The best modern leather football boots go head-to-head.
Leather football boots have slowly taken a step back in the football boot industry in the last 10 years. Knit has reigned supreme but there has been a resurgence for leather recently. Mostly spurred by Mizuno’s handcrafted Made in Japan series, boot nerds are falling in love with leather all over again encouraging brands to innovate with the classic material.
We love our leather boots here at BOOTHYPE because of the comfort and luxurious touch you get on the ball. It’s something that can hardly be replicated with other materials. In the name of science (and that plush first touch), we pit three of the best leather football boots against each other. Namely the adidas Copa 19.1/20.1, Nike Tiempo Legend 8 and the Mizuno Rebula Cup Japan.
Concept – Knit hybrids and control pods meets leather
Conceptually, these three leather football boots can’t be more different.
The Mizuno Rebula Cup is the most traditional of the bunch. It mimics control boots of yesteryear with control pods all across the upper with dampening foam inserted into the leather layer. While the forefoot is made from soft kangaroo leather, the mid-foot is developed from artificial leather which has a sticky coating of “FT Grip” to help you trap the ball with more ease.
The Nike Tiempo Legend 8 takes a more radical approach. I’ve always labelled this the Terminator of football boots – deceptive with generous amounts of kangaroo leather on the outside but fully built with synthetics on the inside. Its inner layer is made from a dense Flyknit tunnel around the mid-foot while transitioning to Quadfit in the forefoot that adapts to the forces your foot produces. Quadfit stretches under low pressure, such as when you’re putting on your boots or jogging, but locks your foot down when under more intense pressure when making quick changes of direction.
Last but never the least, the adidas Copa 19.1 (which is the exact same model as the 20.1) is primarily a leather boot with elements of knit. Unlike the Tiempo, knit takes a backseat as adidas focused on providing the softest, most luxurious leather feel in the forefoot. Knit comes into play as the boot transitions to the lace zone and the collar. adidas claims that it’s meant to facilitate the expansion around those areas and provide a more accommodating fit.
Comfort and fit – Go true to size in all of them
Leather football boots have to feel comfortable and thankfully, these three boots pass the test though each feel unique in how they provide that comfort. We’re also thankful that we can go true to size in all the three boots, accommodating feet shapes which are moderate in width to those with a slightly wider fit.
The Mizuno Rebula series always had a problem with its sizing. Previous iterations were either too small, too narrow or too large. Mizuno got the last perfectly done for the Rebula Cup Japan. For the most part, it feels like a traditional leather football boot – comfortable and extremely light weight (more on that later) though due to the massive pads, there is less room around the toe box area. If you have large toes, it might feel a bit cramped in there so give it a couple of games to stretch to your feet.
The Tiempo Legend 8 feels like one of the most high-tech football boots I’ve ever donned. It’s all NASA space-age knit, vacuum sealing your feet around a snug sweater which is constantly learning how to adapt to every curve. It’s so compressive that it may feel claustrophobic in your first couple of games though the fit is a wee bit looser in the the artificial grass variant which has a slightly larger last.
If you’ve ever wanted to know how it feels like to step into a Sultan’s bed, you might want to give the adidas Copa a try. I’ve never felt an upper this soft in my life. The leather is so pillowy and your toes feel like they’re covered in the softest clouds. The boots also come with generous padding under your heel and around your ankle with luxurious synthetic suede lining that massages your feet with every step that you take. One minor gripe some might have is with the burrito tongue, a very uncommon tongue construction for a leather football boot. It would take a game to break it in and it might cause cramping for some within that first game.
While all three boots are amongst the most comfortable boots available, the adidas Copa wins hands down in this category with that padding all around your feet.
Touch and performance
Just as they feel different on feet, they perform quite differently too.
The Rebula Cup gives you some OOMPH when hitting the ball hard as the thick foam pods harden upon impact. These very pods also do well to help dampen the ball and enhance your first touch slightly. The foam pods also give you a protection against tackles and from being stepped on, making this a pretty robust animal on the field. However, the pods are also a double edged sword as they are a bit too bulky when trying to get under the ball to hit those longer ranged pinged passes. You’ll also hardly feel the effects of the “FT Grip” coating as they wear out too quickly for my liking.
You can accuse the Copa of looking bulky but that upper is anything but. adidas’ unique leather construction ensures that the upper stretches across your feet when being put on. The pillowy leather is a dream to play in. Your touches feel cushioned but engaged, whether it involves receiving or passing the ball. Striking the ball also feels connected without the raw sting you get from impact. Unlike the Rebula, there are no issues getting under the ball for long passes as the upper compresses easily like a soft pillow. The mid-foot does feel a little stiff from the thick knitted material surrounding the collar but it does not impact performance.
The most curious of the bunch has to be the Tiempo Legend 8. It’s got the thinnest upper among these three boots, with an extremely thin leather layer and knit underneath it. It also feels like one of the best all-rounded boots in the market. Contact with the ball is slightly padded but you get to feel so much in the Tiempo. Striking is a delight too as there is very little bulk to get in the way of you hitting the ball right. Lockdown is very good in all three boots but the Tiempo’s vacuum sealed sensation is unrivalled in the current market.
The Tiempo performs exceptionally well and in terms of how it feels on feet, it would appeal to more footballers than the Copa and Rebula Cup.
Where many will feel divided with the Tiempo is that it never, for once, feels like a leather boot. It’s devoid of the plush and luxurious sensation you associate with a leather football boot. What you feel is the soft knitted foundations that is more alike to the futuristic Nike Phantom VSN rather than a classic leather boot. The Tiempo’s padded sensation feels more airy (from the pockets of air in the knit) rather than the firmer bounce you get from leather.
The Tiempo is a leather boot only in name but not in sensation. If you’re not fussed about the sensation you get in the Tiempo, it should be the top performer here though if you’re a leather traditionalist, you have to give the luxurious Copa a try.
Weight does not matter as much in a leather football boot
The weight of your football boot is hardly the measure of its performance though through technology, football boots are much lighter today. A classic leather football boot like the adidas Predator Accelerator might weigh over 300g (its remake with modern FG soleplate comes at 275g) but it was in no way a bad boot.
But for those obsessed with weight, these three boots do provide for interesting reading.
While the Rebula Cup looks chunky, it is deceptively light at 205g in a US9. That’s on par with some speed boots out there in the market. The Tiempo Legend 8 is no slouch in that department either, weighing in at about 215g, possibly due to the lightweight knit that forms the foundations of the football boot.
All of this leads us to the adidas Copa 19.1 weighing in at a hefty 245g in comparison. In today’s boot market the Copa’s weight is a little on the heavier side but you definitely don’t feel its weight holding you down on the pitch. A big part of that weight comes from all that comfortable internal padding and the soleplate.
While none of these boots feel like big bags of sand on feet, kudos have to be given to Mizuno for engineering something so light in a package that is pretty chunky.
Soleplates do their job, mostly of the time.
We’ve reviewed all these soleplates in its firm ground (FG) format and they all deliver a solid performance.
The Rebula Cup and Copa 19.1 are similar in what they provide – mostly conical studs which do the job on FG with no issues. They’re hardly the most aggressive but do well to balance traction, comfort and manoeuvrability. Due to these factors, they perform just as well on shallower and harder surfaces like artificial ground (AG).
I did feel that Mizuno missed a small step in not including the Wave Cup Legend’s famed stud pattern considering how they were already taking design inspirations from Rivaldo’s old boots. The Wave Cup Legend’s uniquely shaped blades follow closely to where the individual bones contact the ground during a sprint, from the toes to the metatarsals. This served a dual purpose of giving you enough grip when pushing off as well as to prevent loss of energy when planting the foot to strike the ball. And the best thing about this is that it works just as well on FG as it does AG – impressive for such an aggressive stud pattern.
While leather boots are usually built for players who want comfort, Nike has surprisingly fitted the Tiempo Legend 8 with a relatively aggressive stud pattern. You can find bladed studs around the toe pick area, just under the balls of your feet and all around the heel area. Perhaps this comes after feedback from players trying to emulate Sergio Ramos’ rampaging front footed approach.
The studs on the Tiempo, however, are not very compatible with AG as they’re just too long and will cause stud pressure. The same can be said for any of Nike’s FG studs and the sooner they can create a boot that is compatible for both FG and AG, the better.
By default, the Rebula and Copa take the win in this category.
Leather football boots of the past, today and future
The three leather football boots today are all sublime, top performers, each with unique kinks that set each other apart. There is no one boot better than the other because in this case, better is subjective.
Old school control style boots
Mizuno Rebula Cup Japan
For players who are steeped in the old ways, pining for a rugged boot and for the golden days of “control boots”, the Mizuno Rebula Cup Japan brings you a slice of the past coupled with modern materials and ironclad Japanese craftsmanship.
adidas Copa 20.1
Players who want something modern with respect for leather’s storied past should definitely consider the adidas Copa. adidas has managed to produce the softest, most luxuriously soft boot I’ve ever worn without losing its soul as a leather boot.
Leather boot of the future
Nike Tiempo Legend VIII Elite
And finally, the clinical player who shares no romance for leather but is only looking at laser-sharp performance and the tech of the future should look no further than the Nike Tiempo Legend 8. Its application of Flyknit and Quadfit is unlike any other football boot in the world. An excellent all-rounder of a boot if you can overlook its lack of traditional leather feel. Hey, even John Connor warmed up to the T-800 eventually.