The Nike Mercurial boot is one of the most influential pieces of footballing design of the 20th Century.
This is the boot that embraced minimalism and asked the question that boot manufacturers continue to ask to this day: how can we get quicker? It began with go-faster grooves in the sides; Nike these days invest thousands in lab tests.
Over the years, these bad boys have been a by-word for pace. Speed merchants in their droves flocked to these beautiful boots like seagulls to chips, from Thierry Henry to Cristiano Ronaldo, and with the changing technologies available, these boots have adapted to become lighter over time.
Which were your favourite pair from the archives?
Nike Mercurial (1998)
The iconic shot of Ronaldo, silver boots round his neck - the same colour as his medal - probably helped launch this product as much as the performances he put in wearing them.
These boots were originally designed to be an update on the Tiempo range, looking at how track spikes could inform a quicker boot for Ronny. A thinner plate, along with a KNG-100 synthetic upper, was added to the boot. A legend was born.
Nike Match Mercurial (2000)
By Euro 2000, the Mercurial boots had seen a tweak. These boots were produced in copper colour and were part of what Nike labelled "the Alpha Project era", along with the Mercurial R9, Air Zoom Italia, Match Mercurial, and Air Zoom Mercurial.
Most notably, this is where the Mercurial heel reinforcements began. Nearly every boot after this one would have a recognisable design to protect the heel.
Nike Mercurial Vapor (2002)
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The Vapor looked to supercars for where it could improve on its predecessor. What Nike came up with was a boot like no other: it looked like it was made of fibre-glass rather than leather. It had added comfort but still retained the lightness and speed of previous versions.
This one came in a variety of colours. Black, bronze and silver/red versions were popular, while R9 had a silver/volt pair for the 2002 World Cup.
Nike Mercurial Vapor II (2004)
Look! More grooves!
The Vapor evolved with its follow-up, keeping the same weight but improving comfort. From a design point of view, Nike went even more minimal, taking the colour accent of the heel away to make the Vapor IIs all one colour. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Figo wore these gold ones at Euro 2004, while Thierry Henry had red ones and blue ones depending on whether Arsenal were home or away, during the unbeaten season.
Nike Mercurial Vapor III (2006)
With Teijin microfiber to conform and adjust to the foot shape, a reimagined heel and a two-piece plate with direct injection studs, the third version of the Vapors was a big one, despite the design not changing all that much.
The heel was a different colour again, with Ronaldo getting his own Brazil-coloured pair for the 2006 World Cup. The white/gold version is still the classic - that's the one Henry wore when he motored away from Real Madrid defenders in the Bernabeu.
Nike Mercurial Vapor IV (2008)
By 2008, Nike had shifted the swoosh, placing it over the toes slightly for what would become a distinctive look for the Vapor. These boots were part of Nike's commitment to revolutionising the look and feel of the company's icons at the time - still, that's no excuse for giving Nicklas Bendtner these pink monstrosities.
Purists hated Nike by now. There were citron-coloured versions available, the chassis was glass fibre and Nike was fully on its mission to get faster, lighter, bolder and better than ever.
Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly (2009)
A boot so groundbreaking it needed a whole new name, the Superfly melded ultra-thin Teijin skin exterior and Flywire threads for an even more technologically-stacked boot than ever before. It was more flexible than ever, too.
New lightweight traction cleats and a carbon fiber chassis cut down the weight further. There was a seven-layer carbon outsole too - tougher than ever - as there were those who claimed the boot was now dangerously thin.
Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly II (2010)
Look at us in the eyes and tell us you don't still have the images of Cristiano Ronaldo from Nike's 'Write the Future' ad fresh in your mind, after seeing these?
The 2010 versions of the Vapor were an absolute triumph, complete with a now-legendary colourway, redesign of the heel and NIKE SENSE technology. The studs even extended and retracted by millimeters based on pressure and ground conditions. These didn't just look cool as hell, they were unbelievably clever.
Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly III
2011 brought another Superfly model, this time with tri-blade configuration on the studs to help players who changed direction quickly. Unfortunately, it didn't help Theo Walcott stay onside much more.
There was a new texture on this one, while the patterns were getting jazzier. The upper, by the way, was more streamlined than ever.
Nike Mercurial Vapor VIII (2012)
Another twist from Nike - the toe on this one was lower, while the finish itself was more suede-like. There was a new outsole too, built of flexible fiberglass. But of course.
This turquoise effort was our favourites from this edition. The launch colourway, however, was a coral shade described as "mango" - it became a classic Mercurial colour.
Nike Mercurial Vapor IX (2013)
Nike really are the masters of making something look so very similar while changing so much under the bonnet. The studs were retooled, there were glass plates and the outer shell of the boot was dimpled like a golf ball to help fly through the air. There was All Conditions Control (ACC) technology too, for consistent feel in wet or dry conditions.
The best colourway on these ones? This neon shade was great - Cristiano Ronaldo got some galaxy-print ones all of his own, though.
Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly IV (2014)
That mango orange shade is back for Nike - as is the Superfly tag as the manufacturer employs a new three-knit weave as the material on this one.
This was the Mercurial that used those tiny cables from the laces to the sole. This was also the first version of the boot to have that big, sock-like material around the ankle. Dynamic Fit Collar, Nike called it. Sock-like material, we prefer.
Nike Mercurial Vapor X (2015)
Unlike so many boot designs, the tenth Vapors actually looked like the first - sure, the technology had come a million miles but the essentials were still so similar to the original mandate of the Mercurial boot.
Nike borrowed a sole from the Hypervenom and introduced tonguelessness - instead, there was a stretchy sort of material to keep the boot as minimal as possible.
Nike Mercurial Vapor 11 (2016)
By now, Nike had rafts of Mercurial models that they never had back in the early days. The top Superfly edition came with flywire upper and synthetic layer for added protection, while there were high-top versions - sock-like! - and regular low cut versions. These boots weighed an unbelievable 167g, too.
The emphasis this time was on horizontal stripes designed to cushion the ball better than previous models. This was the year that CR7 went and won the Euros at last, too - meaning these particular boots will always hold a special place in the hearts of Ronaldo fans.
Nike Mercurial Vapor 360 (2018)
For the 2018 World Cup, Nike really did strip it back. The horizontal ridges of the previous two models now went lengthways down the shoe, with the studs influenced by a cheetah's traction.
The closed tongue was back on this one.
Nike Mercurial Vapor 12 (2019)
The Mercurial returned a year later, with more embellishments, graphically-speaking. There were improvements to the upper and plate too, as this design was a unanimous hit with players across the world.
The knitted material was a staple by now, as was the high-top collar. The blue version of these was definitely the best colourway, too.
Nike Mercurial Vapor 13 (2020)
The Swoosh was split - that was the big news, design-wise. Nike were releasing more and more colours of these beauties too, including safari versions, Ronaldo-inspired Portugal colourways and even a South Korean set.
With an Aerowtrac zone added to the forefoot and a slightly stiffer chassis to help supercharge traction, these merely built on the previous model rather than looking to reinvent the wheel.
Nike Mercurial Vapor 14 (2021)
Oh, my. A new Vaporposite upper with a grippy grid mesh - that's what Nike called it, not us - while the Nike Aerowtrac was back. This is the pinnacle, surely, of the flyknit boots?
The 2021 version feels very much like Adidas's Ghosted X: as close as you can get to a translucent boot. It's beautiful.
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