ARTICLE BY Boon Mark Souphanh

How Cristiano Ronaldo Revolutionised Nike's Mercurial Line

ronaldo mercurial wall

He’s football’s first billion-dollar man, with countless accolades and over 220 million Instagram followers to boot, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s continued influence on Nike’s all-conquering football line can’t be understated. Just like his Brazilian namesake did before him, the Portuguese superstar has made a career out of carving up defenders while wearing the iconic Mercurial boot, and the speedy silhouette has seen a host of subtle-yet-significant improvements during CR7’s domination of the world game. With close to 30 signature renditions to his name, Ronaldo has taken the speedy boot to never-before-seen levels of pace and panache.

Mercurial Vapor (2003)

Signing with Team Swoosh

As one of the hottest prospects in world football, a young Ronaldo signed with Nike back in 2003. He’s since gone on to wear over 100 variations of the Mercurial on the pitch, but his introduction to the Swoosh came during arguably the most famed era for the shoe. The super-sleek Mercurial Vapors of the time remain some of the most beloved football cleats ever, thanks to the ground-breaking tech and ultramodern aesthetic – even by today’s standards.

Since its debut in 1998, the Mercurial has always been about speed, with the legendary Brazilian striker Ronaldo headlining its initial campaigns. Plagued by knee injuries, he was starting to lose the pep in his step by season 2003/2004 but, thankfully, Nike were showing no such signs of slowing down with the advancement of their Mercurial – especially with an exciting, fresh-faced Portuguese prospect now on their books.

Taking inspiration from track spikes, the Vapor was designed for sprints, with foot-to-ground feel the key consideration. Nike removed all excess weight, tweaking everything from glue to stitching. A new anatomical last was created around the natural shape of the foot to relieve pressure and lower the player’s foot to the boot plate. The innovative fit reduced weight on previous Mercurial models, while the exterior reflected just that, with a shiny, sports car-inspired upper.

Perhaps in a sign of the passing of the torch, the regal gold Mercurial Vapor II R9 became the most remembered iteration of the silhouette, thanks largely to CR7 gaming them throughout his formative seasons at Manchester United. There was definitely a new Ronaldo on the minds of football fans.

Perhaps in a sign of the passing of the torch, the regal gold Mercurial Vapor II R9 became the most remembered iteration of the silhouette, thanks largely to CR7 gaming them throughout his formative seasons at Manchester United. There was definitely a new Ronaldo on the minds of football fans.

CR7 went on to dominate many more seasons with United while wearing the Mercurial, but arguably the audacious advancement came during his final season there. In 2006, Mark Parker challenged every design team to create something outrageous with no design limitations. After two-years of R&D, Nike Football super-charged the Mercurial's lightweight speed by constructing it entirely out of carbon fibre. Enter the Mercurial Vapor SL in 2008. Weighing just 185 grams, the shoe had the upper crafted in Italy, the plate engineered in Germany, and the outsole built in South Korea. It was a global boot for, arguably, the world game’s best player.


Signature Stardom

Shortly after a record-breaking move to Spanish giants Real Madrid, Ronaldo was (finally) bestowed his first signature boot: the CR Mercurial Vapor SuperFly II, featuring an unmistakable ‘Safari’ print upper. Marking the first time the print had been applied to performance football footwear, the model also championed Nike’s SENSE adaptive traction system in the forefoot.The unique stud configuration extends and retracts by up to 3mm, based on ground conditions and pressure exerted by the player.

Accustomed to using spike-style studs, Ronaldo made use of the innovative directionally positioned blades, which were designed to improve agility without sacrificing the Mecurial’s famed speed properties. In another nod to speed, the boot’s Safari print was overlaid with a tonal chevron pattern that is illuminated in certain light, appearing as a blurry ‘flash’ in a player’s peripheral vision.

In 2014, Nike expanded on their famed Vapor line, elevating the Mercurial to new heights – literally. Introducing the Superfly CR7 to the market, Nike shook up the performance football world with the model’s never-before-seen high-cut collar. The dynamic fit collar improved lockdown at high speeds, complementing the micro-textured Flyknit upper for a barefoot-like feel. A highly responsive carbon-fibre plate headlined the sole upgrades.  

‘When Cristiano saw the boot for the first time, he instantly took to it,’ said designer Max Blau. ‘He told us he loved the sophisticated elegance of the boot and the fact that it looked fit for a gala.’

Mercurial Superfly Elite CR7 (2018)
Mercurial Superfly CR7 'Safari' (2020)
Mercurial Vapor 'Future DNA Mercurial' (2020)

Coming Full Circle

Ronaldo’s feedback has been pivotal in the development of the Superfly, most notably the upper construction. In 2018, Nike scaled back the Dynamic Fit Collar to a lower height, similar to a modified version he’d been using covertly over the past few seasons. The ensuing Mercurial Superfly 360 championed the new fit, with a lower profile, and 360 Flyknit wrap for a better fit over the entire foot.

‘This new innovation hugs the foot and eliminates the gaps between the foot and the soleplate. In fact, it eliminates the soleplate altogether,’ explained Blau.

Without a soleplate, the sockliner interlocked with a new internal chassis for more responsiveness.

‘They fit perfectly. The 360 innovation – it’s perfect. They are comfortable and they look good, so they have everything,’ Ronaldo said of the 360 tech back in 2018.

Two years on, that design has remained more-or-less retained in the latest CR7 signature, the Mercurial Superfly CR7 ‘Safari’. Marking the 10th anniversary of his first Player Edition boot, the stylish mid-cut gamer throws back to the signature that started it all, with the modern Superfly tech he’s helped pioneer throughout the past decade.

There may be new talents lighting up the pitch, but Ronaldo continues to tweak his footwear to adapt to the rigours of the modern game. He’s been recently spotted in the new Mercurial Vapor Superfly, a low-cut boot with Flywire technology in a streamlined upper – and he’s even dabbled with spiked rugby studs for improved traction.

He may be heading towards the twilight years of his career, but it looks like CR7 is calling on the past to drive the Mercurial’s next chapter.

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