‘100% LE­GAL, 0% FAIR’

Fifteen years af­ter the first Adi­das Preda­tor model ceased to ex­ist, the iconic footwear will re­turn with a mod­ern twist. But how did the orig­i­nals be­come the best-sell­ing range of foot­ball boots in history?

FourFourTwo - - THE ORIGINS - Words Alec Fenn

David Beck­ham was jeal­ous. It was the sum­mer of 1994 and a pack­age had just ar­rived at Manch­ester United’s train­ing ground, but it wasn’t for him. It was ad­dressed to Gary Neville and con­tained a pair of boots... but they were no or­di­nary boots. They had rubber fins, de­signed to help play­ers put ad­di­tional swerve on the ball. Af­ter watch­ing his team-mate wear­ing them in train­ing, Becks took them for a test drive by whip­ping count­less free-kicks to­wards goal. The 19-year-old de­cided he sim­ply had to get his own pair and, with the as­sis­tance of his grand­fa­ther, wrote Adi­das a letter ask­ing if they’d send him some. They obliged, and it was there that Beck­ham’s love af­fair with the Adi­das Preda­tor be­gan.

The orig­i­nal de­sign was the brain­child of ex-liver­pool mid­fielder Craig John­ston. He had at­tached the rubber from ta­ble ten­nis bats to boots us­ing an elas­tic band, to help the chil­dren he was coach­ing con­trol the ball more eas­ily. He spent three years and worked on up to 100 de­signs be­fore ap­proach­ing boot man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing Adi­das, who all re­jected his novel con­cept. But his for­tunes changed when they re­ceived a nod of ap­proval from Bay­ern Mu­nich le­gends Franz Beck­en­bauer, Paul Bre­it­ner and Karl-heinz Rum­menigge. He sent a video of the West Ger­many trio sport­ing the footwear dur­ing train­ing to Adi­das, who promptly changed their minds and agreed to work with him on trans­form­ing his pro­to­type into the best-sell­ing range of boots in history.

But the Preda­tor was no overnight suc­cess. “The de­vel­op­ment of the boot was a long, hard slog over three or four years,” says Si­mon Skir­row, for­mer global head of Adi­das foot­ball. “There were lots of peo­ple at Adi­das who doubted the project’s va­lid­ity, but in the end the Preda­tor was the sin­gle big­gest in­no­va­tion and ad­vance­ment in sports footwear in decades.”

Rev­o­lu­tion­ary boots don’t come cheap, though, and Adi­das made the bold move to make them the first pair ever priced at more than £100. “Peo­ple were will­ing to pay be­cause they were so dif­fer­ent to

any­thing else on the mar­ket and were part of many iconic foot­ball mo­ments,” ex­plains Adi­das’ vice pres­i­dent of de­sign, Sam Handy.

The Preda­tor was launched in 1994, ac­com­pa­nied by the ad­vert ‘100% le­gal, 0% fair’, and be­came syn­ony­mous with play­ers such as Beck­ham, Zine­dine Zi­dane and Alessan­dro Del Piero. “The 1998 pair were my favourite – they looked the best on the field,” said for­mer Eng­land cap­tain Beck­ham. “There’s a great pic­ture of me af­ter the 1999 Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal, sat in the mid­dle of the Camp Nou with my boot rest­ing on top of the tro­phy. It was a spe­cial mo­ment and a spe­cial boot.”

Var­i­ous re­makes of the orig­i­nal red, black and white model were re­leased un­til 2002, when the rubber fins were re­moved, al­though mod­ern ver­sions of the Preda­tor were pro­duced up un­til 2015 when its 21-year run came to an end. News of its sud­den death sparked a so­cial me­dia out­cry, with grown men us­ing cry­ing emoji faces as a chap­ter of their youth seemed set to dis­ap­pear.

But why, given its suc­cess, did Adi­das opt to get rid of their iconic boot? A state­ment re­leased with the an­nounce­ment ex­plained how a shift in tac­tics and play­ing style had prompted the de­ci­sion. “The game has changed over the years,” it read. “The po­si­tions, traits and at­tributes that mat­tered be­fore are ir­rel­e­vant now. There is a new set of rules. For­get ev­ery­thing you thought you knew about foot­ball. The fu­ture is now and Adi­das is lead­ing from the front.”

The fu­ture was a new breed of light­weight, lace­less boots, which would bet­ter suit the brand’s big­gest stars and the break­neck speed of the mod­ern game. The the­ory was that play­ers like Li­onel Messi, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez needed a shoe that would com­ple­ment their blis­ter­ing pace and fast feet, rather than the pure ball-strik­ing qual­i­ties pos­sessed by David Beck­ham and Steven Ger­rard – the two poster boys of the Adi­das Preda­tor range.

A video fea­tur­ing a host of Adi­das’ top tal­ent out­lined the shift in de­sign and launched a new motto: ‘Rev­o­lu­tion, over evo­lu­tion.’ The Preda­tor was dead, or at least that’s what peo­ple thought. Be­hind the scenes, a di­a­logue be­gan amongst Adi­das de­sign­ers re­gard­ing a pos­si­ble re­birth of the boot in the fu­ture and a new de­sign, which would marry past and present.

In Septem­ber, Beck­ham un­veiled a lim­ited edi­tion and remastered ver­sion of his beloved 1998 Preda­tor Ac­cel­er­a­tor. It paid homage to the orig­i­nal, fea­tur­ing the un­mis­tak­able fins and iconic stripes, while in­cor­po­rat­ing the Primeknit tech­nol­ogy which has been used on the brand’s most re­cent boots.

But that wasn’t all. Adi­das had also been work­ing on a top-se­cret project – the Preda­tor 18 – which has been tested and en­dorsed by Paul Pogba and Me­sut Özil, plus am­a­teur foot­ballers across Europe. “We think it has the po­ten­tial to be an iconic boot,” pre­dicts Handy.

Becks will be jeal­ous that he won’t be wear­ing them.


Left Ince, Beck­ham and Le Saux were pro­jected onto Dover’s white cliffs prior to France 98 Above

left Ex-liver­pool player John­ston con­ceived the orig­i­nal de­sign by us­ing ta­ble ten­nis bat rubber

Top Becks shows off his favourite Preda­tor ever

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