Having worked in a retail environment selling footwear, I’ve had to address one question many times as customers stare blankly at the ‘soccer cleat’ section: “Why is this one more expensive than that one?”
The reason for the price increase between various football boots goes beyond what is easily seen with the eye; so, this post is dedicated to understanding perhaps the key component that makes one boot more expensive than another.
The primary difference in football boots comes down to the material(s) that the majority of the boot is made from, which will be reflected in the price. Typically companies will offer football boots made of:
1.' ' ' Synthetic Leather
2.' ' ' Full-Grain Leather
3.' ' ' Kangaroo Leather (more commonly “k-Leather”)
Puma v1.08 k-leather
Synthetic leather is made of hides blended with polymers to basically make more material out of less leather. (The process was invented during World War 2 as a cure for the leather shortages being felt.) The lower amount of leather required makes these boots cheap in price, but the plastic-feeling, less-breathable, less-malleable material is far from ideal for a football boot.
One of the most critical flaws in these boots is that the synthetic material, being more stiff and rigid, allows for less ‘give’ – in a football situation, an external force (i.e. a studs-up tackle) may cause the foot to take a majority of the force, leading to injuries. This was one concern pointed out by Craig Johnston, the adidas Predator creator, in our earlier article regarding stud research.
However, many manufacturers have spent hundreds and thousands in R & D to develop their own synthetic materials and these are now commonplace and part of the football boot vocabluary. For instance, Nike has it’s Teijin synthetic upper on the Mercurial Vapor V while Mizuno have come up with Kuraray for the Wave Ghost. These certainly buck the trend of ‘cheapo synthetics’.
Nike Mercurial Vapor V
Because suppleness of leather equates to better ball control and feel, even most amateur and recreational players will make the first step up to a better quality material – Full-Grain Leather. This leather is left in its natural state (minus the hairs that once grew on it) and retains its natural strength, breathability and malleability. This leather will stretch over time and reshape as it is worn, giving it a closer and more natural contact to the ball, all while keeping the foot cooler than a synthetic would.
The PUMA v-Konstrukt III uses Full Grain leather
Since leather stretches, it has become common for footballers to buy a size smaller than what they should wear, which leaves the football boot fitting closer once the leather has stretched. This practice is not necessarily a safe option however, as it impedes the natural movement of the foot when running, shooting, etc, which can lead to injury as well. The right boot for you should fit well at the time of purchase.
For those looking to upgrade even further, there is an increasingly popular alternative to full-grain leather which offers increased benefits while retaining all the qualities that make it attractive in the first place. That alternative is k-leather.
A k-leather classic, the adidas adiPure II
Typically, leather is made from calf, and this is what almost all football boots made of “full-grain leather” will be composed of. However, k-leather is made from hides taken from (you guessed it)' kangaroo. This leather is extremely versatile, as it is light and can be thinned a great deal without losing an excessive amount of durability. Wikipedia quotes:
When split into thinner substances kangaroo retains considerably more of the original tensile strength of the unsplit leather than does calf. When split to 20% of original thickness kangaroo retains between 30 to 60% of the tensile strength of the unsplit hide. Calf on the other hand split to 20% of original thickness retains only 1-4% of original strength.
Not only does this allow football boot manufacturers to decrease weight and improve on-ball feel, it also ensures that in doing so the boot does not sacrifice the safety of its wearer. This is of critical importance in a world of dangerous bladed cleats, crunching tackles and a growing abundance of metatarsal injuries.
Leather has been the classic footballer’s choice for decades, and is still faithfully represented in many of the top boots of the day. Safety when playing football should always be key, so don’t be afraid to spend a little extra on a football boot that better suits your level of competition; you may also get a comfier and touch-enhancing boot out of it too.