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.
“THERE IS A GREAT PICTURE OF ME AFTER WINNING THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IN 1999 WITH MY BOOT RESTING ON THE TROPHY”