So, what a week it’s been in the world of football boots! Topping the list of talking points has to be the John Terry ‘adidas vs Umbro’ battle (with ‘Chelsea vs. Man City’ undercurrents).'
One debate that this convulted tale has thrown up is the idea of player obligation to their sponsor during the pre-season; in a perfect world a player would spend pre-season deciding what boots best suit him, decide which they love by the first game of the season and subsequently be sponsored for doing so; but as we all know this is not the case!
So when a player decides to ‘test drive’ a pair of boots from another brand in a training session or pre-season friendly there are many things that people can read into it; i.e. the player is not happy with his current boots or maybe his team-mate has recommended a pair that he feels would suit their style. But sometimes the reason is far more pedestrian, or in Umbro’s case; downright bizarre.
So, why all the fuss about a preseason kickabout – surely it’s the best time to try out other boots?
As a fan and boots anorak, I love to see players really considering their choice in boots in the summer months – placing the same amount of thought you or I do in what boot best suits their game. I’m a Leeds United fan (stop laughing/jeering at the back!) and during last year’s pre-season matches I watched Jermaine Beckford test 3 pairs of boots (f50.8, Vapor III and adiPure, for those interested) before settling on the tunit range for the rest of the season.
However, as difficult as it may be to summon sympathy for multi-billion pound conglomorates; is it fair on the sponsors to see players trailing another company’s wares? In short, no. While a player is signed to a boots company he really should be playing in their boots – pre season, summer tournament or mid-season.
It matters most' for teams like Chelsea, Barcelona, AC Milan and Manchester United – where the pre-season usually involves some pretty far flung travels – so for sponsors of the players on these teams this is a great opportunity to see their boots reach a new audience – for example, during Real Madrid’s notorious 2003 pre-season of the Far East; can you imagine how many extra pairs of ‘Beckham-San’ colourway Predators adidas sold?
A great example of a happy medium is Ashley Cole’s recent trials of Puma’s speed boot, the v1.08, which has been a fantastic example of a player doing things respectfully – while his contract is up from negotiation, see which brand best represents his interests as a player and find out which boot that they produce that best compliments his style of play.
Personally, I’d like to see that all sponsorship contracts run in terms of seasons, with the pre-season and post-season exempt from their contracts which I think would work on several levels:
Firstly, it’d be added incentive for the players – if they want additional sponsorship for the summer tournaments like World Cups, European Championships or Confederations Cup they’d obviously be having to play well enough to be selected for the national team.
This would also work well for the sponsors, as they wouldn’t be paying money for players to be wearing their boots who aren’t actually playing during the summer.
Secondly, it’d be a constant push for manufacturers to be at the top of their game – players are tied to boot manufacturers for years at a time, so they always get the latest models and colours but then you see Luka Modric and Yossi Benayoun playing in older versions of the Mercurial Vapor range and Kaka in modified adiPure I’s so they’re clearly not too bigger fans of the newer models. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what they really prefer playing in when there’s no money involved?
However – the Chelsea ‘Bootgate’ scandal was enough to get the Footy Boots users posting and speculating in droves, perhaps it’s hypocritical to say I don’t enjoy the rumourmill as much as everyone else!