Soccer cleats, also known as football boots, are arguably the most important and recognizable accessory used by modern soccer players.
Soccer cleats have undergone years of evolution to develop into their present form. In modern soccer, cleats present significant sponsorship and advertising opportunities to sports manufacturers. Thus, thanks to modern major footwear companies such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, and more, soccer cleats continue to evolve.
Furthermore, professional soccer players can have soccer cleats explicitly made for their playing style and comfort due to technological advancements. Various forms of cleats are available, depending on multiple factors such as players’ requirements, type of pitch, etc. This article will explore the history of soccer cleats and take a brief look at various kinds of soccer cleats available in the current market.
Who Invented Soccer Cleats
Most of the innovation in the production of soccer cleats only took place in the second half of the 20th-century. However, the credit of the invention of soccer cleats is usually bestowed upon King Henry VIII. As per the historical records, the English monarch owned a pair of soccer boots in the Great Wardrobe, all the way back in 1526.
There is no specimen left, but these boots were said to be knee-high, made of thick and heavy leather. One can imagine that it must have been arduous to play soccer in these boots. They were made by royal shoemaker Cornelius Johnson and said to cost four shillings back then. This amount would equate to around USD 170 (100 Pounds) in today’s market.
The History of Soccer Cleats
As we just mentioned, the first specimen of the soccer cleat was developed back in the 16th century. However, after that, soccer cleats didn’t improve much until the advent of the 19th century. During the 19th century, soccer witnessed a massive rise in popularity in England.
The game of soccer started capturing the imagination of the masses during the 19th century. However, it was still only a hobby for people and played at an amateur level. Hence, a little attention was paid to cleats, and most of the enthusiasts would wear their work boots while playing the game.
These soccer cleats were made of leather and were heavy. Understandably, these were not made for running and kicking, and it was not a comfortable experience for most players to play in them. Some of these shoes would also have toecaps made of steel. In contrast, some players would also use tacks as temporary and improvised cleats on the bottom of their shoes. Soccer is a contact sport, and steel caps and tacks increased the risk of injuries, especially in wet and muddy conditions.
The game of soccer became professional in the second half of the 19th century in England. The advent of professional soccer also brought about rules and regulations to the game. This development also led to the standardization of soccer cleats in professional soccer.
These soccer cleats were made of hard and heavy leather and weighed around 500 grams. When wet, these cleats could weigh up to a kilogram. Six cleats were allowed and were hammered on each sole.
1900 – WW2
The beginning of soccer hardly witnessed any progress during this period due to World Wars, and the same was the case with soccer cleats.
The soccer cleats which emerged towards the end of the last century stayed very much the same during these years. However, a significant landmark did happen in the history of soccer cleats. The mass production of soccer cleats began, and several cleats manufacturers became popular. Some of these manufacturers, such as Gola and Hummel, still exist.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik (or Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) was founded by brothers Adolf Dassler and Rudolf Dassler in 1924. This company started producing soccer cleats in 1925. These shoes had replaceable cleats that could be changed according to weather and pitch conditions. These two brothers would shape the evolution of soccer cleats by forming Adidas and Puma in the following years.
WW2 – 1960’s
This era was arguably the most critical phase in the history of soccer cleats.
Following the Second World War, soccer witnessed a massive increase in its popularity at the international level. Cheap international travel allowed international soccer to become a norm, facilitating the exchange of ideas between European and South American soccer.
At the time, South American players used to wear lighter and flexible cleats, which allowed flexibility in movement and better control of the ball. The technical superiority of South American players influenced their European counterparts to prioritize flexibility over protection in their soccer cleats. Thus, these light and flexible soccer cleats replaced the heavy leather designs in European soccer too.
In 1948, Adolf Dassler fell out with his brother Rudolf and laid the foundation for Adidas. Rudolf followed with the conception of Puma in the same year. Rudolf had initially named his company Ruda but later changed it to Puma. This development marked the beginning of a long and fierce rivalry in the history of soccer cleats.
When West Germany played its first international game, after WW II, in 1948, several of its players wore Puma cleats. Around the same time, the company also launched Super Atom cleats which featured screw-in cleats made of synthetic plastic.
Over the years, both companies have taken credit for introducing screw-in cleats in the game of soccer. Adidas claims that it introduced screw-in cleats during the 1954 World Cup to help the West Germany team to play in rain-soaked conditions.
The lower-cut soccer cleats became popular during this decade. Technological advancements allowed the cleats to become sleeker and lighter while enabling players to move faster. This decade also saw the beginning of an association between soccer stars and the cleats they wore. Brazilian legend Pele famously wore Puma cleats during the 1962 World Cup.
However, Adidas cemented its position as the clear market leader in the soccer cleats industry. It is said that three out of every four players wore Adidas cleats at the 1966 World Cup.
The market became more completive as several other companies such as Mitre, Joma, and Asics opened up during the 1960s.
Pele wore Puma King cleats as he led the mercurial Brazilian side to World Cup success in 1970. This decade also saw the emergence of sponsorship deals between players and cleats manufacturers. Technological advancement continued in the cleats industry, and they became lighter and colorful. Hummel produced the first-ever white soccer cleats in the 1970s.
In 1979, Adidas launched Copa Mundial, which has become the best-selling soccer cleats ever. Famous Italian sports footwear company Diodora also entered the soccer cleats industry during this decade, 1977.
Adidas continued to dominate the soccer cleats market, but Maradona’s Puma cleats stole the limelight at the 1986 World Cup.
The 1980s saw the likes of Umbro, Lotto, and Kelme enter the soccer cleats market.
The 1990s saw many developments that further revolutionized soccer cleats and the game itself. Firstly, Adidas launched the Predator cleats in 1994. These cleats revolutionized soccer as they provided more excellent traction between the ball and the football, thus allowing players more control over their shots.
These cleats were the result of years of research from former Liverpool star Craig Johnston. He retired from professional soccer in 1988 to take care of his ill sister in his native Australia. While teaching children soccer in Australia, he started working on a shoe prototype that would allow players more control of the ball and the ability to swerve it. He used rubber for ridges on top of these cleats. His design allowed a greater area of contact between the ball and provided players with ‘sweet spots’ to hit the ball. Johnston sold his invention to Adidas in exchange for a 2% share of all model sales.
This decade also saw US sportswear giant Nike entering the soccer cleats market. Nike launched Mercurial, their first soccer cleats, in 1998. These lightweight cleats were famously debuted by Brazilian legend Ronaldo at the 1998 World Cup. Nike Mercurial were lightweight and weighed only 200 grams.
Some other companies such as Mizuno, Reebok, and Uhlsport also entered the market this decade.
Meanwhile, the rivalry between Adidas and Puma went on as they launched and counter-launched several new cleats during the ’90s. Most notably, Adidas launched bladed outsole Traxion technology and introduced wedge-shaped cleats. Puma also launched their Puma Cell Technology in the 1990s.
As the new millennium dawned, the popularity of soccer only increased on a global scale. The arrival of Nike meant that there were three major companies instead of two, leading the competition now. Simultaneously, several mid to small-sized cleats companies also flourished.
The first decade of the new millennium also witnessed the arrival of Laser technology which allowed the creation of the first customized soccer cleats. England-based company Prior 2 Lever was responsible for creating the first customer-specific soccer cleats called the Assassin. Cleats customization is still not commonly available, but the technology represents the possible future of soccer cleats, especially in professional soccer.
In 2006, Italian company Lotto launched the first laceless soccer cleats called Zero Gravity. However, it took Adidas more than a decade to project their laceless cleats. Finally, they did so with the launch of Ace 16+ PureControl in 2016. These cleats had a knitted upper and provided a sock-like grip on ankles. Soon enough, laceless cleats were the latest buzz among enthusiasts.
Present Day Trends
From a commercial perspective, the competition is intense in the soccer cleats industry. Furthermore, the advent of social media has compelled companies to focus more on marketing and gimmicks rather than genuine innovation. Laceless cleats, which failed to improve on laced models, can be considered one such example.
Companies are releasing more and more models every year, with release cycles becoming shorter. Meanwhile, the ultimate focus has been to make shoes lighter and eventually provide a barefoot feel to players during the last decade.
Adidas shocked soccer fans at the 2010 World Cup by launching the F50 adizero, weighing only 165 grams. Most modern cleats now weigh less than 250 grams.
In the last decade, knitted soccer cleats have become hugely popular too. All such soccer cleats have an ankle-hugging upper made of microfiber knitted. This enhances the barefoot feel that most companies are in pursuit of these days.
We are also likely to see greater use of on-pitch technology such as GPS, sensors in soccer cleats soon. The adiZero F50 is one such example. These cleats have miCoach Sensor to record various metrics.
What Are Soccer Cleats Made Of?
The earliest forms of soccer cleats were made of natural leather, mainly Kangaroo leather. The Copa Mundial model of Adidas was made of Kangaroo leather.
As the emphasis has shifted towards the weight and flexibility of soccer clears, natural leather has been increasingly replaced by synthetic leather or fibers. Genuine leather is heavy and retains water, and it has become imperative for companies to use synthetic materials to achieve the lightweight feel of modern cleats. At present, only a few soccer cleats still use natural leather. Current models such as f50 adizero, evoSPEED leather, Nike Tiempo Legend, and the Adidas 11pro still use genuine leather.
Soccer cleats consist of several parts such as insole, outsole, midsole, cleats. The insole in modern cleats is made of foam or polyol and has a water-resistant material. The outer material could be made of several materials such as natural rubber, synthetic fiber, and Polyurethane. Most cleats use a mix of the latter two, while natural rubber is used for ridges on the outsole for ball control.
Nike has been using carbon fiber to make ultralight soccer cleats which are also durable. These shoes weigh only 190 gms.
Cleats are made of different materials such as plastic, rubber, or aluminum. Plastic cleats are used on hard surfaces, while aluminum ones are meant for artificial pitches.
How Are Soccer Cleats Made?
The outsole patterns are generally cut from plain sheets of synthetic or natural leather. These outsoles then go through a skiving process in which a spinning blade is used to thin their edges. Next, any additional material is stitched or glued to the base sole material, either by sewing machines or compressing machines. The next step is to screen print the outsole design, such as branding, etc., on these leather pieces. These outsoles are then stretched around solid insole boards and kept to give them the shape of a shoe. These outsoles are then glued to the soleplates (or outsoles) using various techniques.
Up next is the Lasting process, in which a newly built soccer cleat is made to sit on foot-shaped boards to give them a perfect fit. These cleats are then made to go through quality control and packaging before they are shipped to stores.
The history of soccer cleats began with King Henry VIII in the 16th century. Almost 500 years later, soccer cleats look nothing like their earliest inception.
However, most of the innovation could be traced back to the last 60-70 years. In modern soccer, cleats present a great marketing and business opportunity for sportswear companies. Hence, these companies continue to pour money into the research and development of these cleats.
Due to these reasons, one can expect soccer cleats to keep evolving in the coming years.
Main Image: Wikimedia