Concept boot by Swoosh Customs.
Bryan Byrne knows more about soccer boots than just about anybody. His site SoccerCleats101 is a must read when you are looking for a new pair of boots and need in-depth boot reviews. So as I have been thinking about the future of soccer boots he was the first person I reached out to. I wanted to hear his thoughts on where soccer boots are at right now, and pick his brain a bit on where we might see things going in the near future.
What are some of the recent trends you have been paying attention to with soccer boots?
We’ve seen brands going in cycles with boots in terms of creating products for particular styles of play – speed boots, power boots, control boots, etc. Right now, we seem to be transitioning to a place where speed, in particular, has gone out the window and is no longer a key focus. We are now seeing more of a hybrid boot focused on a mix of power and control. A perfect example is the laceless PURECONTROL from adidas. And you also have the Nike Hypervenom that is essentially a power boot, but instead of being called a power boot, it’s transitioned to be a lethal finishers style boot. So, we are continuing to go in cycles where companies are returning to what we would call the traditional categories, but now they are adding modern, unique twists.
I think the big thing right now is the transition to a knitted upper material. That has been a pretty big move over the past year. And then you are also seeing brands using 3D mapping systems that create a better fit. Rather than reproducing a generic style fit for every boots, they are using 3D mapping to focus in on getting the fit of the boots much more precise for their specific market.
What has been the one single advancement that has been the biggest innovation in recent times?
I have to go with the introduction of knit materials on the upper of boots. Adidas were the first to do it with the Primeknit series, and they have continued to create several extremely innovative boots using knit. For Nike, it was the introduction of the Magista series that catapulted their ability to use the material. That was the boot that had the undulated upper with all the grooves. They used 3D mapping of players feet to be able to establish what parts of the foot you needed for specific parts of the game; the types of materials and the actual thickness of that material in each region. This helped create better touch and control on the ball because you were getting a different feel in key areas of the foot. When you are striking the ball, the strike zone is a little thicker and more pronounced, so you’re getting a bit more padding. On the forefoot, the thickness and density is less, which allows you to get better natural touch and control. And they did something similar with the Hypervenom series, so you again get a textured feel on the forefoot of the boot.
Once you think about it, the ability to use knit in a boot is extraordinary. With a synthetic material you are relying on that same fit throughout the wear of the boot. But with a knit material it actually molds to your foot quickly, so you are getting a much better fit. Inmy opinion, that is really big. adidas continue to evolve their Primeknit series, and gone as far as releasing a laceless boot with Primeknit being a key inclusion. No laces! PUMA also tried using a knit mesh material on the evoSPEED Fresh, a solid attempt but man it hurt to get stepped on. I see the concept of a better fit and a fit that can accommodate more players being a key area that brands focus on in the next year or so.
So you see a more dynamic fit that works for a multitude of players becoming more important?
When you think about a traditional boot, it is realistically built for one type of a foot. Whether that is a narrow foot or a wider foot, you’re essentially missing a piece of the market because that boot only functions for one type of foot. Right? So, when you bring in a knit material, it can work well for a player that has a narrow foot, basically hugging you from first wear. But because of the stretch the knit provides, it can also accommodate players that need a wider fit. You put your foot in, it pushes up against the pliable walls, and you get a snug but soft fit. They are basically creating a boot that reaches out to a larger audience.
Over my years of reviewing boots, when I’d receive a synthetic boot I could pretty much tell from first wear who it was going to fit best. Leather you knew would stretch, some times not enough and other times too much depending on the stitching. But with a boot like the Hypervenom or Magista, it’s automatically a much better fit. When I wore both silos they were tight in the beginning, but after just one wear I was able to establish a much more personalized fit.
Do you think that this would ever mean that there will be less silos of boots across brands?
I don’t think so. What brands are going to do is focus on specific boots to market more. You see adidas are keeping the COPA series alive with the COPA17, they are keeping their traditional style boots because they know that those appeal to a certain group of players. Nike continue to role with the Tiempo, and Puma continue to release different iterations of the King. So, there is a role for those type of boots. But, I definitely think that they will promote specific boots more, like the PURECONTROL series, for example. That has got a lot of hype this past year, with Paul Pogba fronting all the media campaigns. For Nike, right now, the emphasis is on Hypervenom and Magista. You don’t necessarily hear much about the Superfly anymore. And you don’t hear about the Tiempo much. They have focused in on specific boots that have more widespread appeal for players. So, yeah, I don’t see them getting rid of any silos.
What are your thoughts on where boots are headed over the next couple of years? Do you think we will see things like 3D printing and similar technologies having a role in how soccer boots are designed and manufactured?
I don’t know if it really make sense right now for brands to do that degree of customization. But, wouldn’t it be awesome if you could map out your own foot so boots would be made to your exact size, and then have a boot custom built for you. So, instead of having to wear a pair of thin adidas Pureagility built on the narrow mold of Lionel Messi’s foot, you get a Pureagility that fits your own super wide foot. That sort of thing is a way down the line, right now I don’t think it would make sense cost wise to 3D map everyone’s feet and then have custom boots made, but I think we’re definitely going that way. Under Armour has been one of the first to really delve into the 3D printing category with the Clutchfit 3.0 3D that was released a few months back. It featured a flow-molded Auxetic upper that was intended to shape to your foot right out of the box.
The one thing I have learned is to always expect the unexpected. Just when you think there is no where left to go and every piece of a boot has been evolved to the max, a brand will come out with something extraordinary. A boot that weighs 4.oz, check. A boot with no laces, check. A boot made of a knit material, check. A boot that doesn’t stick in mud, check. A boot that has a flat square rubber toe, yes that one actually gets a check too!
That’s kind of where I want to go with this series – to think about where boots are headed and how much technology will continue to change what we have come to expect from boots. How smart can boots become and how much can they adapt to players? Last week I played a game and it was 90 something degrees. At half time I had to loosen my laces and pour some water on my feet and boots because of the heat. The week before that it was rainy and cold. Very different conditions to play in and different expectations from the boots. In time will boots recognize weather conditions and adapt in real time? Can fit be dynamic and adjust as a player is playing? Are these types of things that we can expect in coming years?
I think that is all possible. Nike has worked on the Marty McFly technology (EARL) with the self-lacing. Is that something that could be brought into a soccer boot? As you mentioned with half time at your game, could the boot and the laces relax a bit so your feet can breathe and take a break while you take a break at halftime?
Another thing to point out is Nike’s Anti-Clog technology, which has been one of the best innovations in the past few years. I’ve tested it on numerous occasions, and it works amazing and makes a huge difference. I’ve played on some muddy pitches wearing boots with Anti-Clog, and I literally had a two step advantage compared to the players around me. There is no mud on the boots. Players were slipping all around me and I stayed on my feet the entire time. It made a huge difference. The thing about that is it’s hard for Nike to really promote it because the top players aren’t really going to need it on the perfect pitches that they typically play on. But could they transition that technology to an FG style boot? That way if you already wear the FG boot and then you play on a muddy pitch you have that technology built in. Can they transition that technology across all silos? Can they make a boot like that available to your average player who plays in a Sunday league with field conditions that may not be so ideal?
Any last thoughts?
It’s really interesting how we have seen a rise in these hybrid style boots like the Hypervenom, hybrid is a word I anticipate we will hear a lot more of as we move forward. The first generation Hypervenom was originally a power boot, but the second generation is now referred to directly as a boot for lethal strikers. It’s always interesting to see how brands introduce new boots and present them to the market. Now, you never really know what categories of player the boot is going to be built for until release day. And on a final note, we are finally leaving the phase of frustration for fans who were devastated when adidas essentially retired their entire lineup of boots. The new silo’s have been widely accepted and it has allowed adidas the opportunity to explore new areas that we might not have seen them delve into…..like what they are doing with the GLITCH series. It has basically become a testing boot where they get to try new ideas and designs without it being a widespread market release.
Thanks for your time, Bryan.