Designed for speed

How do you make Ronaldo faster? By creating a boot with traction technology inspired by the cheetah, says Nike design director Andy Caine
How do you start the process of designing a new football boot?
We have a vision of what we want to achieve. With this new boot we wanted to create the fastest ever design, and take speed in to the next generation, and also introduce adaptability to increase that speed. At the start of the process it is more mental, we think about that dream and vision, and then the sketching begins.

How long does it take for boot to go from an idea to reality?

We started developing the new Mercurial Vapor SuperFly II nearly three years ago. We had to go through about 43 different versions of the upper, and every one goes through the Nike Sports research lab where we do slow motion filming to make sure the foot is staying in the right place. So overall we have been testing the new boot for about the last 2 years.

What methods do you use to test the boot?
We do a lot of work in the lab on durability, strength, pressure testing, internal pressure testing, slow motion filming, traction testing, on pitch testing, which we do around the globe to get different perspectives and conditions. We have an amazing facility where biomechanical specialists look at it and we wait for them to say ‘Yes, they’re perfect’ and we know we can’t tweak it any more.

More after the break

What sort of research did you use in the making of this new boot?
We looked at how often players slipped at the 2006 World Cup finals and found that in 63 games there were 845 slips, which is around 14 per game. Of those slips about 30% was in the first push of acceleration and 49% were during deceleration or braking, and we all know one slip can win or lose a game. Acceleration is the most frequent action in a football game, and that highlights the importance of creating a design for the fastest boot possible. Every one knows pitch conditions vary, some have short grass, some have long grass, it can be wet or dry, and the weather has a massive impact. I was talking to Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic about getting the perfect traction, and both had a similar point of view, the screw-in stud makes you feel secure, but there is a feeling of nimbleness and agility with the moulded sole.

What was the inspiration behind the new boot?

The fastest animal on the planet, the cheetah. Nature has informed the design of our new traction technology. The cheetah runs at 70mph and has unique biomechanics to allow it to run over different terrain while focused on its prey, so we tried to replicate that in a football boot. This new boot adapts to different playing conditions and allows the player to focus on his game. We knew the difference between a moulded and a screw-in stud is around 3mm, so we wanted to create an independent stud that could actually move 3mm and offer a traction system on demand. That sounds simple, but engineering a moving stud is no easy task.

How does the extending stud work on the new boot?
The adaptable technology literally adapts to different playing conditions step by step, it can extend by up to 3mm. It does that by using the pressure of the player combined with interacting with the pitch. So basically in a firm ground situation it is just a normal boot, but in softer or wetter conditions that stud has the ability to extend with each step.

So these boots will make players like Cristiano Ronaldo quicker?
Yes, Ronaldo will be quicker in this boot, that’s the way it works. We do time trials with multiple people which are electronically gated and it is the fastest ever boot. Science tells us a small change in traction makes a dramatic impact on speed. With the new Mercurial we have actually redesigned the traction system from the ground up, and also brought traction to the toe of the boot, as the last point of contact between a player and the ground in that all important first step. This has all been designed to make the most frequent actions in a game even quicker.

Are there any modifications that players like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo ask for?
There aren’t too many modifications for players, it is pretty much out of the box and on to their feet. Ronaldo has been wearing this type of boot since he was 15, and Theo Walcott can’t remember wearing a different boot so they are really used to the fit and feel.

Have you had any ridiculous requests that couldn’t be accommodated in the boot?
We haven’t had many strange requests, because for the players this is a serious business. The boots are part of their job, and a better one makes them a better player, so they give it some real thought. They are busy people, but they always make the time to speak.

How many players were involved in the design of the boot?
We don’t just ask one player, you need a real breadth, so we spoke to Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Alexandre Pato, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eduardo, Theo Walcott, Nicolas Bendtner, Ryan Babel and several others. You pick up common themes from all of them.

What input do the players have in the design of the boot?
Everything begins with them, and how we can improve their performance. I am really lucky, I get to spend a lot of time with some of the best players on the planet. When I’m in Milan I go around Alexandre Pato’s house and we talk about football and football boots the whole night, so I can get a deeper understanding of what he wants as a player. Last year I spent around 65 days with players like Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and Theo Walcott. I spoke to them about how to design a boot that would give them more acceleration.

Football boots are increasingly moving away from being black. What is the significance of using the brighter colours?
There is science behind the colour, it isn’t just a matter of picking any colour. The [increased] use of colour comes from science and visual acuity, so the new Mercurial is purple and when you see that running against the grass you get a flicker that really engages the peripheral vision.

Do the players feel the benefit of coloured boots?

I was talking with Didier Drogba and he’s a guy who keeps every boot he has ever played in as a reference. He was explaining to me about the orange vapours, and said they engaged his team-mate’s peripheral vision much quicker than normal, providing a real performance advantage. So our new design takes that insight and inspiration, and makes colour a true weapon for the player.

Which of these new innovations are you most proud of?
The extending stud because if you appreciate the complexities of something that actually moves in a football boot we have spent a lot of time and energy to make it work. I’ll be honest, I am pretty stoked about that.

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