Andy Caine works for Nike. He's in charge of taking football boots from sketches on a piece of paper to the feet of the best players on the planet. Those coloured boots Ronaldo wore way back at France 1998? Andy's idea. At the launch of Cristiano Ronaldo's latest Mercurial Vapor Superfly III ball-kickers in Madrid, we asked Andy pretty much everything you've ever wanted to know about Nike boots. Read on.
Andy you designed your first Nike Mercurial in 1998, is there a point at which you just have to start again?
Yes, sometimes a clean slate is better. It’s just a matter of when that moment comes. The way we’re working at the moment is constant flow, it’s a very fluid process, so there're all sorts of things happening at different times. It’s an exciting time.
Who's the most helpful when it comes to feedback?
Cristiano’s been one of the more pivotal for feedback. Drogba’s been good. Theo Walcott’s been very useful, as has Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But on the Mercurial in particular Crisitano has been very interesting with his approach. He’s got ideas that are bigger than just details, they're almost concepts of what could be improved. He pushes pretty hard. Form the point of view of a design team and product creation team, that’s very exciting.
What's been the most pivotal moment working on the boots?
Well if you think of the CTR line [as worn by Spain's Andres Iniesta when he notched the winner in the World Cup final, below], that was a real 'Ah-ha!' moment. We’d been researching players in different positions and how they play and how the game’s changing, looking at Barcelona players and looking at Arsenal players. Then we realised that the most frequent thing that happens in a game is simply passing the ball, and yet no-one had really looked at that! It’s quite amazing really, that nobody had created product solutions to enhance passing.
Why do Nike boots feel so tough when you pick them up?
There're two things here. Football’s mostly about sprint play, so the sole plate’s made of carbon fibre which actually processes a response and enhances speed. Using the composite materials means the player can get lower to the ground. The lower you are to the ground the more stable you are and the quicker you can be. The idea of the Mercurial is of a second skin, so it’s symbiotic to the body and that’s the vision. I think in the future we’re really going to go in that direction.
Why don't you make the Mercurials out of leather?
Leather weighs more and our approach is that weight is a component of being fast. But the bigger picture is that it’s not about being the lightest, it’s about being the right weight in a complete package. To be fast, the most important thing is traction. If you’re an attacker and you slip, the defender gets the ball. If you’re a defender, the attacker can be through on goal. At any level of football, if you slip you’re going to lose the ball. Sure, there’s been a trend of lightweight boots, but that’s not the only thing that’s driving it.
But is there a danger of sacrificing speed for control?
Well yes, then there’s touch. There are different perceptions of what touch is. Personally, I prefer leather touch, but that’s a personal choice and I think it’s important to offer breadth of choice, because many Mercurial wearers actually prefer the synthetic touch. We’ve different boots depending on preference, style of play and position, so it will be interesting to see how the game and our approach evolves.
How do you feel when you see players wearing the wrong type of boot? For example, why does Rio Ferdinand wear a T90? Shouldn't he be wearing a Tiempo boot like Gerard Piqué ?
I think that comes down to style choices. There’s also, particularly in footballers, a sense that some players just want that
boot. But that’s the question I get asked most frequently, ‘What’s the best boot for my position?' We’ve done quite a few online chats on Facebook and that’s a dominant question. Now, with the individual players aligning much more with our specific boot styles, it’s becoming easier for players to know instinctively what they should be wearing.
Is one of the problems that people decide on the colourway they want before the boot, so they’re making a style choice, not a football one?
Yes, the second biggest question we get is about colour. Colour and Nike have been an interesting and powerful driving force. The Mercurial was the one that introduced colour to football boots. We had the chrome, blue and yellow boots at the World Cup in 1998 which [the original] Ronaldo wore, then the colour-shifting boots in 2002. We did the European Championships with the brown and the blue bottoms, then the pink boot with Bendtner and the 2010 World Cup was a big colour moment too. I think there’re a lot of ways colour can be used. What we see now is a little bit of style choice through colour, but over time that will change. A player comes to learn which boot is right for him. We’re a long way from where we were five years ago.
What’s been your favourite colourway over the years?
Funnily enough, one of the favourites was the European Championships - the brown with the blue sole plate release we did in 2002. That was something that nobody expected. That and the pink boot were pretty remarkable. We showed it to a few players, then Theo Walcott said, "Oh you should have shown that to Bendtner." And we’d just spoken to him but didn’t dare show him! We showed a lot of kids in London and there was one who just said, “That’s my boot.” It’s not for everyone, but pink boots are kind of accepted now. The way we’ve spoken to youth culture in football has been impressive, seeing how youth culture adapts and changes and bringing the football element to that.
Are there any plans to expand the personalisation elements of the boots?
I think that’s where we’re going. Everything in youth culture has a strong strain of personalisation, from clothes to phones to tattoos, so at some point that’s going to need to be a realistic thing in the sports world. It will take a bit of a shift in the way things are set up, but in Portland, where I live, it’s the tattoo city of America. It’s very visible.
We spoke to Andy Caine at the launch of the Cristiano Ronaldo CR7 Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly III, which is the longest name for a football boot, like, ever. It looks like this: