words & images // Zac Dubasik
interview // Zac Dubasik and Nick DePaula
When it comes to soccer, few shoes, if any, carry the reputation and prestige that the adidas Predator does – even 17 years after it was originally introduced. It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, when you consider the impact that the original had on the footwear industry. From the sharp rubber fins of its upper, to its high price tag, the Predator introduced a new era not only of design, but of performance, to soccer footwear. And it’s remained not only relevant, but cutting edge all of these years by constantly placing emphasis on performance for each of the 10 subsequent releases since the original.
The latest and most modernized interpretation of the Predator, the 8.2-ounce adiPower Predator, includes updates like a sleek and targeted rubber Predator element, Sprint Frame construction best known from the adiZero line, and a refined Powerspine. We caught up with adidas Business Unit Director of Soccer, Antonio Zea, to talk about the history of the line, to discuss details of the adiPower Predator, and we even found out about which color he debuted at the Oregon Adult Soccer Association.
Zac Dubasik: I remember when the Predator was first introduced. I didn’t even play soccer, but as someone that always has followed shoes, it was still a huge deal. Could you talk a little bit about the legacy of the Predator and why it’s still so important today?
Antonio Zea: The franchise started in 1994, and it was a shoe that essentially changed the industry. It was a product that really focused on a specific attribute for a player, which is talking about power as well as swerve and control, but really focusing on power. It was completely radical in terms of its design, bringing in materials that hadn’t previously been used with rubber. The look of the shoe was just so different than anything else out there. Soccer shoes, for so long, were really about the material and about leather and about feel and touch. This was really focusing on another part of the game that had never really been talked about before, in terms of product design. When Predator came in, it revolutionized the game, but it also took a little while to really grab a hold, because it was so different looking, and it felt different, so players really had to take a little time to get used to it. But, it essentially grew into the largest franchise that we’ve had. Over time, the evolution of the shoe itself, in terms of new technologies, exchangeable stud systems, external heel counters, and all the best technologies went into the shoe, and the shoe quickly became the benchmark of the industry. And everyone waited for the Predator.
Nick DePaula: In terms of legacy, could you talk about some of the technology and performance milestones along the way?
I wouldn’t say we joke about it now, but to put the most recent products against [the ’94 version] on a table, it was much heavier. Weight has really been something we’ve looked at in terms of: How can we shave this much weight off? How can we give the player the lightest product that they can possibly have to help them perform. The other one is really the Predator element itself and how it was incorporated into the upper. We don’t want to have too many big things. We used to have this massive rubber piece on there, and now it’s really become much more incorporated into the upper itself, to provide maximum performance in wet and dry conditions and really give the player that edge. The other things are much more technical pieces of just how we construct the outsole, in terms of outsole weight. We’ve taken some of the technology cues from F50, where we’ve built the lightest soccer shoe on the market, and brought that into Predator. So, it’s really lightweight through geometry. Instead of adding more stiff materials, we’ve reduced a lot of weight; we’re 25 percent lighter than the previous Predator. And that’s certainly helped, and over time, we’ve gotten to this place. The actual configuration has changed only slightly; we’re just trying to evolve that over time. And the upper, we just want to create a comfortable-fitting shoe that is really something a player can pull out of the box, and often times, wear in a game that day.
ZD: You mentioned that the original Predator was focused on power. Has that ever changed over the years?
It’s certainly changed over time, because, really, the game has changed also. People are going to shoot the ball as hard as they can. You see free kicks, and you see during the run of play, people want power on the ball. But we certainly want to make sure that also that finesse part of the game, and the control part of the game, are accentuated as well. You see specific players now are owning the game and controlling the game. [We are] constructing a shoe and building a shoe so it focuses on that part, and not really just focusing on power, but focusing on the other parts of really controlling a game: long passes and accurate passes, and pieces of that nature that are much more prevalent in the game today. What’s very interesting is that when you look at how the game is analyzed as well, players are now looking at how many touches they have on a ball and how many passes they’ve completed instead of just going out there and thumping it – and everyone still wants to see the 30-yard bomb in the corner – but we’re really looking at how the game has changed and the different parts of the shoe that you’re using to pass the ball in different ways: outside the foot, inside the foot; accuracy versus straight power.
NDP: Can you talk a little bit about the development timeline for the shoe and the weartesting that went into it?
Normally our development process is 18 months. With a product like this, and it’s safe for me to say that the predator is the absolute most important shoe in the company, it starts actually much earlier. It’s usually about two years before that we are starting to develop sketches, technologies and what the story is of the shoe itself. We actually built this shoe by going back to a few traditional methods, like the traditional tongue construction. We really took cues from players that we’d spoken to on the previous version, and they said they wanted the traditional construction instead of the mono-tongue. We really went back to a simpler construction in terms of the design itself. Ironically, in the shoe that I have here [holds up adiPower Predator], you see the difference in the Predator element and the upper itself. We started off with this little flap and looked at how we could increase the area of that kicking surface. When we came back, just from listening extensively to players: We’d rather just have the area smaller and not have this piece that overlaps into the tongue area. Just little things like that. From a conceptual perspective, we were pretty set on where we wanted the shoe to go. And then, it was really fine-tuning those little pieces: putting a different kind of lining in there to add maximum comfort, what the stud configuration looked like. We’re still having the power piece in there. The previous version had a much larger Powerspine in there. Powerspine is a really simple technology. It bends one way; it doesn’t bend the other. You don’t lose deformation in the shoe, and you don’t use power when you shoot. We’ve actually minimized that as much as we possibly could, to where the player actually needs it. It still gives them power and continues with that story, but really focuses on control. And kids are about weight all the time these days, so we reduce weight as much as we can. Twenty-five percent – that’s going to be a big statistic that we can go out there and tell kids.
NDP: With adiZero being such a big brand initiative, is there still a zone you want to keep this in? Or do you want to take it even lighter?
At some point, it’s a zero sum game. We are only going to be able to go so far before we have the outsole and duct tape, and that’s about it [laughs]. We want to make sure, instead of talking about specific weights, that we are making the highest-performing shoe as well as the most stable shoe, and a shoe that continues to protect players and gives them what they need. A guy like me, I wear a size nine, and a guy that wears a size 13, bigger guys, smaller guys, faster guys, we all have different needs in a shoe. We don’t want to sacrifice anything in the product itself. We’ve had to balance out that weight reduction as well as building in stability. And this was a clever way to do it in terms of the geometry. The foot doesn’t bend there [points to outsole], so we’ve got that build into the outsole, while giving maximum flexibility in the forefoot.
ZD: So, with the adiPower line, even though minimizing weight isn’t the primary goal, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still important?
In all of the shoes that we are building, we certainly don’t want to make them heavier. We know that light weight and reduction of weight is a key selling point to players, and we want to continue that. We didn’t necessarily take Predator and say that were going to “Predatorize” adiZero. We said let’s take cues and things that we know work in adiZero and apply them to other products. We took lessons learned and best practices, and still retained the key pieces of Predator, like the leather, the Predator element and all the key pieces that make it the Predator.
ZD: Could you detail the stud shape and configuration?
We incorporated the heel counter into the actual outsole itself. We’ve reduced pieces, because in the past, we’ve always had two pieces. So it reduced weight there. The traction configuration hasn’t really changed over time in terms of the actual stud shape, or the configuration. We’ve just really maximized performance, while also maximizing injury protection. The beautiful thing about this stud configuration is it gives you maximum traction as well as being able to release during linear motion and rotational motion, so you don’t get injuries. We’ve been actually able to track this; we do rotational studies and torsion studies, and all sorts of studies like that. The thing that we have added, though, and what we did take from F50 as well is the diamond-shaped stud in the center to help with maximum acceleration and deceleration. That’s probably the only difference that we’ve done on this. This is a tried-and-true outsole. It works for us, and we’ll continue with it.
ZD: Could you talk about why that in an American football cleat, or even a baseball cleat, you’ll see a stud positioned right at the toe tip, but you don’t have that in soccer.
The actual motions that a soccer player is doing don’t use a lot of that toe-off, like a football player is using. … Soccer play is much more liner and lateral, so we don’t really need that. When this stud configuration was actually created, it was a huge change from a round stud, which everyone had been wearing for such a long time. The bladed stud was allowed to give you maximum traction with maximum comfort. The round stud was focusing the pressure on certain areas [of the foot]. The bladed stud was actually dispersing the stud pressure in a different way. We used to actually give shoes to players and say, “Go out there and jump on the concrete and see if you feel anything.”
NDP: I remember exclusively playing in the round, and they felt terrible. [everyone laughs]
I used to play in the replaceable screw-in studs, and the ball of my foot was perpetually a 5mm-thick piece of dead skin, because all the pressure was just localized there. So, with this configuration, it definitely disburses the pressure, but still continues to give you maximum traction.
ZD: Even though there’s a ton of technology in the upper, I still see a lot of premium leather. Could you talk about why that element is important?
Soccer is an interesting game, and adidas, being the global leader and the U.S. leader, we certainly don’t want to take away from certain aspects of the game; it’s a very human game. It’s linked very deeply to a lot of really important emotions that we all exhibit on the field of play. Leather is all about touch. By giving the best leather that we can, it’s allowing the player to have comfort as well as the ultimate touch on the ball.
And conversely, we’ve got the shiny, shiny, shiny gold David Beckham shoes with synthetic leather. There are kids these days that want to make a statement on the field. They want bright colors. Also, with synthetic leather, there’s less upkeep on it, because it’s certainly not a natural material. And I think kids are certainly gravitating towards the shiny colors. If you go into any sporting goods store, or any soccer specialty store nowadays … the colors are everywhere.
NDP: You mentioned Beckham. Could you talk about some of the other athletes that will be wearing these?
Key guys that we have now are Robin van Persie, who plays for Arsenal and Holland, and Nani, who plays for Portugal and Manchester United. He’s actually wearing F50 right now, and he’ll switch into Predator. That’s a very high-profile player on a high-profile team. And another big player is Kaká. He’s wearing adiPure, and he’ll switch into Predator as well. He plays on Madrid and Brazil. We are really looking to reinvigorate the silo and bring guys back. Everybody knows Predator, so it’s great to bring it back into the public’s view, and the kids’ view, who’ve now been watching a lot of Lionel Messi in F50 lately. And then we are even going to go a little more crazy, with the purples and rainbow colors that actually linked to our Champions League ball. We are really trying to tell holistic stories and get kids to not just wear the black-based shoes. That stuff is great, but I think you can put more on a shoe now.
NDP: You mentioned that the eyestay and tongue cover were some of the changes. Was there anything else along the way that was a big shift in comparison to past Predators?
I would probably say, from a design perspective, we’ve gone back to what we’ve seen in past Predators actually, where the branding is much more visible. When you are watching games, you are seeing the shoe on the field of play much more visibly. Recent Predators have had more flowing Stripes and in different directions. We wanted something that spoke to adidas again, and that’s been a big change for us, even from the Predator that we have previously.
NDP: Which color would you wear?
I actually just wore this color [points to Sharp Blue/Electricity/Black colorway] Monday night in a game. I debuted the Predator in my soccer game, in a 1-1 draw, in the co-ed Oregon Adult Soccer Association. [laughs] I try to wear as many of our shoes as possible, and luckily I’m a sample size. I want to know what they feel like and get out there to kick around. It’s funny, because people are looking at me like, “What do you have on your feet?”