Cult football boots – best of the 2010s: CTRs, sock boots and what happened to Asics?

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The Athletic

Who doesn’t enjoy reminiscing about the football boots they used to wear?

When The Athletic wrote about the secret world of football boots in September, telling stories about the modern-day trend for anti-clogs, blackouts, mixed soleplates and customised conversions, it led to a wave of nostalgia.

Readers disappeared down memory lane, telling tales about their Patrick Kevin Keegans, the Ligne 7 boots they purchased while on holiday in France, how the first love of their life was a pair of Adidas Accelerators, and why Nike’s T90 Laser range was a dream.

With that in mind, we decided to travel back in time and write about the best and most iconic boots of yesteryear, covering the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s in a three-part series that will transport some of you back to your childhood and others onto the internet in search of the Umbro Specialis that you now regret giving away.

To choose the 30 boots that made the cut, we enlisted the help of four people who know the football boot industry inside out. (You can read more about them and catch up on the first part in the series, about the 1990s, here and the second part about the 2000s here).

We also look forward to reading your own personal football boot memories and, naturally, expect you to flag up the ones that, in your opinion, deserved a mention.

Here goes with the 2010s…

Adidas F50 Adizero (leather) (2010)

(Dutch Boot Collector/Wessel Rietveld)

There’s lightweight and there’s really lightweight. The F50 Adizero weighed in at 165g, which is the equivalent of (*types into Google, ‘What weighs 165g?’ and fails to come up with a satisfactory answer*)… feathers, just think of a lot of feathers.

Welcome to the speedboot game, Adidas, and what an entrance. The leather version of the Adidas F50 Adizero actually weighed 175g – 10g more than the synthetic boot but still remarkable. “I am amazed at how light the new F50 is; I can barely feel them on my feet,” Lionel Messi said.

The Adidas SprintFrame outsole was a significant factor in that — a single piece of carbon fibre that ran from the heel counter. Indeed, less was more when it came to the sole plate, which was nothing like as eye-catching as the slick upper and that chameleon purple colourway that Messi wore at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa (let’s gloss over the fact Messi didn’t score there).

The expert says: “As I’m more of a fan of leather boots compared to a plastic upper, I went for the leather version of the Adidas F50 Adizero. So a leather speed boot was, for me, the perfect combination of both worlds. I was 13 years old at the time these were released and seeing Arjen Robben wearing them during the 2010 World Cup was magical.” (Rietveld)

Best colourway: Yellow/black

Who wore them? Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben, Dani Alves, David Villa, Gareth Bale, Lukas Podolski

David Villa celebrates scoring for Spain in his F50s (Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Maybe it should be “moments” given the Adizero top-scored with 43 goals at the South Africa World Cup – more than double any other boot. OK, you want one – how about David Villa scoring from 40 yards against Chile?

Nike Tiempo Legend IV Elite (2011)

Quite a look. “Orange stands out a bit but it goes well with the black,” Gerard Pique, the former Barcelona and Spain defender, said at the boot’s launch, sounding like someone who wasn’t quite sure about those laces.

Whether you liked them or not, the boot had a retro feel and was a dream to wear. The softness of that diagonally-stitched vamp (the forefront of the shoe, for those of you who haven’t done a 72-hour crash course in how to be a cobbler) was an upgrade on the standard Tiempo Legend IV boot and a big reason for that was the quality and lightness of the kangaroo leather.

Some facts for you. Each boot utilised 56.5 metres of Nike’s FlyWire technology (for you to know: I’ve watched a YouTube video on FlyWire — think of super strong threads that act like cables on a suspension bridge) and was made up of 4,751 stitches. It also had visibility-enhancing coloured heel stripes to make you stand out to your team-mates. No, really.

Anyway, get yourself a pair, remove the studs, put your smoking jacket on and light the fire.

The expert says: “The fourth edition of the Nike Tiempo series and, in my view, the best of the lot. Made from super soft and buttery kangaroo leather, they also came in more expensive (£250-£270). The ‘elite’ version with the carbon-fibre soleplate made them lightweight as well as incredibly comfortable. Nike produced so many good colourways for this boot, but I loved the black/white/orange combination.” (Warren)

Best colourway: Black/white/orange

Who wore them? Pique, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Puyol, David Luiz

Ronaldo wastes a chance in his farewell friendly against Romania (Vanderlei Almeida/AFP via Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Ronaldo wearing a pair in his last match for Brazil, against Romania in 2011. Unfortunately, he missed a sitter and Fred scored the only goal, which wasn’t in the script.

Nike CTR360 Maestri III (2012)

Andres Iniesta was pulling the strings here — and in more ways than one. Cast as a puppet in the Nike advert promoting the third generation of the CTR boot, Iniesta was involved in its development, too.

The dampening and pass-pads on its predecessors that made it easier to trap a bag of cement and move the ball from A to B had gone. This time, there were eight protruding rubber strips on the instep that were designed to help ball control and passing.

More significantly, the boot was synthetic but, through advancements in Nike’s Kanga-Lite material, felt and looked like leather and came equipped with the brand’s ACC technology (All Conditions Control). Essentially, that meant it made no difference if you were playing under grey skies at Stoke or in 30-degree sunshine in Barcelona — the ball gripped.

An A1 boot.

The expert says: “A boot so close to perfection. It simply had everything and I never understood why they discontinued the CTR line. I was a midfielder in my academy days and seeing players like Cesc Fabregas in these made me absolutely need them. The comfort was unmatched and it’s still one of our most requested boots.” (Rietveld)

Best colourway: Red/white/black

Who wore them? Andres Iniesta, Jack Wilshere, Carlos Tevez, Sami Khedira

Tevez does his CTRs justice against Chelsea (Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Tevez, who loved a pair of CTRs, thumping a blistering shot past Petr Cech to score Manchester City’s second in a 2-0 win over Chelsea.

Adidas Predator LZ (2012)

“Lethal zones” reads the lettering (all lowercase, which troubles me more than it should) around the outside of the ankle collar on the inside of the boot.

Two years in the making and a product of input from both amateur and professional players, the Predator LZ boasted five “lethal zones” across a hybridtouch synthetic upper, which Adidas claimed to be lighter than leather, more durable and four times better at keeping water out.

The lethal zones were designed with different facets in mind: first touch, dribble, sweet spot, drive, and pass. Super-light rubber was used on the upper in a variety of ways — in some cases recessed and others raised — and this was also the first Predator boot that supported Adidas’ miCoach technology, where a chip could be inserted in the out-sole to gather physical performance data.

Unfortunately, the “speed cell” couldn’t count passes; Xavi completed 96/96 wearing these boots against PSG in a Champions League quarter-final.

The expert says: “Every new Predator release comes with certain performance expectations. Adidas’ introduction of five ‘lethal zones’ on the upper of the Predator LZ definitely caught attention when they were unveiled. In terms of performance, they were a delight to wear. The upper, made of synthetic but highly pliable material, provided the perfect base for creating a futuristic style boot, making it extremely fun to explore and maximising the potential of each zone.”

Best colourway: White/prime blue/yellow

Who wore them? Xavi, Steven Gerrard, Nani, Robin van Persie, Edin Dzeko, Angel di Maria, Ivan Rakitic

Xavi reels away after pinging one in off the bar against Granada (Josep Lago/AFP/GettyImages)

Iconic moment: Yes, Dzeko’s equaliser against QPR on the day Manchester City won their first Premier League title was huge, but we’ve got a Xavi crush going on here. The magician’s sensational goal against Granada at the Nou Camp in 2012 (shots that go in off the underside of the bar always look so much better) comes out on top.

Asics DS Light X-Fly K (2012)

(Soccercleats101/Bryan Byrne)

Where have you been, Asics?

Those Testimonials with the big white fold-over tongue in the 1990s were gorgeous. Indeed, Asics football boots were worn by some big names during that era, including Franco Baresi, Gianluca Vialli and — their English poster boy and former Manchester United winger — Lee Sharpe.

Finding a professional footballer wearing the DS Light X-Fly K was nothing like as easy. That’s less a reflection of the quality of this lightweight speed-boot but more a sign of how Nike and Adidas came to dominate the market and the reality that Asics had long ceased to be regarded as a serious player.

The DS Light X-Fly K (a more catchy name might help) was available in kangaroo leather or synthetic and the ankle collar was lined in suede — there’s a material we don’t see used enough in football boots. Although the style of stitching across the forefoot looked slightly odd, the boot earned positive reviews for its comfort and fit.

The expert says: “What makes these boots more unique is that they have never really garnered much mainstream attention, mainly due to limited promotion by Asics. Yet their quality is exceptional — I still have and wear my original pair. The design features a luxurious k-leather upper with strategically placed stitching across the forefoot, enhancing both its look and function. The low-profile conical stud configuration further adds to their appeal, making these boots an absolute dream to wear.” (Byrne)

Best colourway: Yellow/purple

Who wore them? Thomas Piermayr

Thomas Piermayr had a spell under Terry Butcher at Inverness before signing for Colorado Rapids (Fred Kfoury III/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Don’t push your luck. The fact we discovered Piermayr wearing a pair for Colorado Rapids, after trawling the internet for hours on end, is enough.

Nike Hypervenom Phantom 1 (2013)

“The playing style of the Hypervenom is deadly agility and Neymar captures this in the best possible way.”

So said Denis Dekovic, senior design director at Nike at the time and the man behind the Hypervenom.

For Nike, this was a case of out with the old — the hugely popular T90 range — and in with the new. Less power and a bigger emphasis on movement, touch and feel. That shift was largely down to feedback from players, including Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar.

Indeed, when Nike met with Neymar in Brazil to discuss the boot, he explained how he used to spray his boots gold when he was a child. Cue the gold version that Nike released for the 2014 World Cup.

The Hypervenom upper was different. A lot different. A mesh-based version of NikeSkin reduced layers, delivering a closer relationship between the foot and ball. The upper was treated with ACC (come on, you know what that stands for by now), there was a shorter lacing system, and a compressed nylon soleplate with a split-toe design “which allows the first metatarsal to be activated quickly”.

No, that technology wouldn’t have helped Wazza in Euro 2004.

The expert says: “Nike decided to finish the T90 — my favourite silo – and I was gutted. But thankfully they replaced it with this boot, using a modernised version of ‘NikeSkin’ for a super soft and supple feel on foot. The release colourway ‘black/citrus orange’ is up there for me as the boot of the decade. Unfortunately, the Hypervenom silo went very downhill afterwards.” (Warren)

Best colourway: Black/citrus orange

Who wore them? Neymar, Paul Pogba, Rooney, Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski

Neymar notches for Brazil in 2014 (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Neymar equalising against Croatia in the opening game of the 2014 World Cup, which the hosts went on to win 3-1. Unfortunately, the gold pair Neymar wore in the knockout stage never brought him much luck — he was taken off on a stretcher in the quarter-final.

Nike Magista Obra 1 (2014)

A “sock boot?” The Magista Obra was groundbreaking. Four years in the making and launched by Andres Iniesta in Barcelona on the eve of the World Cup, the Magista Obra featured Flyknit technology in the form of a 3D textured honeycomb upper (think of a Crunchie chocolate bar) that had previously been used on running shoes, and a 0.1mm layer of NikeSkin melted over the top to insulate the boot (I wish I’d listened more in science).

But it was the Dynamic Fit Collar (DFC, obviously) that caused such a stir and had parents cursing everywhere as they tried to work out how to get similar designs on and off their child’s foot without turning the air blue and sending their back into spasm.

The collar gave the boot a snug all-in-one feel that was akin to putting your hand in a glove – “We’ve designed a shoe that feels like an extension of the player’s body,” Phil McCartney, vice president of sport performance footwear at Nike, explained – and the Magista Obra also delivered the winning goal in the World Cup final later that summer.

The expert says: “I truly don’t believe there is any other boot technology as significant as what the Nike Magista Obra introduced. Knit materials paved the way for a completely different method of creating football boots that had unparalleled comfort, performance, and feel. When I was growing up, I played barefoot or with socks in the backyard and knit is the only thing that comes close to that feeling for me. Once broken in, the boots felt like they were part of your leg.” (Cavanaugh)

Best colourway: Yellow/black/red

Who wore them? Andres Iniesta, Mario Gotze

Gotze scores to win the World Cup for Germany (Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Gotze bringing the ball down on his chest and swinging that brightly-coloured sock boot to score the winning goal in the World Cup final against Argentina. That boot, incidentally, was auctioned later that year and raised £1.6million for charity.

Nike Tiempo Legend 5 R10 “Touch of Gold” (2015)

What’s not to like? A white and gold signature boot that involves Ronaldinho and the Nike Tiempo range. Wait a minute, haven’t we seen and heard this before somewhere?

This “Touch of Gold” limited edition was released to mark the 10th anniversary of the iconic Nike Air Legend Tiempo 1 boot that Ronaldinho wore when he was playing one-twos with the crossbar back in the day.

Only 3,000 pairs of this tribute boot were made and they sold out instantly. In truth, they belonged on a mantelpiece in your sitting room rather than your feet, which made Nike’s Hypershield technology (stopped them from retaining water) fairly pointless unless you had a burst pipe at home.

In a variation from the standard Nike Tiempo Legend 5, the “Touch of Gold” featured a two-piece leather fold-over ‘R10’ embroidered tongue, complete with a velcro tab to hold it down, and a chrome-finish sole plate that was a work of art.

The expert says: “I don’t know what would possess Nike to create something so exceptionally beautiful, bring back the iconic Tiempo tongue, and make them in the Montebelluna factory. Wow. The Tiempo 5 standard model is my favourite-fitting Tiempo of all time and the silo just oozes class when paired with the R10 colourway. They look eerily similar to the Tiempo R10 from the mid-2000s as well — a football boot that flew under the radar a bit. If the ‘Touch of Golds” weren’t $2,000 on the resale market, I might just be wearing a pair right now.” (Cavanaugh)

Best colourway: White/metallic gold, naturally.

Who wore them? Ronaldinho and middle-aged men in their dreams.

Ronaldinho in action for Fluminense (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Ronaldinho sporting a pair for Fluminense against Atletico Mineiro in August 2015 and standing over a free kick in “David Seaman range”. No, he didn’t.

Nike Tiempo Legend 6 Totti x Roma (2017)

(Dutch Boot Collector/Wessel Rietveld)

Even the box they came in was gorgeous.

As Francesco Totti approached 25 years of service at AS Roma, Nike produced a limited edition boot that was an absolute stunner. Released on the eve of the Rome derby against Lazio in April 2017, Totti’s second signature boot was a tribute to the man who even has a fold-over tongue on his flip-flops.

This 2017 metallic gold plated/painted model was manufactured with the fold-over tongue and elasticated strap that Totti had custom-made on his previous Tiempos. Not just any tongue, though. It was embroidered with ‘aeterno’ (eternal) on the reverse (a bit like getting a tattoo on your backside – a lot of effort for something hardly anyone will see) and the Roman numeral ‘X’ on the top (Totti’s shirt number).

Each pair were individually numbered, Totti’s name was stamped onto the heel, and the boots were equipped with Nike’s ACC technology, which meant they gripped the ball even in the most miserable conditions. Hang on… please don’t tell me anyone bought these boots and actually wore them?

The expert says: “Limited to only 2,500 pairs worldwide and, aesthetically, my all-time favourite boot. Besides how beautiful they are and that classic fold-over tongue, they reflect an absolute hero: Francesco Totti. So definitely a pair that deserves a spot on the list.” (Rietveld)

Best colourway: Metallic gold (my dad had a Ford Capri in that colour in the 1980s)

Who wore them? Er, Totti.

Totti gets the bumps courtesy of his Roma team-mates (Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Totti’s last appearance for Roma, against Genoa at the Stadio Olimpico, when he came on as a substitute and there was barely a dry eye in the house. He also wore a pair in the Soccer Aid match this summer.

Nike Mercurial Vapor FlyKnit Ultra (2017)

(Soccercleats101/Bryan Byrne)

Love at first sight.

For those of a certain generation, this is arguably the most beautiful-looking Nike boot since the black and yellow Air Strike that Glenn Hoddle (Tottenham Hotspur) and comic-book hero Roy Race (Melchester Rovers) wore in the 1980s.

It would be fair to say boot materials have changed a little since then. Flyknit certainly wasn’t around and the only thing that weighed less than 170g on your feet in 1987 was a pair of socks.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, the Mercurial Vapor Flyknit Ultra brought together the best of two Nike boots: the Vapor and the Superfly. A single-piece, tightly-woven Flyknit upper, complete with “speed-ribs” that aided grip by being — to coin a phrase — a bit rough around the edges, and a low-cut ankle collar, combined to make this a unique speed boot.

As for the finish on the anatomical sole plate (designed to follow the natural shape of the foot and the same as the Vapor 11), only one word comes to mind: bling.

The expert says: “My first impressions of the FlyKnit Ultra in 2017 were ‘Goddamnit, another incredible Nike boot I don’t fit in’. I was wrong. Despite being based on the legendary Vapor 11 Elite, the incredible Ultra technology of the knit upper allows a wide variety of foot shapes to fit inside. I’m sure that some of the tech in these boots still exists in the current Nike Phantom GX with their GripKnit upper. The FlyKnit Ultra represents an amalgamation of technology perfectly crafted to suit the performance and comfort needs of the highest level athletes while giving something for aspiring pros to work towards.” (Cavanaugh)

Best colourway: Black/metallic gold

Who wore them? Eden Hazard, Luka Modric, Kevin Friend

(Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Ironic moment: Kevin Friend rocking a pair at St Mary’s in November 2017 while refereeing Southampton v Everton in the Premier League. The game’s gone, son.

Nike Phantom Venom (2019) 

Brace yourself.

“We teamed up with our research lab to utilize a robotic leg to test strikes from a variety of angles with urethane injected ‘blades’ across the instep,” Jeongwoo Lee, senior design Director for Nike, said.

The lab data informed Nike’s thinking around the exact specifications of the Precision Pwr (that’s not a typo) strike zone, which was partly inspired by the grooves on a face of a golf club (a ready-made excuse, if ever there was one, for anyone shanking a shot). The 13 polyurethane “blades”, or ridges, were designed to help you do all kinds of things when striking a ball — swerve, control, power etc (forgive an old-fashioned take here, but there really is no substitute for practising).

The rest — ACC technology, partial lace cover, hyper-reactive sole-plate, Flyknit upper, Flywire cables, asymmetrical lacing, honeycomb micro-texture for greater control — ticks every modern football boot box going. Oh, one more: it also comes with anti-clog technology, which means mud doesn’t stick to the sole plate.

Leaving any technological cynicism aside, the boot is a beauty and the “novo white” colourway is gorgeous.

The expert says: “CTR mixed with T90 vibes in this silo for me when on foot, which was a winner straight away. Laces half covered meaning enlarged strike zone. Flyknit on the inside for pure comfort and lockdown on foot. A real future classic. The more time goes on, the more these will be appreciated.” (Warren)

Best colourway: Metallic bomber grey/black/particle grey

Who wore them? Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Robert Lewandowski

Lampard goes all white on the night (Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Iconic moment: Frank Lampard sporting a triple white pair on the training ground in his first stint as Chelsea manager. What on earth would Sir Alex say?