For football (aka. soccer), rugby and league, boots are a critical part of your performance. You need to get the right balance of grip, weight, material, support and fit.
Get it right and you can max your performance. Get it wrong and it could be a fast track to injury.
You most often see “support” in running shoes, which refers to the ability of the shoe to control the position of the foot and ankle. However it’s a different ball game with football boots (pun intended).
That’s because football boots don’t want to resist the tilting movements of the ankle – you need that to pivot and turn! So boots deliberately allow more freedom of movement to improve agility.
Boots also need to be lower to the ground, rather than having a chunky bit of foam under the foot. That improves responsiveness and traction as well as reducing your risk of ankle sprains. But it leaves no room for the supportive bits of a shoe.
If you’re desperate for support, you can always speak to your Physio or Podiatrist about low profile supportive inserts for football boots. But generally, we avoid adding them unless it’s a deal breaker.
The weight of the boot is one of the most talked about features. The lighter boots which are marketed for speed tend to be quite narrow and very snug fitting. These boots would not be suitable for people with wide feet or if you need to add orthotics.
Interestingly, heavier boots often provide more structure and protection, so the extra muscle work needed to swing the boot is offset by less muscle work required on landing. So heavy or light won’t change your work required during running.
Here is a quick weight comparison of some popular boots:
Adidas F50 Adizero = 150g
Nike Mercurial Superfly = IV 200g
Puma King II = 239g
Nike Tiempo Legend V = 240g
The weight difference between the “top of the range” boots is just 90 grams. 90g is not going to slow you down but it may have a psychological effect and make you feel sharper. And who doesn’t want to feel sharper, right (but is that worth $150 extra???)
Another big factor affecting the price of boots is the material used in the upper.
Leather: will stretch and mould to your foot. It provides better protection as the material is thicker. The downside is that leather is more absorbent and will take on water, which will further stretch the material. Nike claim that their moisture blocking HyperShield technology absorbs 73% less water than their previous range of leather boots. Regardless of which leather you choose, these types of boots require more care and attention to ensure the shoe is durable and doesn’t lose its shape.
Synthetic: they are very lightweight and durable although they don’t mould to your foot like leather. Greater water resistance makes synthetic materials lighter in wet conditions and they’re not as sensitive to poor care and maintenance after games. Certain synthetic materials (especially the cheaper ones) can become slippery in the rain though, affecting ball control.
Many new generation boots provide a combination of synthetic and leather materials. This is great in theory but it may not provide you with the same comfort as other boots.
FITTING YOUR BOOT
You should have an approximately 10mm gap (definitely not less than 5mm) between the tip of the longest toe to the tip of the boot. If the boot is too loose it will make it hard for the foot to stabilise, affecting kicking accuracy and increasing the risk of sprained ankles. It also places excessive stress on muscles and joints of the lower limb, leading to sore toes and knees.
Grip is very important but it’s a double edged sword (performance vs injury) as well as requiring different parameters in different conditions. The studs must match the conditions, otherwise your grippy studs on dry hard ground will become ice skates on plush wet grass.
When it comes to grip, striking that careful balance between performance and injury risk is the key. Too little grip and you’ll end up slipping and unable to change direction quickly. But too much grip can increase the potential for injury, particularly with agility and change of direction tasks. If you hit the brakes hard and your boot sticks, the weak link in the chain may be your knee ligaments!
For artificial surfaces I recommend a low profile stud or specialised artificial turf boots. Artificial grass is very unforgiving. Too much grip on an artificial surface increases the risk of many injuries, including Achilles tendon and knee ligament injuries.
Avoid the temptation of buying online to save a few dollars – be sure to try on a boot before purchasing as comfort and fit can outweigh any savings. Try on the boots with the actual socks you’ll use during the season – sock thickness is a big reason why a great fit in the shops suddenly feels tight on the pitch.
When you’re trying on the shoes, feel for a snug but not tight fit and minimal sideways slipping of the foot inside the boot. If it’s a leather boot, it can be a little tighter as they tend to loosen up with use. Synthetic boots won’t stretch at all though so they need to fit perfectly in the shop.