Nike has made soccer moms across the world re-survey their bank balances with the unveiling of the snappily-named Mercurial Superfly Vapor II football boots, a new model incorporating technology that could minimize injury caused by moving from hard to soft ground.
The boots, introduced to the world by Cristiano Ronaldo at Battersea Power Station, look like most other ones Nike has released in recent times: super-lightweight, flashy colours, and more high-tech material than your average fighter plane.
But these boots have one crucial innovation that could make a genuine difference to footballers from the recreational to the elite level.
The studs, or 'cleats' as the Americans have affectionately re-named them, have what is called "Adaptive Traction Technology." So far, so similar, but this update is different.
The studs on the Vapor II act as normal studs on hard ground, but have internal pegs that can extend by up to 3mm in soft ground.
The way it works is remarkably simple: the sole contains a carbon fiber plate, which flexes to a different degree depending on the solidity of the ground. On hard ground, the plate doesn’t flex as much and so the studs keep their original shape. But on soft ground, the plate flexes and pushes the cores out.
There is a transparent coating on the outside of the sole which stretches and contracts as the mechanism works, allowing the pegs the space to extend and return. The coating also keeps rain, mud, and grass away from the mechanism.
Whilst this all sounds a bit like ad-speak, there is a real physiological benefit. By introducing a reactive stud that can alter not only from match to match but from step to step, these boots can allow more grip on soft turf and a less dangerous size on a hard pitch.
Therefore, there would theoretically be less chance of rolling your ankle on a frozen patch when large studs are dangerous, but also equally little chance of slipping and twisting a knee on a soft pitch that could cut up during the game.
It all sounds very promising, but will 3mm be enough to make any discernible difference? Current studs for different pitches vary more in shape and material than length, so Nike’s direction is relatively new in this way.
Player-turned-boot-designer Craig Johnston said last year that more research needed to be put into studs to avoid injuries such as strained ligaments and broken metatarsals.
Whilst these boots might not be a full solution, at least it is a start. It also goes some way to demonstrating that major kit manufacturers are taking the issue of persistent injury seriously.
Who knows, maybe this type of technology could save Wayne Rooney from a broken foot in the World Cup?
This article was written by Jon Naylor for Half Volley, the half-sport, half-science website.
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