Berlin - The quality of this year’s World Cup should make us aware of feeling too nostalgic about the good old days when the game was simpler, and footballers were hard-working guys who’d never dream of diving for a penalty.
But if there’s one thing that bemuses old-timers about the current state of the game, it surely is the multicoloured range of shoes on display on the green pitches of Brazil.
It wasn’t too long ago, when if you wanted a new pair of football boots, you could choose any colour you wanted as long as it was black. Now a glance at your TV screen will show players’ feet adorned with shoes in every colour of the rainbow – and many that aren’t.
Given the huge amounts of money at stake in the market for football footwear, it’s not surprising that the shoe companies will do almost anything to attract people’s attention to their products, and it’s undeniable that a pair of shoes in fluorescent pink stands out a lot more than a staid black pair.
The contest is intensified because of a Fifa rule that states that footwear is the only piece of major equipment that does not have to be “produced consistently by the same manufacturer”. What that means is that while the shorts and jerseys of teams are contracted to a specific company, players are free to wear the shoes they want.
Stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Mario Balotelli are thus paid millions to wear Nike, Adidas and Puma, for example, and each company is doing its best to have its product stand out.
Puma went for broke with its Tricks shoes, worn by the likes of Balotelli, Cesc Fàbregas and Yaya Toure and featuring mismatched colours, blue for the left foot and pink for the right. Puma says the oddly coloured boots represent “the unshakable confidence of players who wear them and evoke their potential to do the unbelievable”.
But even the famously quirky Balotelli needed convincing that this was the right approach. “I have to be honest, the first time I saw the boots, I thought the Puma guy was mad. But when I realised he wasn’t, I was excited. In the end, it is exactly the reason why I chose to be with Puma, They dare to be different and everyone knows I do as well.”
Nike has a different tack, paying huge amounts to heavily promote its shoes worn by stars such as Ronaldo, Neymar and Wayne Rooney. The US company, which reported about $2-billion (R21.5bn) in football sales last year, has focused on the supposedly revolutionary technological advantages offered by its newest line, the Magista. This shoe is composed of a flyknit fabric upper-welded to the sole and studs and also includes a woven insert which is supposed to offer greater ankle stability.
Coming in pink, orange, bright green and purple, among other colours, Nike’s offerings underscore how the game has become as much about image as substance.
That aspect is not lost on Nike’s great rival Adidas, which racked up $2.8bn in football-related sales last year and is an official partner of Fifa for the World Cup. The company’s newest shoe style features a kind of psychedelic lizard-skin mesh composed of black, white and splashes of bright colours.
“It’s a fashion show at the World Cup,” Antonio Zea, director of soccer innovation at Adidas, told the New York Times. “A kid wants to be Messi or Beckham. We understand that. We know what it means for them to see the stars wearing something.”
But not all the players are as excited about the rainbow shoes.
“I love seeing the pictures of me as a kid wearing black,” Italy midfielder Daniele de Rossi told the paper. “It is almost too much now.”
Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a more practical reason for his objection, reasoning that the bright-coloured shoes made it easier for referees to see when he stepped offside. –