Giving talent the boot in a high-tech football world

Giving talent the boot in a high-tech football world
The adidas PrimeKnit. High-tech boots can give talented footballers an edge but it is the skills of the wearer that matter most.

At the ArtScience museum on Thursday, at a Nike football exhibit, a stylish nightmare unfolds. My left foot is encased in Cristiano Ronaldo's Nike Mercurial Superfly boot which he'll wear at the World Cup. My right foot is wrapped in Andres Iniesta's Nike Magista. I'm two feet deep in genius. I should be thrilled. But I'm just sulking.

The boots - to be released in Singapore over the next month - hug my feet. They feel like thick silk gloves. They're so cool - colourful with high collars around the ankle - I could wear them to dinner. They're also upsetting. They're making me think of Marlon Brando grumbling in On The Waterfront: "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum." If I had these dazzling boots as a boy where could I have been? Real Madrid!

When you come from a wooden-racket generation, when pole vault poles had just graduated from hickory to bamboo, and shin guards were as heavy as an English knight's armour, then you just hate sporting technology. Because as Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, wrote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

And we didn't have any.

Adidas recently unveiled a concept boot, the PrimeKnit FS, which is a knitted football boot and sock hybrid. The Puma Tricks collection has one blue shoe and one pink. In the same pair. This is a magical football world, far removed from the 1960-70s when our black football boots, of leather that cracked, seemed best suited for armies in trenches. A good fit? No, barely fit to wear.

King Henry VIII reportedly had his own shoemaker to design his boots in the 1500s. So does football's reigning royalty, Ronaldo, who has his feet measured by a 3-D scanner and then has a mould made for his boots. Our boots just had mould. Which you spat on, scraped off and then played.

When Lim Aik Leong, footwear product director for Nike Football, starts talking boots, it's a depressing education. Our boots, in the rain, weighed at least a kilogram and just try dribbling and weaving in cement shoes. But Ronaldo's boots weigh only 185 grams. Which clearly is the only reason he's quicker than us.

The Portuguese tests out prototypes and then offers feedback. Maybe the fit isn't seamless and the traction isn't perfect. So, hell, let's add a longer stud on the toe so players can push off. How nice. Our studs just had protruding nails, promising grievous bodily harm to both wearer and rival. Of course, like Ronaldo's, our studs were also removable but not by choice. They merely fell off.

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