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After the 1994 World Cup, Nike exploded into the world of soccer. The brand was looking to improve on their standard Tiempo line and craft a cleat suited to their new poster boy, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima. Inspired by his explosive style and quick moves on the pitch, Nike designers took to the track.

Early concepts included a dissembled track spike on a Nike Tiempo upper, which resulted in unmatched weight reduction in a football boot. This concept ultimately delivered a game-changing boot in the original Mercurial, which has since spawned a line of innovative and revolutionary products over the past 16 years.

The Mercurial line has seen a vast number of changes and a bucket load of bright ideas since it started all the way back in the late 90’s. With Ronaldo's help, the success of a "speed boot" has been realized through his career so far and the legacy that will follow.

Take a look back at every generation of Mercurial and how it reacts on pitch, what it feels like on foot and ultimately what has been the best boot so far.

Jorma Seabourne is a UK-based freelance writer that specializes in football (soccer) history. When he isn't writing about his hero Ronaldo, you can find him kicking around the pitch or sitting in a sunny spot Blue Moon in hand. Follow him on Instagram / Twitter.

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Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 23 - Superfly II 

Release Year: 2010
Product Code: 396127
Weight (US9): 221g (7.8oz)
Key Facts: Full length Flywire, Carbon Soleplate, NikeSense Stud
Price: £275/$400
Colorways: 8

The Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly II was the second generation of Nike's Superfly series, inspired by the cheetah and influenced by insights from Cristiano Ronaldo. The Superfly II set a new bar in terms of price, it incorporated a greater level of Flywire in the upper for added stability and support while also boasting a carbon fiber soleplate for added spring and lower weight for maximum speed. The flywire threads incorporated into the upper creates a suspension bridge-like stability and lockdown for the foot.

Nike also changed the stud configuration and introduced the NikeSense stud, an adaptive stud that extended and by up to 3mm based on pressure and ground conditions, providing a base for optimum speed and stability in all directions. Finally the upper was a Teijin OLM15 synthetic that was a mere 1.5mm thick to compliment the speed and touch theme whilst encapsulating an impact pad on the top on the tongue to prevent injury.

Unfortunately it wasn’t a great boot to play in and took quite a while to break in, blisters were notorious and the Sense stud wasn’t as effective as first hoped. The extra Flywire in the upper should have been of benefit but the boot felt cumbersome and didn’t encapsulate the essence of mercurial……..speed.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 22 - Superfly III 

Release Year: 2011
Product Code: 441972
Weight (US9): 221g (7.8oz)
Key Facts: Full length Flywire, Carbon Soleplate, NikeSense Stud
Price: £280/$400
Colorways: 9

The Superfly III wasn’t a drastic change over its predecessor, it was slightly streamlined but more of a color update whilst utilizing a swoosh and colored rim on the soleplate. The Superfly III's bold color placement at the rear of the boot and overall color combinations expanded on the 2010 World Cup concept of visual acuity.

The key messages were still based around the Nike SenseStud and toe-off traction reducing the risk of slipping, while a tri-blade configuration maximized speed during directional changes.

The boot was very similar to wear to the Superfly II, ever so slightly more comfortable but not as good as it was on paper. The highlight from this range for me was the all Volt colorway, it was epic and a real head turner.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 21 – Vapor VI 

Release Year: 2010
Product Code: 396125
Weight (US9): 235g (8.2oz)
Key Facts: Glass fiber soleplate, lace cover
Price: £150/$240
Colorways: 8

The Vapor VI maintained the popular lace cover from the Vapor IV and V although it was slightly reduced in size. Nike continued relying on the strength of their synthetic Teijin Leather for the Upper, but reverted back to the old days by bonding the plate to the upper and not using an internal chassis as the previous 3 generations had. Unfortunately in this case even though the glass fiber plate itself was good, how it married to the upper and the overall thickness of the upper wasn’t great. It just felt as though there wasn’t much control over the ball and even though it might not have been thicker in the literal sense it certainly felt that way. The hollowed out studs were a standout feature of the Mercurial Vapor VI, decreasing weight but maintaining structural integrity and there was also a friction boosting area for acceleration to compliment the glass fiber plate.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 20 – Vapor VII 

Release Year: 2011
Product Code: 441976
Weight (US9): 235g (8.2oz)
Key Facts: Glass fiber soleplate, lace cover
Price: £150/$240
Colorways: 9

The Vapor VII continued in the same vein as the Vapor VI, same glass fiber plate, which visually looked great but the boot as a whole just didn’t knit for me. The Vapor VII introduced a lower toe box which definitely was a positive over the VI and the Hi-vis graphics on the heel, which were neither here nor there for me. The boot wasn’t bad, there were just much better vapor before this and big changes after this which reflects the Vapor line had saturated at this point in time.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 19 – Vapor V 

Release Year: 2009
Product Code: 354555
Weight (US9): 230g (8.1oz)
Key Facts: Lace Cover, internal glass fiber soleplate, Teijin upper
Price: £130/$220
Colorways: 7

The Vapor V continued in the same vein to the Vapor IV, although it incorporated some elements of Flywire that the statement Superfly had introduced. This created a slightly tighter fit around the midfoot but probably due to the Superfly launch the Vapor V was pushed to one side. The Teijin upper and lace cover continued as well as the internal glass fiber soleplate with direct injected studs.

The boot wasn’t particularly a hit but it wasn’t bad any means a bad boot it just lacked anything drastically new, and whilst the Superfly took all of the glory this Vapor was mediocre. Blisters were still a mild issue and the colorways weren’t anywhere near as good as the Vapor IV’s.

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Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 18 – Air Zoom Mercurial VT 

Release Year: 2001
Product Code: 117401
Weight (US9): 315g (11.1oz)
Key Facts: Mixed stud soleplate (variable turf), full length zoom air unit, touch coated upper.
Price: £110 approx.
Colorways: 2

A forgotten concept of innovation and piece of the Mercurial timeline. The Air Zoom Mercurial had all of the attributes to be a star, it included Nikes first ever mixed soleplate (metal & rubber, screw-in and fixed) which they called VT for Variable Turf. The studs were also unique in their triangular shape and had a specific stud tool to remove them. The bladed fixed elements of the stud pattern took inspiration from the Match Mercurials SpeedTract plate as did the uppers shape and color areas.

It was relatively heavy by Mercurial standards and it was a cross breed between a Match Mercurial and the Air Zoom Total 90 boot of the same era. The boot only ever came in two colorways, the Black/Pearl/Copper shown in the picture above and Black/Silver/Hyper Blue.

This boot should have been so much better than it was, it felt a bit ‘thick’ on pitch with the air units, even though it had the great Match Mercurial last, and with minimal marketing/on pitch presence the concept soon died off soon to be replaced by something even more innovative in the Vapor.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 17 – Vapor IV SL

Release Year: 2008
Product Code: 318280
Weight (US9): 210g (7.4oz)
Key Facts: First utilization of the carbon soleplate, altered stud configuration, teijin upper, lace cover
Price: £190/$275
Colorways: 5 Official (5 others made but not officially released)

The Mercurial Vapor IV SL truly brought the carbon fiber soleplate to the wider market continuing on from the Mercurial SL concept. The stealthy plate also contained one less stud that the standard Vapor IV underneath the big toe knuckle.

In a revamp from the Vapor III, the Teijin upper now covered the laces, offering an uninterrupted shooting surface, and allowed for a bold lateral Swoosh. Striking colorways continued through onto this SL version although some were reserved to the pro-players such as Berry/White, Ice White/Blue and E8 Cinder/Blue to name a few.

Opinions were divided on this, undoubtedly the carbon plate looked amazing especially due to the carbon exterior heel counter but the plate was so stiff that foot cramping was common. The lockdown of the boot was amazing which suited some and not others, mainly due to the poron heel inserts causing blistering to the point some users cut them out by hand.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 16 – Mercurial SL

Release Year: 2008
Product Code: 317717
Weight (US9): 190g (6.7oz)
Key Facts: Complete Carbon Fiber Upper, Carbon fiber soleplate, limited to 2008 pairs FG and 500 pairs SG
Price: £250/$350
Colorways: 1

When footwear designer Mark Parker become CEO of Nike in January 2006, he challenged every design team within the company to create something outrageous, with no design limitation, and invited a re-imagining of the meaning of innovation in performance footwear. A decade after Mercurial changed football footwear, the Mercurial SL went back to its track spike roots and became a concept from which the foundations of future innovations could grow.

The Mercurial SL was constructed entirely out of carbon fiber. With the upper crafted in Italy, the plate engineered in Germany, and the outsole built in South Korea, the Mercurial SL was a boot way ahead of its time and the first boot ever to feature a full carbon fiber upper.

Cristiano Ronaldo debuted the boots in the Champions League Final of 2008 in Moscow and the boots were subsequently released in limited quantities (2008 Firm Ground/500 Soft Ground Variants). The boots were individually numbered, they arrived in a numbered matt black box with sleeve, individual dust bags and numbered information card.

The boots were more of a design concept piece than a boot to wear week in week out. They were extremely thin and actually pretty comfortable especially due to the external heel counter but durability was the main problem on the upper. The boot will go down in history though especially for its innovation and subtle pink flash for a swoosh on the outer foot which has continued through many generations since to current day.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 15 – Superfly I

Release Year: 2008
Product Code: 396127
Weight (US9): 185g (6.5oz)
Key Facts: Introduction of Flywire, Carbon Soleplate, new stud pattern, new tongue
Price: £225/$300
Colorways: 7

Nike produced its lightest and fastest boot at the time in 2008. The running theme of Mercurial, unparalleled speed on pitch was revolutionized yet again. Nike Flywire, engineered for lightweight support and fresh off its debut in the Beijing Olympics, was inherent to its design. Like the Mercurial SL before it, the Mercurial Vapor Superfly drew from cutting-edge track spikes.

A composite upper package using an ultra-thin Teijin skin exterior and Flywire threads locked the foot in place. This finely tuned shell ensured the best possible fit, and an uncompromised feel on the ball. The new lightweight stud configuration and a carbon fiber plate shaved precious weight from the boot, and a seven-layer carbon outsole delivered maximum durability and flexibility.

Nike had once again pushed the boundaries, so the boot utilized a new name, Superfly. While the rest of the Mercurial iterations continued, Superfly became the highest expression of the Mercurial idea — the lightest and fastest.

The boots were shipped with their own dust bags akin to a high end shoemaker and continuing on from the Mercurial SL. They arrived in a new Silver box with sleeve bearing the newly designed Mercurial logo.

The boots were so incredibly innovative but did carry a price tag to suit. After a slightly false start in which the launch colorway was recalled due to some technical issues regarding upper adhesion, the boots were a hit with many Mercurial users. The main reason for this was the Superfly re-engineering the soleplate so it wasn’t quite so stiff but at the same time staying true to its roots in an extremely thin re-designed upper, taking inspiration from the original Mercurial Vapor.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 14 – Vapor IX 

Release Year: 2013
Product Code: 555605
Weight (US9): 190g (6.7oz)
Key Facts: All Conditions Control (ACC), Speed Control Texture, Glass fiber soleplate
Price: £150/$250
Colorways: 22

The ninth generation of the Mercurial Vapor continued on from the simplicity and success of the Vapor VIII where it set about combining Touch, Fit and Traction. The upper of the Nike Mercurial Vapor IX featured a combination of All Conditions Control (ACC) taken from the latter half of the Vapor VIII’s lifetime, and Speed Control Texture which was in essence a dimpled texture to the upper. This helped to provide friction against the ball whilst maintaining a soft touch. The Mercurial Vapor IX incorporated a lightweight two piece glass fiber soleplate for increased flexibility and twin studs with asymmetrical configuration offering ultra-responsive acceleration and traction in all directions.

The boot also came in a leather like Teijin upper finish for some colorways as an alternative to the speed control texture which gave the player the choice which he would prefer.

The Vapor IX came in an unprecedented amount of colorways (22 by my count) with a relatively long life span by modern standards. There were also plenty of special/limited editions including 2 extremely limited Cristiano Ronaldo releases (100 pairs each), a 15th Anniversary boot in an updated version of the original 1998 Mercurial colorway and a numbered Tropical pack. The boot was well respected by players, the FG plate was sturdy yet flexible although the only mixed reaction was around the two stud heel. It’s generally very unusual for an SG-pro plate to have more studs than the FG plate, and in my opinion the SG-pro plate was a great success continuing on from the Vapor VIII’s lead.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 13 – Vapor IV 

Release Year: 2008
Product Code: 317727
Weight (US9): 230g (8.1oz)
Key Facts: Lace Cover, internal glass fiber soleplate, Teijin upper, bold colors
Price: £120/$200
Colorways: 10

The Mercurial Vapor IV took the baton from the Mercurial SL, bringing aerodynamic sprint spike looks to the football pitch. The boot continued with a Teijin upper and for the first time a lace cover was introduced, offering an uninterrupted clean shooting surface and creating a new silhouette.

The internal chassis took its platform from the Vapor III and enhanced it, the full wrap of upper created a great aesthetic as well as the multi-faceted colorways the Vapor IV landed in. The plate was constructed of a glass fiber, and allowed for a degree of flex whilst being very stiff and impactful from the start. The stud pattern remained the same as the Vapor III which always popular with players. The heel cup was deepened and the poron inserts softened to create a great lockdown which wouldn’t cause blisters. This wasn’t always the case, but varied from player to player, although for me it was an improvement from the Vapor III’s heel cup. The toe box didn’t feel as solid and high as the III’s which helped but some areas of the boot were quite unforgiving and hard on your feet. The only final change was to remove the small fold over tongue which had graced the last 3 generations of Mercurial in a slightly bold step.

Again continuing on from its predecessor the Mercurial Vapor IV was colored in some very bold colors notably the launch Orange Peel and limited edition Berry Rosa for the ultra-flamboyant.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 12 – Vapor IV K 

Release Year: 2008
Product Code: 317727
Weight (US9): 240g (8.5oz)
Key Facts: K leather upper, Niketown only, only 2 colorways
Price: £200
Colorways: 2

In a special edition not known by many, Niketown London offered a K leather variant of the Vapor IV in two colorways Black with a white swoosh and White with a black swoosh. Both colorways were available in FG and SG soleplates but were only available to purchase at Niketown London through their Boot Room.

I have never played in these boots although I have tried them on and kicked a ball in them. The upper was buttery soft and only enhanced the more than decent Vapor IV, this coupled with a slightly softer insole created a much more comfortable experience on pitch.

The basic nature of the colorways also added something classic to this sought after beauty.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 11 – Vapor VIII 

Release Year: 2012
Product Code: 509136
Weight (US9): 185g (6.5oz)
Key Facts: Twin Stud heel, fiberglass soleplate, 1.2mm upper, reduced toe box, ACC
Price: £150/$250 (ACC £155)
Colorways: 6

The Mercurial Vapor VIII was the first generation since Vapor III to be a standalone pure Vapor as a statement boot. There was no SL edition, no Superfly and it took Vapor back to being pure again.

The weight was stripped back to 185g, last seen on the Mercurial SL and Superfly 1. A new flexible fiberglass soleplate was introduced to the line, the studs were tapered to ensure quick in and out traction whilst a central stud was engineered to boost acceleration. The major change and break from the norm was a twin stud heel as opposed to the usual 4.

The toe was lowered and a more sculpted arch changed the fit of the boot around the foot and followed its natural lines. The Teijin microfiber upper was reduced to 1.2mm and its suede-like finish increased touch and control with a barefoot feel and incorporated a softer heel to minimize distraction.

The launch colorway, which was an unmistakable Mango, to this day is still coveted. Nike’s latest technology, ACC (All conditions control) was first introduced part way through the Vapor VIII line for Pro players at Euro 2012. After its successful introduction it was then utilized on the final colorways after the tournament beginning with the Retro/Challenge Red/Orange. Only 6 colorways were produced in the Vapor VIII which when looking back always seems a major shame.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 10 – Vapor K 

Release Year: 2003
Product Code: 302723
Weight (US9): 220g (7.8oz)
Key Facts: K Leather upper, Pebax soleplate, US release only
Price: $150
Colorways: 2

Running off the back of the major Nike Vapor I innovation, as a US release only Nike decided to launch a Vapor K, which was a K leather upper on the Vapor I last and soleplate. The first colorway was a classic, Black with a white swoosh, and although the upper featured stitching and a slightly smaller swoosh the general fit was similar.

The upper wasn’t as soft as it should have been, it was not as refined as the Vapor I probably due to the amount of engineering time spent on this in comparison to the lead models NikeSkin upper. The fit and plate were still great though and utilized the famous Vapor silhouette. The second edition was even better featuring a slightly revised heel cup and a beautiful Pearly White upper with a black swoosh.

The idea was brilliant and I’m sure it was done to appease the ‘synthetic haters’/’leather lovers’ back in 2003. It probably wasn’t executed as well as it could have been and the upper did feel slightly more padded than the original Vapor but I’m sure it will go down in Mercurial history as something very unique.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 9 – Vapor III 

Release Year: 2006
Product Code: 312606
Weight (US9): 196g (6.9oz)
Key Facts: Teijin Upper
Price: £140/$180
Colorways: 14

The Mercurial Vapor III divided opinion, in some quarters it’s the greatest Mercurial ever made in others it’s one of the worst. For me I never got on with the boot fully but I completely appreciated what it stood for. Upgraded firm soleplate, the lightest of the light, more comfortable upper, great colorways, pushing the boundaries from where they had come.

The Nike Mercurial Vapor III signaled significant changes to football's ultimate speed product compared to its two predecessors - the upper was made from a soft synthetic microfiber called Teijin, engineered to conform and adjust to the foot’s shape. The upper was an evolution from NikeSkin, that didn’t mean everyone loved it but some players adored it. The upper was quite hard to wear it but once you got it there it molded to your foot like a glove.

The boot had a slightly higher toe box, heel-counter and a wider last, thus making it appeal to a wider audience. Nike introduced a carbon fiber heel counter to distribute heel-strike impact as well as implementing that distinctive lockdown and PORON inserts for added comfort.

Thanks to a two-piece soleplate with direct injection studs, no concessions to multidirectional traction or acceleration was spared in the design. This plate also allowed the upper to wrap around the boot creating a more impressive graphic and silhouette.

Like its predecessors, the Mercurial Vapor III came in colors befitting its speed and there too many beauties to mention but for me the limited edition Gold/Azzuri Blue was a cracker.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 8 – Vapor I 

Release Year: 2002
Product Code: 302723
Weight (US9): 190g (6.7oz)
Key Facts: NikeSkin, Pebax soleplate, SpeedSnap SG Studs
Price: £140/$175
Colorways: 10

The Nike Mercurial Vapor was a massive step change in the way football boots were designed, developed and manufactured. The boot drew inspiration from the fastest production cars available and if the initial idea was to build a track spike for the pitch, the Mercurial Vapor was created to sustain a 90-minute sprint and deliver the perfect foot-to-ground feel for fast players.

Over the course of development, Nike analyzed each element of the Mercurial Vapor; everything from glue to stitching thread was weighed in order to remove excess weight. A new anatomical last was created around the natural shape of the foot for less pressure, which also brought the player closer to the boot's plate. The innovative fit reduced weight, added comfort, and in a testament to the Mercurial DNA, increased speed.

The upper was made from a new material called NikeSkin which was the next generation on from the original KNG-100, it was a fully synthetic leather which molded very well to the players foot and allowed for some wonderfully deep colorways.

The Vapor I is probably one of the most famous Mercurials and at some point in time nearly everyone of that generation had a pair! The little fold over tongue was nice and stayed through the next 2 generations whilst most importantly was the new Pebax soleplate. The stud configuration was revolutionary and looked nothing like anyone had seen before, and most importantly it worked…..almost too well. The traction from this plate was ridiculous especially on firmer surfaces.  The SG plate too was new and utilized Nike’s own brand of metal studs, they didn’t screw in but were actually called SpeedSnap and they clipped in and out of a holder using a small flat head screwdriver. The heel tab was actually changed after the first 3 colorways launched to aid comfort and reduce blistering.

Overall the boot was a beauty and one of my favorites, including the fact the boots came with a boot bag which was a first for Nike. There were so many epic colorways on this run and it was a true game changer, taking the weight game to a whole new level fully helped of course by Ronaldo’s help in the development and performance in the 2002 World Cup.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 7 – Vapor III R9 Anniversary 

Release Year: 2006
Product Code: 312606
Weight (US9): 200g (7oz)
Key Facts: Teijin leather like upper, Original Mercurial colorway, limited to 1000 pairs, 10th Anniversary of the original Mercurial
Price: £120/$170
Colorways: 1

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the original Mercurial Nike created the last ever R9 production boot. The boot of the time was the Vapor III and so produced a limited run of 1000 boots in the original Black/Pearl/Comet Red colorway. This colorway was like nothing else produced in a Vapor III and had a more leather like finish to the upper, a much larger side swoosh like the originals and accompanying the boots was a Book called ‘10 Years of Goals’ which was printed in English and Italian.

The boots themselves were wonderful and utilized all of the Vapor III’s assets, which actually enhancing them with the new upper which felt softer and molded to your foot quicker.

The boots naturally higher toe box was also coated in the touch coating from the original Mercurial, the carbon fiber heel counter continued as did the PORON inserts for added comfort.

The only difference for this boot from the original in terms of details was the new two piece soleplate allowed for the ultimate make up for the underside of the boot. Gone was the Pearly soleplate with black studs and black waves, replaced by the classic black upper finish, silver lines and red swoosh.

A great boot to play in and very hard to find these days, and in my opinion genuinely different enough from the standard Vapor III’s to have its own place in this list.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 6 – Mercurial 

Release Year: 1998
Product Code: 117214
Weight (US9): 250g (8.8oz)
Key Facts: KNG-100 synthetic leather upper, first colored Nike boot, reduced thickness soleplate, tactile surface coating and new bladed stud configuration.
Price: £100/$120
Colorways: 3

In tune with the phenomenal Brazilian striker's insights, the Mercurial was engineered for speed. The objective of unmatched weight reduction in a football boot was set. To meet the challenge, the team of designers bucked longstanding trends by eschewing kangaroo leather and employing a synthetic kangaroo replacement, KNG-100, which didn’t absorb water like normal leathers. A sticky coating for ultimate ball control was sourced, appropriately, from the chassis of racing motorcycles and was honed to work with the shoe's unique upper. The next major breakthrough was reducing plate thickness from the industry standard 3 mm to a game-changing 1.75 mm. There have been quotes from Nike employees saying “Everything was shocking at the time. The look, the materials, people didn’t know what to think. It was a truly exciting moment.” This was so true, it forever changed the look and feel of performance football boots. How can a track spike inform a boot? Initially known as Tiempo Ultra Light, and the Ronaldo Ultra Speed, the Nike Mercurial answered that question. Engineered with Ronaldo's startling velocity in mind, what started out as a lightweight addition to the Tiempo series accelerated past anything made before and forged its own path as a "speed" boot: the Mercurial.

The boot was a game changer and started everything off for Nike, it was so far ahead of its time players flocked to buy the boot to be like their hero Ronaldo. The boot felt great on your foot and the low toe box was something really shocking at the time, along with the touch coating and the pearlescent enlarged swoosh on the side of the boots.

The FG soleplate was just brilliant, the traction was unrivaled and so comfortable at the same time. I couldn’t say the same for the SG plate where the fixed metal tipped cleated style studs were too wide and in slippy conditions I found it extremely hard to get the traction I needed so I just wore FG in all conditions.

The boot will forever be remembered for the 1998 World Cup in France and the original R9 colorway which was the most innovation colorway combination ever seen, it set the standard and that was a very high standard………..hence its arrival at #6 in this list.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 5 – Vapor X 

Release Year: 2014
Product Code: 648553
Weight (US9): 175g (6.2oz)
Key Facts: Full length Flywire, Carbon Soleplate, Sense Stud
Price: £160/$200
Colorways: 2 currently

The Vapor X was keen to become a Statement 2 product as opposed to a takedown of the Superfly IV and in my opinion it succeeded to be a great boot in its own right. Previously Nike had gone massively a stray when they released a ‘superior’ product in the Superfly and the Vapor line waned. This time they incorporated a new tongue-less design integrating a new lacing system into a super-thin microfiber upper. The heel cup has changed completely the lockdown achieved by both this and the lacing system is commendable. In an effort to bring your foot closer to the ball, the upper has a very responsive fit and a slightly textured surface to enhance control and a consistent grip utilizing ACC. The new soleplate is Nylon based and comes in a great all black graphic which compliments the boot well. The stud patterning is all new incorporating a split toe design started on the Hypervenom, similar to the Superfly and combining all of these elements creates the most significant change in the Vapor line since the Vapor VIII.

The boot feels great on pitch and has a great fit, the soleplate is very flexible and as always the Vapor stud configuration only amplifies traction. Yes the Superfly might have the wow factor but don’t underestimate the Vapor X.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 4 – Match Mercurial 

Release Year: 2000
Product Code: 117354
Weight (US9): 230g (8.1oz)
Key Facts: Full length Flywire, Carbon Soleplate, Sense Stud
Price: £110/$130
Colorways: 5

Weighing just 230 grams, the Nike Match Mercurial proved that Nike's experiment with lightweight football boots didn’t end with the original Nike Mercurial. For the second generation, the boot's development became part of Nike's Alpha Project, a series of footwear symbolized by five dots and emblematic of excellence in performance. While the Match Mercurial retained the same last as the original, it was given its own distinct aesthetic. Most notably, on Ronaldo's signature Match Mercurial R9, the KNG-100 was dressed in a metallic copper that faded to black toward the toe panel. The touch coating now instead of being in block areas had narrower strands pieces together running from the laces down to the soleplate on the upper. The inner heel now had a coating to prevent heel slipping, plus the heel had been raised slightly to support more in push off.

The soleplate was new, introducing the SpeedTract plate which utilized similar width studs to the original Mercurial but slightly changed to configuration for more aggressive traction. The SG plate too changed, it was still a fixed metal tipped ‘cleat’ style but narrowed the studs for better grip and weight reduction.

Due to Ronaldo’s injuries at the time the Match Mercurial probably never saw the on pitch time that it should have, even though ably assisted by Thierry Henry’s performances. It was a great shame as the Match Mercurial was a cracking boot, the toe box was still narrow yes but the inner heel coating and new soleplate just added something great which was often missed by many.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 3 – Vapor II 

Release Year: 2004
Product Code: 307756
Weight (US9): 190g (6.7oz)
Key Facts: More cushioned heel tab, Pebax Sole, SpeedSnap SG Studs
Price: £140/$175
Colorways: 12

For the Nike Mercurial Vapor II speed was a given, the weight remained the same as the original Vapor 1, but refinements to comfort were required to realize the goal of a perfect foot-to-ground feel.

The soleplate stayed the same but modifications to fit included an enlarged heel tab for extra ankle cushioning where blisters had been noticed previously.

The boots launched in two colorways, Team Red favored by Thierry Henry and Photo Blue favored by Ronaldo, both were brilliant and complimented their individual side’s kits.

The boots continued the legacy of the Vapor line and in my opinion were better than the originals. In fact, they weren’t many better Mercurials ever made, the upper was so thin and pliable it made you feel really close to the ball and had a clean striking surface.

They were of course better once they had been worn in but you just felt light on your feet with them, like you had that extra half a yard. Coupling that with the brilliant colorways, especially the Gold/Black R9 pair and the Chrome/Blue you always felt at your best.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 2 – Superfly IV 

Release Year: 2014
Product Code: 641858
Weight (US9): 195g (6.9oz)
Key Facts: Full length Brio Cables, Carbon Soleplate, New stud configuration
Price: £230/$275
Colorways: 2 currently

The Mercurial Superfly’s revolutionary design is driven through Nike’s most advanced technology: Nike Flyknit. A new three-knit weave puts less material between the foot and the ball to enhance players’ touch – a vital element when operating at high speeds. The high-top Dynamic Fit Collar, which radically transforms the Mercurial silhouette, is designed to create a better fit and a heightened sensation of the boot as an extension of the foot.

Other vital breakthrough additions include Superfly’s Brio cables, which are knitted directly into the upper and locked into the outsole. By connecting this tendon-like support to the heel, the Superfly acts like a slingshot that helps propel the player forward. In addition, a new, more-flexible full-length carbon plate helps players to more efficiently transmit power through the ground.

Added studs at the boot’s heel offer stability, and extra traction has been placed at the toe to give players more grip and propulsion during the critical final 10 percent of their stride. With the Mercurial Superfly IV, speed has evolved with the game of football. Just as matches have become faster and more intense, the boot is engineered to react quicker. The Superfly IV is the ultimate articulation of the Mercurial vision to date.

The boot feels great on foot even though the last is slightly longer than previous Mercurials. The flyknit creates a whole new feeling, it looks amazing and the ACC coating is great especially when playing in the wet. The carbon soleplate no only looks great but is a whole load thinner than the previous superfly plates which makes it wonderfully flexible and attuned to your foot.

Image via Jorma Seabourne
Image via Jorma Seabourne

No. 1 – Mercurial 2/2.1

Release Year: 2001
Product Code: 117298
Weight (US9): 240g (8.5oz)
Key Facts: Revised Toe box, touch coating, revised heel Counter, re-engineering soleplate, new inner heel material
Price: £100/$130
Colorways: 4

Well this is my number 1 Mercurial of all time from a playability perspective. It will raise a few eyebrows I'm sure, yes its old…..yes it was technically a re-issue but in my book it’s the best Mercurial I’ve ever played in.

The Mercurial R9 (Alpha Project), Mercurial 2 and 2.1 were all different boots yes but really only separated by timing, product code and the inner heel material. If I’m being picky the Alpha Project R9 and 2.1 were better.

The 2.1 was released in 2001 when the Match Mercurial was already in the market but suffering due to Ronaldo’s injuries of the time. Nike decided to re-release the original Mercurial black colorway with a slightly smaller side swoosh more akin to the R9 version, but with a short cut tongue. They also released a limited edition R9 variant only available from Eurosport (now Soccer.com) in the same colorway as the original 1998 world cup boots, Silver/Varsity Royal/Varsity Maize. If I am slightly critical the Varsity Maize color was slightly off and more washed out than the original. The colorway is a classic though and the ultimate in terms of innovation, it was the most original colorway and encapsulates Mercurial.

Continuing on from the Alpha Project improvements, the toe box was slightly widened and raised to prevent the issues from the original mercurial, the heel counter was revised to enhance lockdown but also become slightly softer. The inner heel utilized a new material to prevent heel slipping like on the original synthetic leather inner. Finally the soleplate was re-engineered, the studs’ configuration was the same but the soleplate was even more flexible and forgiving. The design theme of the airflow graphic on the soleplate was kept but narrowed to 4 lines from 6 on the originals. The soleplate was still riveted in place but again less rivets were used.

For me it just felt like a glove on the foot, the boot was way ahead of its time, I wore 3 pairs to death but the soleplate and studs were so strong they never faltered on any surface until the toes were split open. They might not be easy to find, but I do recommend people giving these a try, just remember to size up by half a size on what you wear in today’s Nike products.

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