One of the most popular and beloved boots of the modern era has returned with a radical look ahead of the new season.
The Nike Mercurial has been part of the footballing lexicon since 1998, elevated to prominence by Brazilian superstar Ronaldo who was first to wear this much sought-after silhouette. Twenty one years later and we’re still talking about the Mercurial though its look and composition is strikingly different from that first incarnation.
Through the 1980s, the established heavy-hitters Puma and adidas dominated the boot market despite competition from the likes of New Balance and Patrick.
As Nike became a presence through the 1980s, their boots were highly prized. They signed major endorsement deals with some of the stars of the day such as Liverpool's Ian Rush but it was only in the 1990s when they came up with a trademark boot to rival Adidas’ Copa Mundial or Puma’s King.
Nike’s inspiration for the Mercurial came from athletics rather than football. The boot - called the Tiempo Ultra Light during its testing - was crafted not from kangaroo leather as was the norm at that time but from fabrics traditionally used for running spikes. The reason behind this was to make the boot as light as possible and more resistant to water. The bottom of the boot was much thinner than traditional “plates”.
The first goal scored in a Mercurial boot was on June 16, 1998. Of course, it was Ronaldo who found the net and fittingly the boot was in Brazil’s yellow and blue colours.
Nike tinkered with the design at regular intervals to reflect its status as a leader in the global market, launching its first revision in 2000: The Nike Match Mercurial. It was the lightest boot Nike had ever produced and was again put to good use by a Ronaldo in his prime.
In 2002, Nike introduced the Nike Mercurial Vapor which was again lighter than its predecessor and featured a new aesthetic - lines to replicate the go-faster stripes on sports cars. By this time many of the game's biggest stars were wearing the Mercurial and it was a regular sight at stadiums all over the globe.
Two years later, the Mercurial Vapor II came along, the biggest change being an enlarged heel tab to improve ankle comfort. This boot was made famous by another Ronaldo - Cristiano - who was carving out a name for himself as one of the brightest stars of the world game.
The Mercurial Vapor III debuted in 2006, making use of the emerging Teijin microfibre which was designed to contour to the foot while the 2008 Mercurial Vapor SL was made entirely from carbon fibre weighing just 185 grammes.
These advances in technology allowed Nike to experiment with colours, seemingly able to call on an endless palette of eye-catching shades which were as far removed from the traditional black boot as could be imagined.
For the 2010 Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly II, Cristiano Ronaldo was consulted on the design of the boot which now featured studs able to extent and retract to cope with the conditions.
The next biggest change came in 2014 when the trend was to add a ‘sock’ or ‘collar’ to the ankle, giving the boot a bold new look, mirrored by sports footwear across the board. This became the norm for a few years with rivals also incorporating the radical silhouette.
So what’s so special about this latest incarnation which was released this week after debuting at the Women's World Cup? Unusually, it was introduced in the middle of a two-year cycle and makes use of the latest technology to include lettering and logos with the fabric of the boot. It’s also the first time that Flywire and Flyknit have been melded into one. This is to try and stop the boot stretching too much through repeated wear. All Conditions Control (ACC) makes the boot waterproof.
Nike will continue to make changes to one of its most iconic products and this season we are destined to see some eye-catching personalised efforts as the game's great and good look to outdo their rivals.