Nike, adidas, Puma and other shoemakers are all trotting out new and innovative looks for this summer's World Cup. Gone are the old-school black boots like the fabled Puma Kings worn by Pele.
Legend has it that Pele was paid $125,000 for his deal — a paltry sum by today's standards — to wear the boots starting with the 1970 World Cup. The contract was sealed in the final between Brazil and Italy when Pele asked a referee for a moment so he could tie his shoe — guaranteeing that the TV cameras were pointed at his Pumas.
Now shoe deals are part of the game for every star and even some average players. Cristiano Ronaldo wears Nike. Lionel Messi wears adidas. Puma and Mizuno have their own athletes. So when the World Cup opens in Brazil on Thursday, there will be a clash of competing cleats on the pitch with everyone trying to get a leg up on the other guy.
Here are five things to know about the boots on the ground in Brazil:
WHAT THE HECK? Puma is pushing the envelope by putting its athletes in one pink shoe and one blue shoe. Apparently, this will make it easier to tell which foot that player delivers goals with: Pink is right and blue is left. Look for Spain's Cesc Fabregas and Italy's Mario Balotelli in the boots. "I have to be honest, the first time I saw the Tricks boots, I thought the Puma guy was mad," Balotelli is quoted as saying. "But when I realized he wasn't, I was already excited."
SHOES OR SOCKS? Nike's statement for the World Cup is its new Magista and Mercurial soccer boots that use the company's fly-knit technology, which basically looks like cleats attached to a pair of socks. Cristiano Ronaldo is going to be wearing the Mercurial Superfly, a high-top version with a cool name. "The way we think about product innovation is really about serving athletes and really about how we can help people reach their true potential," said Phil McCartney, vice president of global soccer for Nike. "I think the product we're going to have on the pitch in the World Cup is a really good example of that. It's a four-year journey we've taken to really help our athletes reach their potential in what will be the biggest moment of their careers and lives."
ADIDAS GOES RETRO: Adidas is offering the back-and-white Battle Pack collection of four different cleats, featuring prints that are supposed to pay homage to Brazil — the only pop of color is the trademark three stripes in neon orange. An exception was made for Messi, who gets the star treatment with his own design and a bit of added Argentina blue on his F50s. "It's the biggest tournament on the biggest stage. It's win or go home. It's black or white. So that's why you see the black and white execution on the shoes," adidas merchandise manager Peter Hong said.
GOLDEN BOOT: The top goal scorer at the World Cup receives the Golden Boot award. But at least one player will already have his golden boots: Mizuno has designed special gold-and-black Wave Ignitus 3s for Keisuke Honda of Japan. It's only fitting for a player whose nickname is "Emperor Keisuke." There are rumors that Nike may put Brazilian star Neymar in a pair of special gold HyperVenom cleats, but the Oregon-based shoemaker would not comment about possible World Cup "surprises."
SHINE A LIGHT: Ecuador goalkeeper Maximo Banguera will be wearing Lotto Solista boots that have a special skin that reflects light, which the Italian shoemaker claims causes the shoes to "glow" in direct sunshine or under bright lights. We'll let you be the judge. There are a number of YouTube videos demonstrating the effect.