A journey through Nike's mercurial evolution

Nike F.C launched 20 years ago – one of its founders would go on to rewrite history

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When Nike F.C launched in 1994, it needed a star, somebody who could embody not only the ambition of the team, but the flair, the attitude and the determination to skill. That man, or boy as he was then, was a 17 year old Ronaldo. Not Cristiano, THE Ronaldo, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, the phenomenon whose kind had not been seen before and likely never will be again.

At 17 he boarded the plane with the Brazil squad for USA '94. Whilst he didn't feature, the buck-toothed assassin made an impact on Nike F.C observers, who followed his progress in training sessions. No-one could miss Ronaldo. Athletic, lightning quick and unbelievable in front of goal, he naturally had as a teenager what many seasoned footballers would spend careers trying to learn.

His prodigious talents saw him move from Cruzeiro to PSV after the tournament, where he scored over 50 goals in his debut season. From that point on, Ronaldo would go on to play for the greatest clubs in the world, destroying defences and records at each one. Ronaldo would go on to inspire some of the most famous boots in world history. But more of that later.

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Nike Tiempos have always held their rightful position as "the classic boot", the equivalent of a tailor-made suit, stylish, dignified and dependable. The 1994 Tiempos were the first choice for footballers across the world during the 90s, but when Ronaldo came along, it was clear that there would need would need to be a revamp to befit the teenager who'd fast become an icon.

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The Tiempo Ultra Lightweight was created in 1996, designed to take full advantage of Ronaldo's unrivalled velocity. Weight was cut by replacing kangaroo leather with KNG-100 synthetic. An Italian craftsman was brought in to build a hyper-thin footplate and improve the boot’s touch with the application of a coating usually used on the chassis of Italian racing motorcycle – no technological advance was spared. Ronaldo wore the prototypes during his first season at Inter Milan, a campaign during which he scored 25 goals in 32 games, obviously there were no problems with the new design.

The Tiempo Ultra Lightweight wasn't exactly most catchy name for a revolutionary boot  – there needed to be something that encapsulated the player that inspired it. Ronaldo had the eloquence, shrewdness, swiftness, and thievishness attributed to the god Mercury, he was without doubt Mercurial.

When it was time to debut the Mercurial in the summer of 1998, Ronaldo wore them in blue and yellow, and scored with them on his way to the finals, tournament top scorer and further towards history.

The statement had been made and there was no mistaking it. The sport’s finest player now had the sport’s finest boot.

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It isn't just boots that Nike have defined – for there to be any need for boots, you also need....a ball. In 2002, the team set about creating the Geo Merlin. Research for this ball went as deep as humanly possible - the Nike FC team braved treacherous wind and hostile conditions, with each layer of the ball scrutinised and inspected. The focus however, lay with speed and flight stability. The Geo Merlin has many close relatives, including the Geo Vapor and then the Geo Chrome, establishing the Geo range as THE leading football in world competition.

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The evolution and growth of NIKE F.C has been a natural one, with incredible improvements made along the way to ensure that it would always be at the top of its game. Nobody embodies the spirit of the team more than R9, the awkward and frighteningly talented teenager who "blossomed" into a monster, an unstoppable force that will be forever remembered and revered. Read a full account of the team's history here.

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