Last week in Barcelona, Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta unveiled Nike’s first football boot built with Flyknit, the Magista. Two years after the technology was introduced in running, and several months after its incorporation in basketball with the Kobe 9, Flyknit finds footing in soccer and gives the game a distinctive new silhouette. Most obviously, the boot rises above the ankle. The design, aided by the mutability of the component threads, is certainly eye catching.

The Magista is also designed specifically for the needs of all-field, creative players like Iniesta. The idea is simple, if not seemingly contradictory: slow down the game so that it may be played faster. To that end, the Magista brings the foot closer to the ball and functions in greater concert with the uniform as a whole. The boot proposes to offer superior lock-down—supporting 360 degree motion—and the most efficient ball control possible, thanks to a three dimensional structuring of the knit. In all, the Magista is the result of four years of research and development in effort to change the fit, feel, and control promised by a football boot.

Martin Lotti, Nike’s Creative Director of Global Football, spoke to Sneaker Report about the athlete-driven development of the Magista and how the boot fits into the brand’s larger efforts toward sustainability.

How does the Magista reflect what footballers are looking for in a boot?
When you push innovation to that level, it takes a little bit of time. It is literally a four-year process. At the end of the last World Cup, we were beginning to think about 2014…just as we are now starting to think about the next Cup in Russia…and there is always a four step forward, three step backward process. We learn from our mistakes, and what worked and didn’t work. That is what innovation is.

In regards to athlete insights, there is not a project we start without listening to the athlete. In fact, there will not be a meeting with our co-founder, Phil Knight, where he won’t remind us to “listen to the athlete.” That helps us to keep grounded, not to chase the latest trends, and have the opportunity to set trends instead. Pushing in areas that seem, at first, crazy. But, at the same time, pushing towards things that are the right thing to do, because we are solving athlete needs.

In this one, in particular, we looked at Iniesta, and his playing style. He is an aggressive playmaker. How do we solve for this player? Specifically, what the athletes were telling us was, “I want to feel the shoe disappear.” It was like, “give me a sock with studs.” That gave us a North Star of where to go. That was easier said than done because, of course, we were still trying to do it with the existing method of make. That wasn’t really a good solution. Only when we had Flyknit available to us was it possible to go to the shape and form of what Magista ultimately landed.

Ironically, speaking of traditional football boots, these were ¾ cut. They all went low cut, so we are essentially going back to the heritage of an authentic football boot.

The collar also mimics, to a degree, the ankle strap many will be familiar with in shin guards.
You’re right, how does this become a system between shoe, sock, shin guard, and looking all the way up to the shorts and top, seeing this as an entire holistic uniform? The goal was truly…and this is where the glove analogy works quite nicely, the collar of a glove extends beyond just the hand to become an extension to the body. That’s where the insights came from. And, obviously, we create a striking new silhouette for the game as well.

Thinking about the uniform system holistically, Nike has been engaged for some time in recyclable fabrics for kit design. How does the Magista help to complete a system of sustainability for football?
If you look at a traditional shoe, how it is built, you cut one piece out at a time and everything around it becomes waste. Then you glue the pieces together. That is the traditional way of making shoes. When we started with Flyknit, years ago…we ultimately introduced Flyknit for the 2012 Olympics, we put the past aside and went directly from a spool to a shoe. There is no waste. There is a sustainability benefit, but also a performance benefit. We can now design down to the smallest millimeter. Areas you need stretch and support, you can go down to yarn level. Even in the smallest area, you can present exacting properties. Now you can even create mixtures of color. For designers, it is a whole new era and so much fun to play with.

The Magista was designed with creative midfielders in mind. Why choose to use only conical studs? The Tiempo V, for example, has a mixture of studs. How does the plate differ from more speed-driven designs, like the Hypervenom?
First, the studs themselves, as you mentioned, are 360-degree conical shapes. We looked at high-speed video of Iniesta, how he plays, and noticed the rotation of his movement required conical studs. When we designed the Hypervenom for Neymar, who is more of an agility player—quick cuts, left and right—we made a more aggressive stud pattern. For the Magista, we also lowered the center of gravity. The shoe is closer to the ground, helping with multi-directional moves.

There is an art to it, and a science to it. The Nike Sports Research Lab is in the same building as we are designing. We can iterate our ideas very quickly. It is like a playground for designers.

What about the three dimensionality of the knit, what does that do for the player?
When you look at a typical playmaker’s boot, you will see a lot of stuff stuck on the shoe. The boots have ball control elements that are additive. With the Magista, we are able to add it all into one surface, rather than through TPU pieces over a synthetic base. The key thing is to create the right amount of friction. We were obsessed with where the friction is placed to get the correct coefficient.

Nick Schonberger is Deputy Editor at Complex Media and a formerly a mediocre Water Polo player.

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