourFourTwo. “The Mutator gave us a chance to do something that was moving much more in harmony with the foot.”
“Old boots - as much we love them - they were heavy, they were stiff, they were from a different generation. And what we have on our hands today is so much lighter and more flexible, and just fits so well out of the box. The entire boot just moves around your foot, whether you’re running or kicking or in a cutting motion. It’s just a different beast compared to where we were in the past.”
Steven Gerrard might be sat in the dugout with Rangers now - as opposed to donning Predators himself and dictating tempo - but the former midfielder agrees that control in football these days is about using all of the boot. He's on this call with Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, comparing notes on the Freak boot.
“To have that swerve and to be able to use different parts of your boot, it’s key to a midfielder,” Gerrard says. “Especially when you’re playing a possession-based game.” Rangers themselves play a possession-based style in Scotland, with Stevie G even admitting that the Gers welcome the press to play around the opposition.
“You know obviously, the new DemonSkin on these boots, I wish I had the opportunity to wear these on a regular basis because that can help with your passing range,” Gerrard continues. “I think [control] is vital, especially in the area of the pitch in which I played. I was constantly under pressure and getting pressed by world-class players.”
Naturally, when the conversation turns to world-class opponents, McKennie's current gaffer, Andrea Pirlo, is name-checked. Gerrard smiles. “Send him my regards,” he tells the American, as we hear how both Pirlo and Gerrard still join in with their clubs' training sessions.
“The research phase is critical, listening to the players,” David tells us. There's only so much that Adidas can do in the laboratory. Sometimes even scientists need a box-to-box baller to give them feedback.
“The lab is one thing but take this out in the real world where it’s rainy, wet and muddy and when those conditions change, how does the performance of the boot change? Real-world testing shows some things that the lab doesn’t.”
“I’m developing a better touch and this is a boot that helps me develop that,” says Weston McKennie of the Predator Freaks. Having made the move to Serie A in the summer from the Bundesliga - typically a slower-paced league for a controller to have more time and space, these new boots must help with that.
“I’ve been scoring more goals since I’ve been wearing these Predators - that must be a good sign!” he says.
That leads us onto something else that FFT wondered about the Predators though - and all boots in general. Are Predators only suited to midfielders or do they recommend strikers wear them? Different players require similar things from their boots, regardless of where they play and what they prioritise in their game.
“We design boots with a sort of emotional character that helps define them,” David explains to us. “So the Copa range is subtle and built from the inside out: its classic but futuristic at the same time. Predator Freak? That’s the complete opposite. It’s loud and wow and bold. And that’s part of it, the emotional aspect where we say you know what? The player should be able to choose for themselves. What personality do you need to be the best version of yourself?”
So you should choose your boots based on who you are, not what you are?
“Maybe what you aspire to be,” he says, rather philosophically.
BEST ADIDAS BOOTS 2020 Mutator, Nemeziz, X Ghosted and Copa Mundials
As FourFourTwo reflects on what we aspire to be as a footballer - good, would be a start - we can't help but wonder what David has up his magical sleeves for future boots. Was there anything that he couldn't quite squeeze into these ones?
“The short answer is yes. When you're in the dream phase of creating, you imagine things that are way beyond current levels of manufacturing or technology. We’d love to make all kinds of crazy thing but they have to perform and they have to be accepted by the player as well,” he says.
“So can you tell us anything that he'd love to implement in future Predators?” we cheekily ask.
“I’m sure our competitors would love to know about those!” he says. Seems he's got just much control as Stevie Gerrard.
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