The most controversial boots of all time: adidas, PUMA, Serafino and more
Whenever football boots attract controversy, it's usually due to some sort of customisation from the player. You don’t need to cast your mind that far back to remember Wrexham striker Paul Mullins’ appearance in the news for the political messages covering his boots last year.
That’s not the only reason that boots can find themselves in hot water. Everything from new technology to controversial colours has seen boots be criticised in the past. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of football’s most controversial boots of all time. Some of the boots on the list were banned, while others were widely ridiculed, and sometimes the manufacturers saw sense and decided to cancel production. Some even went on to become world-famous designs.
Serafino 4th Edge
It takes a lot to disrupt the football boot market. A handful of brands have dominated the space for as long as anyone can remember, but that hasn’t stopped new brands from cropping up and trying to do things differently. One of the most famous – or maybe infamous – attempts came in 2015 when Italian-Australian designer John Serafino came up with a design that celebrated the humble toe-poke.
Dubbed the Serafino 4th Edge, the silhouette had a completely flat surface on the end of the toe, designed to improve the power and accuracy of toe pokes. At the time of its launch, the boot was backed by Harry Redknapp, Nigel Clough and Glenn Hoddle, although it struggled to gain a foothold in the market and disappeared from view. In the years since its launch, Serafino has refocused its “technology” on the NFL, although still with limited success.
adidas Primeknit FS
Back in 2014, adidas launched an innovative new design into the football world. Dubbed the Primeknit FS, the new silhouette was the first football boot to combine the boot and sock. The boot itself wasn’t terrible – a laceless black boot similar to the Samba Primeknit that Luis Suarez was wearing at the time – but the addition of the sock section was where the boot fell down.
The calf-high sock was covered with white Three Stripe branding and red trim, and immediately attracted controversy. adidas had unveiled the design while still in the concept phase and had discussed having them on the pitch within a year. That wasn’t to be, though, and to the players’ immense relief, the adidas Primeknit FS never saw the light of day.
PUMA evoSPEED SL
Durability is a key quality for any pair of boots, meaning that you can wear them over and over again, and they can cope with whatever conditions you put them in. PUMA decided to completely give up on this with the evoSPEED SL, focusing instead on their lightweight construction – they weighed just 103 grams – although this had some unfortunate downsides.
Right from the off, PUMA was open that the boots could only be worn 10 times before they started to disintegrate. While the brand incorporated this into its marketing strategy (a sticker said that the boots were “not for training days”) it was still widely criticised at the time. I guess there’s a reason that all boots are designed to last longer than 10 uses nowadays.
JOMA Champion Max
When Spanish sportswear label JOMA unveiled the Champion Max silhouette in 2017, people saw an instant likeness. The high-cut design, the branding and even the patterns across the upper all shared similarities with the Nike Mercurial Superfly V. At least the sole unit wasn’t inspired by that boot, although some fans noticed that it resembled the adidas X 17+ in that regard.
While the Champion Max design was mocked for its similarities, the JOMA boot also retailed for half the price of the Mercurial Superfly V. Its affordability showed, though, with criticisms of its heavier design, as well as an upper that was stiffer and less flexible than its inspirations.
PUMA evoPOWER Tricks
There’s a long and storied history of players wearing odd boots – the mismatch of colours is one way to express yourself through your footwear – but PUMA took one thing further for the 2014 World Cup. The brand’s Tricks capsule featured both the evoPOWER and evoSPEED silhouettes with one noticeable difference: every right boot was pink, and every left boot was blue.
People initially weren’t sure whether to take the Tricks capsule seriously, but they were worn by an impressive lineup of talent, including Sergio Agüero, Marco Reus and Gianluigi Buffon. Speaking at the time, Mario Balotelli, another to wear the boots, summed up the reaction perfectly: “I have to be honest, the first time I saw the Tricks boots, I thought the PUMA guy was mad. But when I realised he wasn't, I was already excited.”
adidas Y-3 +F50 Tunit
Nowadays, collaborations between the worlds of fashion and football are commonplace, but adidas were taking a risk when they invited Yohji Yamamoto to redesign the +F50 Tunit in 2006. The legendary Japanese designer created three boots – themed around a wolf, tiger and dragon – for a collection that was limited to just 1000 pairs.
The all-over animal prints made all three silhouettes some of the most out-there boots that had been unleashed onto the footballing world at that point. The boots sold out as collectors quickly snapped up all 1000 pairs, but for many football fans, the design was a bridge too far. Considering some of the more recent collaborations, maybe adidas and Yamamoto were just ahead of their time.
Neymar Fortnite PUMA Future
In April 2021, PUMA announced that Neymar would step out wearing a specially-designed pair of boots that showed his love for Fortnite in the Champions League. Neymar had already worn a pair in Ligue 1, but the full design was due to be shown against Manchester City. In the end, though, it wasn’t to be as UEFA banned Neymar’s footwear due to a clash with its rules.
The exact rule in question was clarified at the end of 2021, when UEFA launched its updated Equipment Regulations. Those rules officially clamped down on customisation and banned the use of boots for advertising another brand.
Looking at it now, there’s nothing controversial about the Predator. In fact, it’s one of the most recognisable and iconic boots in football, with new versions arriving regularly. Back when it first launched in the early 1990s, it was a different story. The use of rubber elements to improve power and swerve was deemed unfair, one of the first examples of revolutionary tech used in the football boot industry.
adidas was aware of the controversy, and played up to it during the advertising for the Predator. For the first release, adidas listed its qualities (more control, more swerve, more power) before concluding that this was “100% legal, 0% fair.” It’s a theme the brand has returned to in the past, including the “unfair advantage” messaging that adidas used to launch the adidas Predator 20.