Saturday saw the final game for my current pair of football boots. They have served me well. After 3 years of service, the stitching has finally disintegrated and rendered them unusable, which has left me with a decision over what boots to buy next.
Browsing online through a number of popular sports shops, you are met with a plethora of adverts claiming improved accuracy and dribbling as well as pinpoint passing and quicker feet. Can this be true? Does what type of boots you wear make a difference to your game and can I therefore sour the name of my deceased Nikes by blaming them for my usually errant first touch and propensity to give the ball away?
The technology involved in football boots has undoubtedly progressed. Football boots were initially heavy with protection around the ankle, much like walking boots are today. As pitches improved so the boots became smaller and added other innovations.
One important progression has been in the type of studs worn. Over the last two decades, moulded plastic studs or blades have become increasingly more popular than the old fashioned studs, which are still used when pitches are saturated or very muddy. Most professionals tend to have a pair of each or boots that have interchangeable studs but often prefer to wear one stud type to another. This had rather unfortunate circumstances for Diego Forlan whose tortuous United career was brought to a swift close in 2004. Forlan himself said:
“Ferguson wanted me to play with long studs, the interchangeable ones that suit wet pitches, but I feel more comfortable in short ones.” Forlan recalled earlier this season.
“I agreed to change but I didn’t and, against Chelsea, I slipped in front of goal and wasted a chance.
“Afterwards, I rushed to the dressing room to change boots but Ferguson caught me. He grabbed the boots and threw them. That was my last game for United.”
Boots have also become lighter. You might think this has allowed players to become faster, not being weighed down, and I think if you look over the context of the last century this is probably true. One of the writers at ‘Footy Boots’, which seems to be a blog dedicated to football footwear, has tried to analyse this however and showed that it makes very little practical difference to the average footballer.
Added to this is the argument that because boots have become significantly lighter over the last two decades, that players are now more likely to get injuries to their feet, including breakages of the dreaded metatarsal. Although nothing conclusive has ever been proven regarding this argument, to me it stands to reason as a likely consequence of reducing the amount of protection around the foot.
The marketing departments of the boot developers try to make us believe that they can add something to our games. Last year Nike ran an advertising campaign for their boots with a slogan ‘Make The Difference”. One of their videos features Walcott, highlighting his speed, and gives the indication that if you want to move as quickly as Theo and shoot cannons from your right leg then you better invest in a pair of their Mercurial Superfly boots. It didn’t say whether they also make you endlessly run down cul-de-sacs and develop an annoying habit of disappearing from games.
For me, I think most of the advantage gained seems to be psychological from the fact that you feel like you are running much quicker or shooting harder than you were before. The confidence received from this is not a bad thing, in fact it probably allows people to try things they would not of before. I’m just not sure I want to splash out £100 more than I would have before for a placebo effect.