The evolution of laceless football boots: design, market leaders and more
When adidas released its laceless ACE 16+ Purecontrol at the start of 2016, the hype train began immediately. Headlines praised the “world’s first laceless boot” and saluted adidas for its innovations. In reality, though, laceless boots had already existed for a decade, launched by Italian bootmaker Lotto in 2006.
Looking for the best laceless football boots of 2023? GOAL has you covered.
The Lotto Zhero Gravity was a game-changing design, although its impact wasn’t felt at the time. It was worn by Cafu, Luca Toni, and Andriy Shevchenko – showing how important Lotto thought the innovation was – and briefly caused a stir in 2006. The benefits of the Zhero Gravity, however, were overlooked, and it would be a full ten years before laceless boots established themselves as an important part of the football world.
The ACE 16+ Purecontrol began a love affair with laceless boots that adidas continues to this day. The German manufacturer is still the only major brand that released all of its silhouettes in laceless form, while some of its competitors – namely Nike – have yet to launch their first boot without laces. When adidas first teased the laceless design, the brand’s then-VP of Design, Sam Handy, described it as “the purest possible expression of a football boot.”
In that same interview with Hypebeast, Handy went on to explain the 24-month process of designing and creating the shoe. “We have had to modify and adjust for different player types, and we have kept the needs of the world’s best footballers at the forefront of the entire process,” he said. The result was a boot with “everything you need, and nothing you don’t need.”
After the arrival of the ACE 16+ Purecontrol, innovations came thick and fast in the laceless world. adidas returned with the X17+ Purespeed, complete with a fish scale style upper, in 2017, before Umbro merged the forward-thinking laceless designs with footballing heritage a year later. Dubbed the Medusae Elite 3 and weighing just 170 grams, the British label’s new boot was the first ever laceless silhouette constructed from leather (most had gone for a knit texture in the past). It also came in a classic black and white colourway, guaranteeing to keep footballing purists happy despite the modern innovation at its heart.
Since then, adidas has established itself as the dominant force in laceless boots. While so far this year, the brand has focused on reinventing the Predator line, it has managed to incorporate its laceless technology. The Predator Accuracy, which launched earlier this month, comes in a laceless construction, allowing more space for the High Definition Grip rubber elements that run across the upper, giving more control and accuracy for the wearer. Other notable laceless boots from adidas have included 2019’s COPA 19+ – constructed from the classic K Leather as the brand reinvented one of its best-loved silhouettes, which used K Leather – and the X Speedportal, which came with a lightweight design to add speed.
It’s not just the Three Stripes, though. Nowadays, laceless boots are made by some of the other big-name football brands. New Balance has its Tekela line, which is designed for attacking players and is the brand’s key laceless style, while PUMA recently launched the Future Match+ silhouette. All of the boots made by adidas, New Balance and PUMA tout the same benefits for laceless boots: more control and more accuracy.
There’s one major boot brand missing from that list. Even now, Nike are yet to enter the laceless boot market, although recent releases have shown that there could be something on the way. The brand has scrapped laceless for some of its junior silhouettes – most notably the Nike Jr. Superfly Pro and Nike Jr. Vapor 15 Academy – both of which show how laceless Nike boots could look one day. The traditional lacing system is replaced by pull tabs and crisscrossing straps, with Nike emphasising how easy they are to put on and how quickly you can get on the pitch.
At the elite level, Nike also has been testing the water in recent years, most notably through its Phantom line. With the Phantom VSN that launched in 2020 and the Phantom GX design that came at the end of 2022, Nike covered the laces using the Ghost Lace System, which conceals the laces underneath a cover. This covering section adds more control by creating a smoother and larger area for striking the ball. Through its use of the Ghost Lace System, Nike may be acknowledging the benefits of laceless boots while also showing that you don’t have to get rid of the laces entirely.
And what about Lotto, the brand that started it all? The Italian brand is showing how far ahead of the curve it was and continuing to honour the original Zhero Gravity. In 2021, Lotto released a new take on the innovative silhouette, updating it for modern football. The laceless upper stayed the same, but the brand added a lightweight and modern outsole designed for more flexibility. It also continues to carry the laceless torch with its Solista line of silhouettes.
When Lotto launched the Zhero Gravity 17 years ago, it hoped to revolutionise football boot design. It took a little longer than the brand expected – and with adidas taking on the mantle – but laceless boots are now an integral part of the footballing world, and even Nike appears to be adapting to the change.