Every iconic World Cup moment ever created – with the exception of Diego Maradona’s hand (“of god”), Luis Suarez’s infamous goal-line clearance against Ghana or Iran’s Milan Mohammadi acrobatic attempt of a throw-in – has been launched into footballing legend by what is worn on player’s feet every four years: the humble football boot.
Over the years, football boots have gone from rigorous, all-black leather constructs to cutting-edge, technical works of art, with synthetic knits, ergonomic studs and straight-up wild designs now very much in vogue for the current generation of players that will kick off the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The days where eyebrows would be raised at brightly-colored boots are long gone. Now, you’ll see Lionel Messi take to the field in a super-light, special-edition adidas (XETRA:ADS.DE +0.12%) Speedportal ‘Leyenda’ commemorating his legacy as one of the game’s all-timers. You’ll see Nike (NYSE:NKE +0.06%) reveal a gold-tipped ‘Generation Pack’ for all their players to wear part in this year’s tournament, too. And for the first time ever, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka will take to the field in Qatar wearing Stone Island and New Balance‘s inaugural, collaborative football boot: a camouflage Furon v7.
The game really has changed for the better when it comes to football boots, with players now given unparalleled self-expression on the canvases – their boots – that they will be creating with this November/December. But despite all thew technological innovation we see today, nothing beats indulging in a healthy dose of footballing nostalgia – and looking back at boots that have already solidified their status in footballing folklore.
From Pelé and Maradona’s legendary goal-scoring antics wearing PUMA (XETRA:PUM.DE -0.39%) Kings, through to Kylian Mbappé making history in a pair of Nike boots, Hypebeast took a look back at the most iconic World Cup boots of all time, just before the 2022 World Cup gets underway. Let’s get stuck in.
Pelé: 1974 PUMA KING
When it comes to discussing boots that have secured their spot in football history, the PUMA King’s legacy reigns supreme. After Eusebio finished the 1966 World Cup as top scorer donning PUMA’s – despite England’s famous win on home soil – the 1970 tournament belonged to another legendary Brazilian: Pelé. Donning a specially-crafted pair – the ‘PUMA King Pelé’ – at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Pelé would go on to win the ‘Player of the Tournament’, scoring four goals in the process.
Viewers at the time would have seen Pelé asking the referee to stop the match minutes before the final whistle in order to tie his laces, with television cameras broadcasting a close-up image of his ‘King Pelé’ boots around the world. In a time way where social media didn’t exist, this was a royal football boot ascension like no other – cementing the Puma King’s place in football heritage.
Diego Maradona’s 1986 World Cup is arguably the most iconic individual 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 would then go on to deliver one of the greatest goals of all time in the same game against England, all whilst donning a pair of PUMA Kings. If there was any performance to write a boot into football history, it was this one.
Gary Lineker: adidas Stratos 2000
Gary Lineker might might have been dumped out of proceedings by the man above him in this list, but his six goals in a pair of Adidas Stratos 2000s at the 1986 FIFA World Cup wrote himself into Three Lions history by becoming the tournament’s top scorer that year.
While he still holds England’s record for goals in the World Cup (10) largely due to his goal-scoring prowess in the model, scoring a vital hat-trick to send his side through to the last 16 against Poland. But he might not hold that record for much longer. Fresh from bagging six himself in 2018, Harry Kane will be looking to emulate that figure for The Three Lions in a pair of Nike Phantoms in Qatar, where he’s only four goals off equalling Lineker’s feat.
Davor Suker: Latto Stadio Classic
Davor Suker. 1998. Not only blessed with being able to wear one of the best World Cup shirts of all time, but also one of the most underrated ‘cleats’ to boot. The Croatian striker scored twice during the group stages donning the model, before scoring against Romania, Germany, France, and finally the Netherlands in the third-place playoff. Lotto love for the shot above, too. The best-ever Croatian checkerboard kit. Throwback collar. Sock tape. Massive shin pads. And to cap it all off, a pair of absolutely huge lime green Lotto tongues. This, is football heritage.
Zinedine Zidane: adidas Predator
Ah, Zizou. A god amongst mortals on his day – and his day, more often than not, just happened to be every major international football tournament he played in, wearing his favoured Adidas Predators. By the time it came to 2006, Zizou earned the right to wear his iconic golden Predator Absolutes, which he donned to launch Italian centre half Marco Materazzi into orbit after head butting him in the World Cup Final that Italy would go on to win. But cast your mind back to the 1998 final, and you’ll fully understand why The Three Stripes turned his Predators gold. A final with legends galore in Roberto Carlos, Petit, Ronaldo, Desailly, Cafu and countless others, Zidane was the man who made this game his own and bring home France’s first-ever World Cup on home soil and join footballing immortality.
Ronaldo: Mercurial Vapor
R9 might have missed out on World Cup immortality in 1998, but four years later, locked and loaded with just a fringe and the first-ever pair of Nike’s game-changing Mercurial Vapor boot range, he secured ultimate glory. Ronaldo Nazario earned his “El Phenomenon” nickname at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan, where he single-handedly dismantled Germany in the final by scoring a brace against Oliver Khan, fully redeeming Brazil’s final battering four years before.
Xabi Alonso: adidas adiPURE
Andres Iniesta fired Spain to World Cup flory in 2010, clad in a pair of Nike seen in the image above, but adidas’ adiPURE model was undoubtedly the most prevalent boot of the 2010 World Cup final. And when it comes to infamous moments from finals in years gone by, it doesn’t get much more infamous than Nigel de Jong big-booting Xabi Alonso in the chest while the duo both wore the black and yellow adiPURE’s. Despite nearly having his rib cage broken by the Dutch defensive midfielder, Xabi would have the last laugh, when his midfield partner would score one of the most iconic goals in Spanish football history in the dying minutes of the game.
Mario Götze: Nike Magista Obra
It seems like forever ago that a wünderkid named Mario Götze scored an extra-time winner against Argentina in the World Cup Final to make Germany world champions for a fourth time donning a pair of fluorescent Nike Magista Obras. But these boots would go far beyond an impact on the pitch. The left boot, responsible for scoring the game winner and breaking Argentinian hearts, ended up being auctioned off for €2m with all proceeds going to German charity ‘A Heart for Children’.
Kylian Mbappé: Mercurial Superfly 360
Kylian Mbappé instantly became the latest golden boy of world football wearing the Mercurial Superfly 360 during the 2018 World Cup. The boy from Bondy shot himself to superstardom by becoming the second teenager, after Pelé at the top of this list, to score in a World Cup Final, and with four goals in the tournament he received the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award. With his star rising as quickly 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 donning his own signature pair of Mercurials.
Honorable Mention: Ronaldo Nazario Nike R9 1998 World Cup Special
While R9 would secure his first World Cup in Mercurial Vapors in 2002, R9 would kick off the Mercurial franchise in 1998, with the combination of silver, yellow and blue on the boots still live long in the memory. R9 famously sported the iconic pair of boots during the World Cup, where he scored four goals as Brazil finished as runners-up, beaten in the final by a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France. But while results are things of the past, drip is forever. And R9’s 1998’s Mercurial model will always hold a place in iconic football boot lists. Put simply, these are phenomenal – and legitimately changed the game.