Faster, better, stronger. We create our version of the most popular type of football boot out there – the speed boot.
The birth of the “speed boot” category can easily be traced back to the emergence of Ronaldo “R9” Fenomeno as the face of Nike. He was fast, agile and explosive – one of the most lethal strikers the world had ever seen. Nike wanted to launch a boot befitting of R9 and the first speed boot was born. Ultra light with maximum traction, this has been the ethos of the Nike Mercurial series – the granddaddy of the speed boot category.
Competitors took notice of them quickly and very soon launched their own version of the speed boot. Its technical features, and its sleek looks, have often been marketable, leading to the world’s best most exciting players endorsing the category for their respective brands. From Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo to Lionel Messi, they have all sported speed boots during their prime years.
Today, we look back at over 20 years of speed to see if we could develop the perfect speed boot that’s as fast as it feels on feet.
Weight – adidas F50 adizero (2010)
You can’t call yourself a speed boot if you’re not light. It is one of the speed boot’s most defining features. We’ve seen brands reduce the weight of limited edition boots to a crazy low of 99g but many of these were not mass produced boots that were intended to last you years. For the purpose of this list, we’re only featuring mass produced boots.
In terms of pure numbers, we’re going with the adidas F50 adizero from 2010. While Nike dominated (and still do) the speed boot scene, adidas bravely took on the challenge and after a few iterations, they came up with the F50 adizero. Players got to feel truly light and fast in these bad boys and it signalled the moment where the F50 truly posed a real threat to the Mercurial series by doing one better than the big Swoosh in a department they were famous for – its light weight.
Lockdown – Nike Mercurial Vapor 13
Being fast isn’t just about running in a straight line. It’s about being able to decelerate quickly and change direction immediately. The fan of the speed boot also tends to look at themselves as the master of tekkers – with step-overs forming a bit part of their repertoire. For all that aggressive movement, players need to know that their boots will stay planted to their foot no matter the situation.
For lockdown, there can only be one boot that rises above the rest – it’s the Nike Mercurial Vapor 13. The Mercurial Vapor 13 may be a bitch to put on but once you’ve got your feet in them, they stay planted. Much of this is due to the game-changing anatomical soleplate that has been available in some of the Mercurial’s recent predecessors. It features a contoured inner soleplate that hugs the arch of your foot, making it hard for your feet to shift in any direction.
The sensation you get is unlike any other and it’s worth buying the Nike Mercurial Vapor 13 for this feature alone, even if you’re not the biggest fan of the speed boot category.
Upper – Nike Mercurial Vapor 8
If you’re going to have a very light pair of boots, the upper material has to play a big part in that. Over the years, we’ve been treated to some really thin uppers that made you feel light on your feet and also provided a barefoot touch on the ball – another signature feature of a speed boot.
We’ve been treated to some lovely Teijin synthetic uppers and modern knit is just beginning to realize its potential but one of the most iconic uppers had to go to the Nike Mercurial Vapor 8. Technically it’s still a “Teijin” upper but it had a suede-like finish that hasn’t been replicated since on any football boot. The unique material was meant to mould around the shape of your feet as a “second skin” but I can’t help but remember how much I loved touching that upper. It was luxurious, soft and one of a kind.
Better yet, it was introduced in the iconic “mango” colourway (aka fancy Nike talk for “peach”) that made a big statement with its clean looks and top notch performance.
Traction – Nike Mercurial Vapor 13
Part of being fast is the ability to go from 0-100 in mere seconds. This is why brands have put a lot of time in constructing some of the most aggressive stud patterns to dig deep into the ground and help you push off easily.
The blades of the Nike Mercurial Vapor 13 are just some next level stuff. I’ve never felt faster when toe-ing off than in these Vapors. Nike even made them 1mm longer than its predecessor, Vapor 12, for maximum traction.
Be careful, the traction can be a little too aggressive sometimes, especially if you play on artificial ground (AG) with firm ground studs. If you play on AG, do go with the AG-stud configuration to ensure you lower the risk of injury without losing out on its legendary grip.
Comfort – adidas X19.1
Early speed boots were notorious for being plasticky and very uncomfortable to break in to. Fans of speed boots knew the trade off when buying a pair – expect blisters for the “experience” of a true speed boot. Technology has improved rather rapidly and you shouldn’t have to face issues with blistering anymore, especially with the introduction of knit technology.
The adidas X19.1 (and older brother 18.1) broke the mould with comfort. The upper is uber soft and can, surprisingly, accommodate players with wide feet. This was a refreshing change of scenery considering how speed boots were notorious for being too narrow. The adidas X is a breaker of chains and proves you don’t have to compromise on comfort to produce a speed boot.
The best thing? The X still carries all the usual traits you’d like to see in a speed boot. It’s just that this time, more people can experience it and for that, adidas deserves a lot of kudos.
Technology – Carbon Fiber
Is there anything sexier than carbon fiber when it comes to speed? It evokes images of a highly-tuned performance vehicle pushing itself to the limits in pursuit of excellence. Its sex appeal is only matched by its actual ability to provide a stronger but also light material for construction.
Carbon fiber may have been too expensive to integrate into a brand’s long term production plans but we loved its appearance on our speed boots while it lasted.
X-Factor – Nike Mercurial Vapor 1
There could only be one. The Nike Mercurial Vapor 1 captured my imagination and it was the first football boot which got me interested in boot technology and design. It looked like something from the future and still looks the part today with its space-age design.
The deep olive green launch colourway was also a bold choice in the age of black, white and the occasional red boots. Its glittery space dust was typical of Nike’s attention to detail and its light weight was unlike any other boot you would have carried in your hands.
The Vapor’s “va va voom” factor was synonymous with a peak Thierry Henry terrorizing defences in those bad boys. Every stride he made had the grace of a ballerina, every touch a featherlight caress with his feet and every strike, clean and lethal.
I wasn’t the best player on the pitch and while I always loved flashy boots, I never thought I was worthy of them which left me sticking to plain black leather boots in my early teenage years. I had an opportunity to buy the indoor variant of the launch colourway that would serve beautifully as a pair of avant garde sneakers. Even off the pitch, I did not feel worthy of the Vapors
Eventually I caved in, buying a beautiful silver pair for my weekend games. The moment I put them on, I knew there was no turning back. My love affair with football boots begun with the Nike Mercurial Vapor 1.
Find out what the Boot Wizard thinks
We teamed up with our friend, Boot Wizard James to hear what he thinks will make the perfect speed boot. Watch him in the video below.