Every iconic World Cup moment ever created — with the exception of Diego Maradona’s (“God’s”) hand, Luis Suarez’s infamous goal save against Ghana, or Milan Mohammadi’s acrobatic throw-in attempt in Iran — has been included in the football legend of what every four years worn on players’ feet: the humble soccer shoe.
Over the years, football boots have evolved from rigorous all-black leather constructions to cutting-edge technical works of art, featuring synthetic knits, ergonomic cleats and clean-lined, wild designs that are very much in vogue with the current generation of players starting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Long gone are the days when eyebrows were raised at brightly colored boots. Now you will see Lionel Messi take to the pitch in a super lightweight special edition
The game has really changed for the better when it comes to soccer cleats, with players now receiving unprecedented self-expression on the canvases – their boots – they will be creating this November/December. But for all the technological innovations we see today, there’s nothing quite like indulging in a healthy dose of football nostalgia – and looking back at boots that have already cemented their status in football folklore.
Of Pelé and Maradona’s legendary goalscoring antics
Pele: 1974 PUMA KING
When it comes to talking about football boots that have secured their place in football history, the PUMA King’s legacy comes first. After Eusebio finished the 1966 World Cup as PUMA’s top scorer – despite England’s famous home win – the 1970 tournament belonged to another legendary Brazilian: Pelé. Wearing a custom pair – the “PUMA King Pelé” – at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Pelé was later voted Player of the Tournament, scoring four goals.
Viewers at the time could have seen Pelé order the referee to stop the game to tie his shoelaces minutes before the final whistle, while television cameras broadcast a close-up of his ‘King Pelé’ boots around the world. At a time when there was no social media, this was a boot royal rise like no other – cementing the Puma king’s place in football heritage.
Diego Maradona’s 1986 World Cup is arguably the most legendary singles tournament in football history. Aside from creating one of the most infamous moments in sporting history with his hand – ‘the hand of God’ to be precise – Diego scored one of the greatest goals of all time donning a pair of PUMA Kings in the same match against England. If there was one performance that made a shoe into football history, this was it.
Gary Lineker: adidas Stratos 2000
Gary Lineker might have been derailed by the man above him on this list, but his six goals in a pair of Adidas Stratos 2000s at the 1986 FIFA World Cup made Three Lions history by winning that year’s top scorer of the tournament.
While he still holds England’s record for goals at the World Cup (10), largely due to his goalscoring abilities in the model, he scored an important hat-trick to propel his side to the last 16 against Poland. But he may not hold that record much longer. Harry Kane, who scored six goals himself in 2018, will look to emulate that number for The Three Lions in a pair of Nike Phantoms in Qatar, where he is just four goals shy of Lineker’s performance.
Before Suker: Latto Stadio Classic
Before that Suker. 1998. Not only blessed with being able to wear one of the best World Cup jerseys of all time, but also one of the most underrated “cleats”. The Croatian striker scored twice with the model in the group stage before scoring in the third-place play-off against Romania, Germany, France and finally the Netherlands. Lotto also loves the shot above. The best Croatian chessboard kit ever. throwback collar. sock band. Massive shin guards. And to top it off, a pair of absolutely giant lime green Lotto tongues. That’s football heritage.
Zinedine Zidane: adidas Predator
Ah Zizou. A god among mortals in his day – and his day mostly happened to be every major international soccer tournament he attended, wearing his favorite Adidas Predators. In 2006, Zizou earned the right to wear his iconic gold Predator Absolutes, which he donned to orbit Italy centre-back Marco Materazzi after he headbutted him in the World Cup final that Italy would go on to win had met. But think back to the 1998 finale and you’ll fully understand why The Three Stripes turned their Predators to gold. A finale with legends galore such as Roberto Carlos, Petit, Ronaldo, Desailly, Cafu and countless others. Zidane was the man who made that game his own and brought home France’s first-ever World Cup on home soil, joining in football’s immortality.
Ronaldo: Mercury vapor
R9 may have missed out on World Cup immortality in 1998, but four years later, capped and laden with just a fringe and the first-ever pair of Nike’s groundbreaking Mercurial steam Boot Range he secured ultimate fame. Ronaldo Nazario earned his nickname “El Phenomenon” at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan, where he single-handedly dismantled Germany in the final, scoring a brace against Oliver Khan and fully redeeming Brazil’s last blow four years earlier.
Xabi Alonso: adidas adiPURE
Andres Iniesta fired Spain to World Cup victory in 2010 clad in a pair of Nikes seen in the picture above, but adidas’ adiPURE model was undoubtedly the most shared shoe of the 2010 World Cup final. And when it comes to infamous moments Going from the finals of years past, it doesn’t get much more notorious than Nigel de Jong carrying Xabi Alonso with big boots on his chest, while the duo both wore the black and yellow adiPUREs. Despite the Dutch defensive midfielder nearly breaking his chest, Xabi would have the last laugh when his midfield partner scored one of the most iconic goals in Spanish football history in the final minutes of the game.
Mario Gotze: Nike Magista Obra
It seems like forever since a child prodigy named Mario Götze scored a World Cup final winner against Argentina in extra time to make Germany world champions for a fourth time while wearing a pair of fluorescent Nike Magista Obras. But these shoes would go well beyond an impact on the pitch. The left boot, which was responsible for scoring the winning goal and breaking Argentina’s hearts, was eventually auctioned off for €2 million, with all proceeds going to the German charity Ein Herz für Kinder.
Kylian Mbappe: Mercurial Superfly 360
Kylian Mbappé instantly became world football’s newest golden boy with the Mercurial Superfly 360 during the 2018 World Cup. The Bondy boy has become a superstar by becoming the second teenager after Pele to score in a World Cup final and winning the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award for scoring four in the tournament. With his star rising as fast as his sprint speed in the model ever since, Kylian will be looking to do it all again over the next few months, this time with his own signature pair of Mercurials.
Honorable Mention: Ronaldo Nazario Nike R9 World Cup 1998 Special
While R9 secured its first World Championship in Mercurial Vapors in 2002, R9 launched the Mercurial silo in 1998, with the combination of silver, yellow and blue on the boots being remembered for a long time. R9 wore the iconic pair of boots during the World Cup, where he scored four goals as Brazil finished runners-up and were beaten in the final by a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France. But while results are a thing of the past, drops are forever. And R9’s 1998 Mercurial model will always have a place in legendary football boot lists. Simply put, these are phenomenal – and have rightly changed the game.