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Do mid-cut “sock” boots really work?

BOOTHYPE explores this trend and foresees a wave of change with the mid-cut design.

It seems almost inconceivable that only 5 years ago, we did not have “socks” attached to our football boots. Today, it is everywhere and features strongly among brands’ top grade football boots selections. How did we get here so quickly? Do the mid-cut socks really add to your performance to justify the elevated price tag? Let’s take a look at how it all began.

Nike and Flyknit

It started with the knit revolution in 2014, in the lead up to the World Cup. Nike launched the game-changing Magista concept made up of a full flyknit upper, the first in the world to mass produce a knitted football boot for a worldwide market. Nike also had Cristiano Ronaldo be the face of the new Mercurial Superfly, which was also made from a flyknit upper built with a collar.

Nike Magista Obra 2014
It was all about the knit in 2014.

These were major statements of intent by Nike to assert themselves as a leader in the field. Flyknit was going to be their premier technology and those 2 boots were the face of this new era by the swoosh. This was especially important for the Superfly, a boot that was always marketed as an ultra premium version of the Vapor but failed to deliver due to product defects, an uncomfortable fit or a mix of both.

Nike are great marketers and every marketer knows that for a message to be driven home, it needs a symbol that is easy to understand. The symbol they laid on was the mid-cut sock. It was different, extremely visible and they were going to make sure their key endorsed players wore them often.

Mercurial Superfly 2014
The crimson sock caught the eye of everyone.

So the sock was a gimmick just to sell boots?

Simply put, I believe it was. Nike never once said that the sock was for aiding in ankle support or for increased performance (agility, power etc.).

“With Magista, we’ve designed a shoe that feels like an extension of the player’s body. This isn’t a boot that just goes on your foot, it’s a boot that works with your foot,” said Phil McCartney, VP of Sport Performance Footwear. “By eliminating distractions, players are free to unlock their potential and creativity. The mid-cut allows the foot, ankle, and lower leg work together as a single unit, emphasizing their natural movements.”

Nike Magista 1
The first Nike Magista

I believe this feature to “eliminate distractions” was a bit of a placebo effect, and a very expensive one at that. But credit to Nike, people warmed up to this concept immediately. This was evident especially in the younger audience who wanted to wear what their heroes were wearing and were keen on the cool new thing on the shelf. Every other boot manufacturer started scrambling to implement their own mid-cut design to ride this wave and also cash in on a higher price for their mid-cut boots.

For every adidas Ace17.1, there was now an Ace 17+, meant to challenge the super premium category that the Mercurial Superfly pioneered. The war of the mid-cut boot had begun.

“Eliminate distractions” was a bit of a placebo effect, and a very expensive one at that.

How did mid-cut boots really feel on feet?

My personal opinion is that they were not worth the price you paid for them. Not only were they expensive, they were not always the most comfortable as well. Putting on the Nike Magista Obra 2 DF and the Nike Hypervenom 2 DF were the most agonizing experiences I had with putting on shoes.

Ace 17+
Brands have been trying to provide players with a “seamless” experience. Putting them on have been anything but so.

The adidas Ace 17+ looked like one of the most beautiful boots I laid eyes on but it was pure discomfort from the moment I put it on. Many friends and fellow readers also remarked about mismatched expectations when it came to wearing the boots that Ronaldo wore. Heck, even CR7 requested for a shorted sock on his custom Superflys.

Cristiano Ronaldo in training
Cristiano Ronaldo has his sock modified to be shorter than the stock variation.

I personally didn’t feel any significant difference playing in them. Sure, they upped my swag factor but I definitely didn’t look cool putting them on.

Improvements in the mid-cut game

It’s been 4 years and undeniably, there is still a high demand for the mid-cut boots. The manufacturers have also improved their construction to make life a wee bit easier for players. For one, they’re embracing a lower sock for easier entry into the boot. That is evident in the current Mercurial Superfly and Puma Future 2.0. The Future’s sock collar is also one of the best in the business, with a hugging compression fit that does not compromise on comfort. Despite the relatively high collar for the adidas Predator 18.1, it’s not nearly as tough to put on as it looks as well.

Puma Future 2.1 - Uprising Pack Review
The evoKnit sock on the Puma Future is one of the best around.

The manufacturers have also noticed the slight cynicism in regards to the higher price point vs value gained from the mid-cut variation. This has let to them dropping the price of the mid-cut version to have it priced closer to the low cuts. The Mercurial Vapor is priced at about S$300 but the Superflys are now selling at S$350 instead of the usual $400+.

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule like the Nike PhantomVSN with a sock that provides very little utility save for aiding your foot to slide into the Quadfit Mesh. Though, I’m sure further iterations will improve on the ergonomics of the boot.

More knit, please

I don’t think the mid-cut sock trend will go away quietly as there’s still demand for them. Brands are evolving with shorter socks and we might even see Nike take a whole new approach with their Quadfit tech which literally places a sock within the boot. It’s interesting to see how it goes but I’m equally happy with a regular low cut boot.

Nike PhantomVSN review
The complexity and detail that can go into a knitted material is sublime.

What I really loved with the introduction of the “sock” is that knitted uppers have replaced plasticky synthetic materials. Some of my favourite boots in the adidas X18.1 and the Nike PhantomVSN have shown just how far the industry has come to provide softer uppers that remain durable, offers a modern visual appeal and a premium feel to the touch. I’m not too bothered by the sock, but give us more knit please.

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