Ahead of the Brazil world cup, Nike reveal how they're using technology to revolutionise performance on the pitch
Only two days after the last World Cup finished and only hours since Andres Iniesta’s 116th minute goal won Spain the cup against the Netherlands in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, Nike felt the need to “reinvent” the football boot. But why? As CEO Marc Parker put it at the launch of their new Magista boot in Barcelona last week, they wanted to “redefine what football boots are, and what they could be” ahead of this summer’s tournaments in Brazil, But how exactly did they go about doing this?
The key motivation is exactly what makes today’s game so different and appealing – the increased speed and intensity it’s played at. The other a result from the new understandings they’ve gleaned from hundreds of interviews with the players they sponsor, since the last World Cup four years ago. When talking with the likes of Iniesta and Bayern Munich’s young playmaker Mario Götze, something kept cropping up. “I need help to slow the game down, so I can then speed it up again”, they told the company’s Research Lab.
While this request to bend the space-time continuum may sound odd, it’s come about from the (often quite successful) tactic of manically pressing the opposition’s players high up the pitch to win the ball back, by clubs like Barcelona, Bayern Munch and Borussia Dortmund. It’s a tactic that’s seen player-to-ball contact rapidly decrease – they don’t have time to take a touch to control the ball, and then another to create the next shot or pass. The Magista’s task then, was to empower the game’s attacking midfielders, the ‘number tens’ – the magicians the boot takes its name and inspiration from – by doing all of the above in a single touch, or one fluid motion. It was to allow the game’s most creative protagonists to play on pure instinct.
Describing their design objectives as the need to fulfill four fundamentals - “performance, style, soul and sustainability”, Nike’s creative director of football, Martin Lotti tells Dazed that two days after the last World Cup finished, they drafted in Phil McCartney from their running division to lead this “reinvention”. In his time at Nike Running, McCartney worked on a super lightweight running shoe made from a unique woven upper, the Flyknit Racer which was released during the London Olympics, after five years of testing. It’s a shoe that wraps around the foot as comfortably as a sock, and can even be worn laceless, yet still allow for the natural rhythms and motions of how we move to come to the fore. One that’s been so successful, both on the track and the street, that having recently bounced on to the basketball court with the Flyknit Kobe 9 Elite, it’s going to make its football debut at this summer’s World Cup.
On first impressions, the most striking difference between the Magista and all other football boots that have preceded it is the mid-cut ‘collar’ at the top of the boot that covers some of the ankle. An extension of the stretchy ‘sock’ that frames the foot, a feature which resulted from players complaining of miscuing touches when the ball strikes their upper foot. Iniesta, UEFA’s 2012 Player of the Year, describes the Magista as a “novelty”, one that is not so much a sock, but “like having a glove on your foot”. “With Magista, we’ve designed a shoe that feels like an extension of the player’s body” McCartney, now the VP of Sports Performance, says. “This isn’t a boot that just goes on your foot, it’s a boot that works with your foot.” They’ve even repositioned the studs to help players make 360 turns easier.
Yet, perhaps the most dramatic innovation can be found on the woven upper, Nike has been working on iterations of dynamic uppers since the 1980s. Its threads have been implanted with subtle 3D ridges, treated with a waterproof “skin” that’s thinner than paper, so that players don’t need to make allowances for the weather they’re playing in. Whether it’s sunny in Brazil or snowing in Birmingham, they don’t have to adjust their technique in order to hit that ball as sweetly as they wish. “Previous construction methods required added layers to the top of the boot to get this friction, ultimately moving the foot further from the ball, but Flyknit allows us to knit texture directly into the boot,” says McCartney. “3D knit is new for Nike and for football, and hundreds of revisions were required to get this 3D pattern exactly right.”
Speaking to an audience of fashion and football journalists at the design museum of a city whose football team represents “més que un club” (more than a club), Mark Parker was so confident in the Magista – and no doubt a raft of other products and initiatives we are not yet privy to – that he considers Brazil’s World Cup to be “a setting for a revolution in industrial design”. A competitive statement, for what’s going to no doubt be a competitive cup – for clubs, countries, supporters and sportswear brands alike. One that’s backed up all of Nike’s kits being made entirely from the recycled fibers of plastic bottles. (It apparently takes 18 PET bottles to make a shirt). It seems that football boots are not the only thing that Nike is reinventing in the run up to the Brazil World Cup.