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In the early 1990s, soccer cleat technology was stalled. Boots were heavy, leather monstrosities designed to prevent injury instead of facilitating the beautiful game. The last major revolution came almost four decades before when adidas founder Adi Dassler invented the screw-in spike. Craig Johnson, a South Africa-born, Australian-bred, English-educated former footballer, would change the game forever with a new design that became the Predator. But it wouldn't happen overnight.
Craig Johnson's Idea and Struggle
Johnson, a 5' 11" midfielder, appeared in 190 matches for Liverpool between 1981 and 1988 before retiring and returning to Australia to aid his ailing sister. It was Down Under where he stumbled upon his brilliant idea: use rubber, instead of leather, to build ridges on the top of the boot that would aid control. The inspiration came from a table tennis paddle. It took Johnson nearly half a decade to develop the shoe, and he needed video of German legend Franz Beckenbauer wearing the shoes in the snow to convince adidas to buy them, but the company relented. The rest is footballing history.
The first Predators debuted in 1994. The shoes, made in Germany, came only in black with white stripes and red accents. The word "Predator" featured prominently on the tongue. But it was the rubber ridges that were the revolution.
10 Percent More Powerful, 20 Percent More Swerve
The initial marketing campaign focused on the extra power the Predator generated, but adidas quickly changed the ads to highlight the control. Unlike a leather forefoot, the vulcanized rubber fins held onto the ball even in wet weather. (Hence the Beckenbauer in the snow video.) They did increase power, too. The choice was yours: Blast it or bend it like Beckham.
Popularity at the 1994 World Cup
The Predators were an immediate success. More than 60 percent of the players in the 1994 World Cup wore adidas, and the boot gained a following in the United States where the tournament was held. Soon, youth soccer fields across the country were dominated by Predators. (After the games, kids would kick off their cleats and don the already ubiquitous Adidas Samba.)
Best Selling Cleat of All Time
More than a decade and a half later, the Predator series is the best selling cleat of all time. (The inventor, however, hasn't been so lucky. Johnson filled for bankruptcy in 2004.) Earlier this year, adidas released the Predator LZ, the 12th version of the boot. The newest edition features five "lethal zones," designed to help a player improve all facets of his or her game. The underlying philosophy, however, hasn't changed: kick the ball hard, kick it with accuracy.