From Pele and Maradona to Messi and CR7, plenty of footballers over the years have received their own signature boot. But what does the current landscape look like, and which footballer is poised to take the currently vacant football boot throne?
Bukayo Saka is one of the latest football stars to have a signature boot installment with their respective brands. The new kicks for Arsenal’s starboy are a fresh colorway of the New Balance Furon V7 Pros, “The Seven Edition” and look fit for the young baller.
These two new drops in particular got us thinking about the current landscape in football when it comes to boots, signatures in particular. How important are the players to the brand’s success, and will these kicks ever reach the popularity levels of signature shoes in basketball?
The Importance of Star Power
Similar to basketball, football fans tend to associate boots with successful players that have worn them. Quite often, the bigger the player and the better they perform, the more the boot is desired among both professional and casual players.
Neymar’s 2020 move to PUMA was a prime example of how much stars matter. Neymar being the face drove the popularity of PUMA football boots back to the days of old where they were the undoubted kings of the market with Maradona and Pele as the spearheads. In the first year of the Neymar-PUMA partnership, the brand saw record growth sales and an eye-watering rise in their online presence across social media.
This PUMA resurgence has, luckily for them, coincided with the fast approaching end to the Messi-Ronaldo era of football. Though the gap the two greatest players of their generation will leave on the pitch will be near unfillable, there won’t be as big of a void in the football boot landscape. On the Nike side, Ronaldo was the best thing that could’ve happened to the Mercurial line. His flair, success, and style meant that the CR7 brand became inseparable from the Mercurials and drove sales to an all time high.
This success gave Nike the perfect platform to build and the Mercurial was their golden goose in the football boot game. With CR7 winding down in his career, they’ve already begun to pivot to Kylian Mbappe, the heir that was almost always apparent. He has had several signature Mercurial colorways of his own and looks set to cement himself as the face of the brand for the next decade.
There is also great innovation consistently shown in the football boot space, and new players continue to enter the fore with Sketchers being the latest big brand that are looking to make a mark on boot culture.
They announced themselves to the football world this year, and did so with a bang; securing the signature of England captain and Bayern Munich star Harry Kane. The reception to Sketchers has been mixed, largely due to the brand’s existing reputation of not exactly being “cool.”
However, as we’ve established, star power is king, and\ Kane is the caliber of player that can draw more eyes and potential buyers to the brand if, or more likely when, he continues to perform and win trophies with Bayern.
Football vs. Basketball: Player Impact on Boot Popularity
It’s already a tough comparison to draw when it comes to the NBA and the beautiful game. For starters, signature shoes in the NBA are tailored much more to the player.
Just about every A-list basketball player — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Ja Morant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more — all have a specific shoe made for them, with each silhouette having its own set of varying colorways.
In football, it’s much more likely to see a star player, Saka as previously mentioned, get their own specific colorway in the silhouette of a boot already produced by their brand. You can count on one hand the number of times in football history we’ve seen a boot silhouette created solely for one star.
The biggest contributing factor is the sheer number difference. The NBA has around 450-550 players, and in an industry where star power is key, a fraction of that already small number have signature shoes. Only the very elite receive the privilege. For a league with such worldwide popularity coupled with such an exclusive club, it’s much more feasible for brands to give each star their own line of shoes and then a set of colorways on top of that.
The appeal is certainly there in football, at an equal level if not higher than in the NBA. An entire generation of football fans fell in love with the Nike Tiempo while seeing Ronaldinho ball in them. Ronaldo Nazario made the original Mercurial a worldwide hit. Wayne Rooney became synonymous with the Nike T90 at the peak of his powers.
There are superstars in football that can transcend the brand they represent and essentially imprint themselves in the minds of fans as the “owner” of a particular boot line. Despite this, the sheer volume of stars that the beautiful game produces, and the continued success of the current market model, makes it extremely unlikely that football ever reaches the state of making entire silhouettes for a single player and the current trend will remain.
It’s probable that there continues to be a line of star players that receive signature boots. It’s possible that there are a few superstars in the game that go on to become synonymous with a boot in the way CR7 is with the Mercurial or David Beckham with the adidas Predator. It’s unlikely, however, that we ever see a player that transcends the sport in a manner that sees them have their own boot line entirely a la Michael Jordan.
For what it’s worth, I hope to be wrong.