The World Cup is here. The most fun you’ll have all summer. Maybe you’re making it out to Russia, maybe you’re watching from the safety of your home or local pub. Whatever the case, you're going to want to watch some football. For Americans who aren't into the sport—especially with the US Men's Team out of the competition this year—it often takes something to pique their interest in soccer. For some, it may be through sneakers.
For all sneaker lovers who want to get into football, or football lovers who want to get into sneakers, there are plenty of reasons why you should. And the World Cup is the perfect vessel for you to get into the beautiful game.
Here's a guide to everything sneaker-related surrounding World Cup 2018, which will dominate sports conversations from now until the Finals on July 15. We've included a brief history of the game, highlighted some of football's biggest sneakerheads, all the most notable sneaker World Cup-related drops, and anything else you could possibly need to know. Hopefully, we'll convert you or, at the very least, give you a better understanding of the world's favorite game.
What if I told you the most influential sport to the sneaker world wasn’t basketball, but it was football, I mean soccer?
There might be some veracity behind that statement. The world’s biggest sport has played a major role in the footwear industry for nearly 70 years. Adidas first made the Samba in 1950 as a football boot that helped players not fall while playing on Europe’s icy winter surfaces. It’s gone on to sell over 35 million pairs worldwide, as of 2015.
A similar amount of success has been seen with the Adidas Gazelle, which was designed as a training shoe for multi-sport athletes, as well as footballers. It’s also become a legend in everyday life and viewed as an all-time style icon.
Brands such as Diadora, Adidas, Umbro, Nike, Puma, Patrick, and New Balance have all made sneakers that have been worn on the pitch and in the street. Players like Franz Beckenbauer have had their own signature sneakers and tracksuits and become just as synonymous with what they did during their careers on the field as they are a lasting signature name on a pair of shoes or pants. Even international soccer star David Beckham has received his own lifestyle line from Adidas and players like Ronaldo and Ronaldinho (FYI: they’re not the same person) have gotten their own spin on classic shoes from Nike.
“The influence from soccer isn’t just felt from the players on the pitch but from the supporters who have left their impression on football, too.”
The influence from the sport isn’t just felt from the players on the pitch who wear eye-catching boots (that’s cleats to all you Americans)—although we all have a clear image in our heads of the Adidas Predator, Copa Mundial, and Nike Mercurial—but from the supporters who have left their impression on football, too.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a European footwear boutique that hasn’t taken inspiration from their favorite football club and transferred it over to a pair of sneakers. Patta has done sneakers inspired by A.C. Milan. Hanon has done sneakers inspired by Aberdeen F.C., and Kith has done whole soccer collections of apparel and shoes with Adidas. And the muse isn’t lost on the fashion world, with Gosha Rubchinsky and Alexander Wang reworking football culture for collections with Adidas. Even the high-fashion industry has co-opted the football scarf, raised its price by 30 fold and pissed off everyone in the process. And we could go on and on and on about football shirts—yes, that’s jerseys—being worn by everyone from rappers to people in the stands and reinterpreted a thousand times along the way by every company under the sun.
But let’s get to the real meat of why the sports is important. “Football casuals.” Have you heard that term before?
If not, let me explain it to you real quick.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a European footwear boutique that hasn’t taken inspiration from their favorite football club.”
Football advocates in the ’70s and ’80s from Liverpool supported their team across Europe and stole Adidas sneakers and clothes from brands such as FILA, Lacoste, Sergio Tacchini, Stone Island, CP Company, and Ellesse as badges of honor and a way to separate themselves from other fans who wear football shirts and scarves. It’s been associated with the birth of football hooliganism and has grown into its own subculture. Their interest in these brands, especially Adidas, has built a cult-like following around the products and the companies have recognized it. "Terrace culture" they call it, named after the non-seated section of the stadium that the most passionate, and crazy, fans stand in.
Over time the sport became more known for what the supporters were wearing than the actual players on the pitch. The casuals’ taste in footwear has evolved, including wearing brands such as New Balance, while sneakers such as the Adidas Forest Hills, Bjorn Borg’s Diadora shoe, and complete collections like Adidas Spezial have been created specifically with this consumer in mind.
What makes football interesting, though, is that some of the sport’s athletic innovations have proven to be successful in lifestyle. That’s where all the good sneakers come from anyway. Almost every popular shoe was once made for athletics, whether it be tennis, running, basketball, soccer, handball, or whatever.
The sneakers that you wear to the World Cup, or at least to watch it somewhere, will say something about what kind of supporter you are. People will be looking down, so make sure you have something good on your feet. It will score you authenticity points.
Footballers usually dress awful. Too-tight jeans. Bad, gelled haircuts. And clothes that cost a lot of money, but aren’t worth the dough. Not all of them look like caricatures of Euro trash, though. And the one place where some of the world’s biggest stars get at least a part of their fit off is with their footwear. No, not the cleats they wear on the pitch, but with their sneakers. We’re not just talking about indoor soccer shoes, or what people expect someone to wear while getting paid to do kickups in front of a JD Sports or local stadium. Rather they’re breaking out Jordans and Yeezys. And they’ve got plenty of money to spend on them (when they’re not getting them for free). Some stars are even getting their own sneaker collaborations. A lot of footballers are doing the sneaker thing alright, but there are a few that you should be paying attention to (or at least give an Instagram follow).
Jerome Boateng (Germany)
Is Jerome Boateng the best center back in the world? Well, he’s won it all: The Champions League, Bundesliga (over and over and over again), and the World Cup. He’s also been a sneaker addict for most of his life. As of two years ago, Boateng said he owned as many as 600 pairs of sneakers and has even scoured the globe to find rarities such as the Kanye West x Louis Vuitton Jasper. When he’s not shutting down people on the pitch, expect to see him in covetable kicks such as Off-White x Nike or Atmos x Air Jordan.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Is Cristiano Ronaldo the greatest player of his generation? That’s up for debate, depending on who you ask. But his connection to Nike is something that can’t be denied. Ronaldo has been the face of Nike Football for years and it’s resulted in a handful of limited-edition sneakers. The biggest question has often been, “Why doesn’t Nike use him more?” Lately they’ve been doing just that, giving Ronaldo multiple colorways of the Air Max 97, which tell the story of him growing up and playing football and having torn up shoes. He’s also been at the forefront of huge Nike rollouts. Who else can say they were the person to debut the Nike HyperAdapts? The five-time Ballon d’Or winner that’s who.
Neymar Jr (Brazil)
Pop quiz: Who holds the record for the highest total spent on Sneaker Shopping. That would be Neymar, the star of the Brazilian national team, who spent $18,000 on a boatload of sneakers. But he’s not just out there scoring goals and getting huge checks from Paris Saint German, he also has his own shoes, too. In 2016, Neymar received his own Air Jordan V collaboration, which sold out pretty quick. He’s also the only guy on this list with a picture with MJ himself.
Paul Pogba (France)
Adidas needs some love on this list. Who better than their $44-million-dollar man, Paul Pogba, who plays for Manchester United and the French National Team? When you have that access at Adidas, you’re bound to get a few Yeezys tossed your way. That never hurts, and when you’re the face of the brand’s marketing campaigns, it’s going to make sneakerheads pay attention. Pogba’s also laced up some the wildest cleats. Let’s hope that Adi can figure out a way to incorporate him into the company’s lifestyle sector.
Kylian Mbappe (France)
Sorry. There are two French players on this list. But it’s hard to leave Kylian Mbappe off when he’s been the man chosen to debut the Off-White x Nike collection for the World Cup. That’s not the only Off-White x Nike he owns. He was also spotted rocking the head-to-toe Skepta x Nike collaboration, too. At just 19, Mbappe has a lot to show the world and the World Cup may very well be a stepping out party for him. He’ll surely celebrate, when it’s all said and done, in a pair of sneakers that you can’t get your hands on.
There’s going to be a lot going on during the World Cup, both on and off the pitch. And we shouldn’t have to tell you the obvious and watch the matches—they’re going to be that good. But if you do need a bit of coaxing to watch soccer—especially in the wee hours of the night and morning because of the time difference—here are a few cool cues that will let you know what’s up.
Off-White x Nike
Look. Nobody is gonna make an appearance wearing an Off-White x Nike football kit—which has been the biggest thing in the sneaker world for the past year—during the World Cup, although they do look sharp. But the cleats, the Mercurial Vapor 360? I’d put money, now that sports betting is legal in New Jersey, on the possibility of them being worn in a game. We’ve already seen players, such as Kylian Mbappe, wear them in practice. Why not on the pitch? They’re a new, performance Nike football boot. Imagine if important goals are scored in them? We already saw what that did for Nike when Germany’s Mario Gotze scored the World Cup-winning goal in a pair of Nike boots back in 2014. And knowing that Virgil Abloh has a tangential relationship to the game, as he played in high school and has been seen at a few matches, makes the collection have a little more depth to it.
An African nation has never won the World Cup, but Nigeria is all the talk right now. It would be a long shot for the Super Eagles to win the whole thing, but their jerseys, undoubtedly, are the talk of the tournament. People have lined up to get them, only to find out that they’ve sold out. And there was even a rumor that the Nigerian FA pre-sold three million shirts. Some have questioned whether that was true or not, but one thing is for certain: This is streetwear’s favorite football shirt for World Cup 2018, and artists such as Skepta, who’s an actual chief in the country, have been seen wearing them. The collection also comes complete with printed tracksuits and bucket hats for extra roadman points.
Mohamed Salah’s Adidas cleats
Mo Salah is one of the most exciting players in the World Cup, and he’s brought Egypt back to the promised land for the first time since Italia ’90. The Liverpool forward suffered a sad fate with a shoulder injury during the first half of the Champions League final against Real Madrid. Here’s something you need to know: EVERYBODY is going to be paying attention to what Mo Salah, the Egyptian King, is going to be doing in the World Cup. Everybody. Take a moment to notice that he’s debuting a new cleat, too, the Adidas X18+. Pay attention, they might be magical.
Every major sporting event is bound to have limited-edition footwear that’s tied to it. The same can be said for the World Cup. Brands such as Nike, Adidas, and New Balance have all put together special footwear that’s implicitly for or inspired by the World Cup. You don’t have to be into football to wear those or even know how to kick a ball. You may need a bot, however.
Off-White x Nike Zoom Fly Mercurial
Off-White x Nike. That’s all we really need to tell you. Anything Virgil Abloh touches turns to resellers’ gold. For the World Cup, he’s done up two colorways of the Zoom Fly and integrated them with the Mercurial cleat he designed. There are circles on the upper that show the optimal striking pattern to kick a ball. Some people might like them, some won’t. That’s okay. Don’t like ’em, don’t buy ’em—that means more for those looking to cop.
Both sneakers have already released, but you can likely find them at a secondary-market retailer.
Kim Jones x NikeLab
Kim Jones, the former creative director at Nike, has been working with the brand again recently, and now he’s releasing some curious sneakers for the World Cup. I’ve never seen anyone wear a high-top soccer shoe. But Jones is reimagining the game and putting the Air Max 2017 bubble on a high-top leather shoe with a strap on the top. I don’t get it, but I’m sure some people out there will. They come in black and white, so the choice is yours.
The retail price on both sneakers is $200 and they can be purchased here.
The best-selling soccer-inspired sneaker of all time? It’s the Adidas Samba. First developed in 1950 for the German Men’s National Team to be able to train on icy surfaces in the winter, the shoe is making a comeback—although it never really went away—just in time for the World Cup. The Black/White and White/Black pairs, equipped with gum soles, are both being released with a refined shape. But that’s not all of it. There’s a special Moscow version that has the big, billowing tongue that’s not seen on the Adidas Originals pair. Need something more hype? Try and get your hands on a pair from the collection that included collaborations from A Bathing Ape, Neighborhood, and White Mountaineering. There were also jerseys released with all three shoes. The subtle BAPE camo on the Samba’s stripes is the icing on the cake, or the beer spilled on the terraces.
Kith x Adidas
What could have been. There was a massive Kith x Adidas collection planned for this year’s World Cup. It’s not canceled, but something weird happened. The whole thing was based around the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 1994 World Cup, which took place in the U.S. Alex Lalas, Tony Meola, John Harkes. The denim kits. All of it. But the U.S. didn’t make the World Cup this year. But that isn’t stopping Adidas from still releasing the thing, and it’s really solid. Two of the brand’s football-inspired shoes—the Copa and Pure Control Boost—are a part of the collection, and while you might think twice about wearing them to a match, loads of people are sure to buy them up.
The collection has not released yet and there is currently no release date.
New Balance Vodka and Caviar
Disclaimer: None of these New Balance shoes are officially connected to the World Cup. But use your imagination for a bit. What are two things that people love in Russia? Vodka and caviar. Food-inspired shoes are played out, but this three-shoe pack is good. Made up of the 770.9, 991.9, and 1500.9, all of these sneakers are mash-ups. But I’m still really into it. They’re all Made in England, and are the most quality sneakers connected with this year’s tournament. Just like the stuff they take their cues from.
Buy them here for varying prices.
New Balance Epic TR
I’m not one to tell someone to wear actual soccer shoes to a soccer match. It’s not really a good look. Full-kit wanker status. The Epic TR, based off one of the brand’s archival football boots, is alright, though. Especially with its suede upper. I can get into it. Take a look at these few pairs, then close your eyes and imagine real quick. They kind of remind you of some countries who may or may not be in the tournament, right? Get yourself a pair.
Buy them here for $90 a pair.