Over the past few seasons, Nike has been working in-depth to advance a somewhat unseen part of the boot; the soleplate. Traction is an aspect of boots the we as players somewhat take for granted, primarily because their have been minimal changes underfoot through the years. And when it comes to a new release, it is the last few lines where you will find hidden details about the functionality of the soleplate.
But, across recent Nike releases there has been a new trend and a larger piece of the pie has been shared with what the Swoosh is trying to do with the traction system they have employed. Max Blau (VP Nike Football Footwear) stated that:
Nike Football has made more advancements in traction over the past two years than in the previous twenty. With rapid prototyping from 3-D printing, hard science, and Finite Element Analysis (FEA), we’ve taken assumptions and guesswork out of the equation,
In reality, there are not many out there (myself included) that could map the stud and blade configurations of the boots we wear. But thankfully, there is a team out there who’s sole purpose (excuse the pun) is to create traction systems that align with the functionality of that particular boot. These days players are playing on multiple surfaces from FG to SG and what is probably the most popular venue right now, AG. Then there is the new street soccer line-up that mixes fashion with performance for play at anytime.
Thanks to insights from Nike’s engineers, designers and scientists, we take a look at some of the changes introduced in recent times across all surface types, with some details on what you can expect performance wise.
FG – Firm Ground
The recent Mercurial Superfly and Magista 2 launches exemplify the changing emphasis across different silos. The Mercurial Superfly is built for speed, with angled studs in the forefoot for propulsion and straight chevrons in the heel for braking (as players can only accelerate to full speed when confident they can brake as needed). Magista 2 focuses on rotational traction with chevrons encircling the ball of the foot combined with medial and lateral half-conical studs.
Both boots feature completely revamped traction over their previous model, a trend that will continue as traction science spreads to the other footwear silos.
SG – Soft Ground
A few months back, Nike released their Anti-Clog Traction system, and it’s introduction is a game changer. Mud is a common opponent for all players; it clogs studs, weighs down boots and can cause players to lose footing altogether. I’ve personally suffered these problems all too often!
Nike Anti-Clog Traction prevents mud from clogging the sole plate of Nike’s football boots. The technology was developed over the course of two years with insights from Nike’s design, materials and research teams. Dr. Jeremy Walker was one of several PhDs working on this project, with backgrounds in materials science engineering and chemistry.
There is a reason why this problem persisted for so many generations of players. It is extremely difficult to solve. But, that’s the kind of challenge we thrive on.
Nike Anti-Clog Traction sole plates include an adaptive polymer that becomes compliant when exposed to water. There is a lot of scientific talk involved with its implementation. I’m not going to go deep into it, all you need to know is that a hydrophilic solution helps keep mud from clogging the plate!
AG – Artificial Grass
As you have probably noticed, the number of artificial grass fields has risen sharply in recent years. They are easier to maintain and allow play right through wet and cold conditions. But they also present a uniquely different set of challenges. Max Blau explains that by saying:
When you’re dealing with artificial grass, you have to account for the combination of artificial grass blades and the tiny rubber pellets and how they grab the plate. Heat is also a concern as the rubber heats up in a way that grass would not.
The pellets I don’t mind too much, but there is nothing worse than having your feet feel like they are turning into ine big heat blister on scorching hot days. To combat these issues, Nike has introduced an entirely new line-up of artificial grass (AG) boots. The studs on the AG plates are shorter than on firm ground (FG) boots and hollowed out. This allows for quicker responsiveness and helps prevent the boot from getting too deeply embedded in the artificial surface. A Texon shield has been added to the inside of the boots to reduce the amount of heat players may feel against their foot when playing on AG surfaces in hot temperatures. YES!
IN – Indoor or Street Soccer
Traction has also been revamped for the small-sided game, typically played on hard, smooth surfaces. Underfoot control of the ball is essential during these fast conditions, so the traction has the dual purpose of ball-control. Blau elaborated that:
When we initially launched NikeFootballX for the small-sided game in 2015, all of the boots had the exact same traction pattern. Now we’re applying the same obsession with traction science across all Nike Football products.
For example, the latest MercurialX features a tri-star outsole with flex grooves while the recently launched MagistaX utilizes a circular herringbone outsole. Both provide the same playing style benefits as their cleated counterparts, while incorporating cushioning to account for the hard surface.
One thing is for sure, the development won’t stop here and Nke are planning a new wave of traction system as they come up with further advancements. It is a fundamental piece of the performance puzzle that does deserve valid attention, especially when you consider how playing conditions continue to evolve.
If you’ve tested any of these traction systems and have feedback to offer on how you thought they performed, let us know in the comments!