The inside story on how the adidas Predator became iconic as the brand brings back the legendary boot
How do you build an icon?
A lot of people blur the lines between iconic and popular and it’s an easy mistake to make because by all intents and purposes for something to be iconic it has to be popular.
The distinguishing factor between the two is longevity. Standing the trial of time is a challenge faced by brands across all industries and nowhere is that more prevalent than in the fast-moving world of football.
From clubs to players, matchballs to kits, iconicness towers over the cultural landscape of the beautiful game.
At the heart of it, is the boot, a recognisable artifact symbolic of generation after generation.
And one model has continuously set the standard – the adidas Predator.
Now, the genesis of an icon is no easy task but with Predator, adidas has indisputably understood and employed the right ingredients to cement a legacy as one of game’s greatest boots.
Connected to football’s most celebrated stars and synonymous with memorable moments – think David Beckham scoring from the halfway line against Wimbledon and Zinedine Zidane‘s perfectly pirouetted volley against Bayer Leverkusen – no other shoe has mastered the blend of heritage and innovation quite like Predator.
After a two-year retirement, the beast is back.
Since hitting the scene in 1994, the brainchild of former Liverpool midfielder Craig Johnston has developed to dominate both the market and the pitch.
From the rubber fins for ball manipulation to the fold-over tongues for a cleaner shooting zone, Predator almost single-handedly revolutionised boot design.
Such is it standing, few products have communicated the vision and values of adidas quite like Predator and when you look back, there has been a natural progression and evolution over the years.
While the new Predator 18+ is a subtle nod to the past, true to the brand, it’s built for the future.
But the construction of a reimagined icon presents many challenges and after a two-year assembly Sam Handy, vice president of design in adidas’ football division, believes his team has created what he describes is the “best boot” on the market.
“The boots have spent at least two years in development, from initial sketches to first prototypes,” Handy tells Sport360.
“The early prototypes we test on semi-pros or amateurs and then we build up through our testing process to the point where we are confident enough in the sample quality to test with professionals as well.
“Then we take their feedback, retest and then rebuild so it’s a very fluid and organic process of starting with a lot of people then working our way up to a few people.
“But we take the testing and the co-development with football players and then with the best professionals incredibly seriously.
“It’s a fundamental part of the brand.”
While the professionals form an integral part of the rigorous testing process, keeping a secretive project like Predator underwraps meant the likes of Pogba were almost the last to know of its return.
“One interesting reality is we were secretly bringing Predator back but we didn’t even want to tell the players,” explains Dean Lokes, vice president for product in the adidas football division.
“There’s a dressing room and people talk. A lot of the prototypes didn’t have the toe, it was just a plain toe like an ACE (model) so we left it until the absolute last moment even for the players to know we were bringing Predator back.
“Some early prototypes have on the back of it ACE 18 360 which is the code name for Predator in the same type font as Predator.
“This detail was hidden for quite a long time because we know players talk and sometimes images get shot, even the secretness was held to the top players for as long as we could do.
“I think also what we may sometimes forget is, Pogba grew up wearing Predator.
“As much as we’re reconnecting the dots, the first time I talked to him, he talked about Predator, the colours of Predator, even though it was 10 years on from that period.”
Anticipation of its release saw Predator 18+ sell out within 10 minutes after launching in the UAE.
There was never any doubt the current generation of footballer would see the attraction of Predator but for the old-school boot man, the latest iteration is a big step away from the retro designs of the past.
As boot innovation has moved towards a focus on weight, the knitted design and laceless structure has become the standard.
The sockfit collar, which works to naturally expand to the foot’s shape, provides an ideal second skin for players who like to create, minimising the material between foot and ball.
But transitioning Predator from a design perspective was one of the brand’s biggest challenges.
Handy adds: “We had really good innovation, which allowed us to bring Predator back and the biggest design challenge we had through the process was to not build a retro product.
“Everyone is in love with old shoes and they’ve seen what we’ve done with the Precision bring back, with the Precision Ultra Boost and the Beckham shoes and they’re so iconic, exciting and beautiful shoes that we don’t want to make a retro.
“We want to make a Predator for 2018 that no one has ever seen before but that seamlessly connects through design language and through experience, that it feels like a Predator.
“That’s the hardest bit, to not go backwards. It would have been the easiest thing to put a fold on the tongue, it would have been the easiest thing to give it bladed studs and make it out of leather but that isn’t what our Predator and ACE players wanted.
“They want something different and we’ve built a boot for the future player and not a heritage product. That was the challenge.”
The creative direction for adidas is of course being driven by next year’s World Cup.
A plethora of new products are yet to hit the market with Predator 18+ just the tip of the releases but while the world focuses their attention on what will be on display in Russia, adidas are looking to the future.
“We’re already working on Euro 2020. We work two years out in terms of timeline so for us it’s really exciting to work on World Cup 2018 products for the last two years and to launch it now,” Handy explains.
“We’ve been looking at these for quite a long time and back in Germany we’re in the process of Euro 20 right now.”