Nike Mercurial

Evolution of the Cleat

Rule #13 of the English Football Association, implemented in 1863, states: “no one wearing projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha on the soles of his boots is allowed to play.”

Even in the earliest days of soccer, players were constantly looking for ways to get better traction on the field. Many of them, unfortunately, proved to be a bit dangerous to other players. This led to the FA outlawing outsoles embellishments.  That ban changed in the late 1880s when less-dangerous leather “cleats” began to make an appearance. These enhancements were often in the form of leather bars nailed to the thick outsole of what were essentially everyday work boots. The Football Association addressed the use of studs in its 1891 rulebook. The rule stated that any studs must be “made of leather and not project more than half an inch, their fastenings must be driven in flush with leather.”

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A big advancement in cleat technology in took place in 1954, when adidas founder Adi Dassler introduced screw-in studs on the shoes he supplied to the West German National Team at that year’s World Cup in Switzerland. Thanks to the innovation, the Germans were able to adapt their shoes to the conditions of the field (longer studs for mud, etc.). They went on to win that tournament with an upset of Hungary in the Final –some say thanks to their shoes.

The 1960s saw the advent of artificial grass fields. Traditional cleats could not dig in to this type surface so a new outsole was needed. A design incorporating many small rubbers cleats (instead of twelve or so longer and harder ones) was developed to provide better grip on the firm surface.

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With the introduction of bladed cleats in the 1990s, another big development in outsole appearance took place. Designed to improve stability when turning or pivoting, manufacturers claim that bladed soccer cleats are more efficient at gripping the turf. Recent years have also seen cleats in other shapes including triangles. Cleat choice really all comes down to personal preference and today it is common for shoes to use a combination of cleat designs on the same outsole.

In addition to increasing traction, outsoles have also evolved by becoming much lighter.  This has also helped player perfomance by virtue of reducing player fatigue. Some of the old boot-style cleats, like those seen in the image, weighed well over a pound each. On the other hand, the cutting-edge adidas F50 adizero TRX in the other image weighs in around 6 ounces. This is thanks to advancements in technology that have allowed new materials to be used in outsole construction. Instead of the layers of heavy, stiff leather used in early shoes, some of today’s highest-end offerings feature outsoles materials like carbon fiber, which is super strong and extremely lightweight. Outsoles continue to evolve and many developments have happened in just the last several years.

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What do you think the future holds for the soccer cleat?