In the early 1990s, football boot technology had stalled. Boots were heavy, leather monstrosities designed to prevent injury instead of facilitating the beautiful game. The last major revolution came almost four decades before when Adidas founder Adi Dassler invented the screw-in stud. Craig Johnston, a South Africa-born, Australian-bred, English-educated former player, would change the game forever with a new design that became the Predator. But it wouldn't happen overnight.
Johnston appeared in 190 matches for Liverpool between 1981 and 1988 before retiring and returning to Australia to look after his sister. It was Down Under where he stumbled upon his brilliant idea: use rubber, instead of leather, to build ridges on the top of the boot that would help control the ball. The inspiration, believe it or not, came from a table tennis paddle.
Johnston spent a great deal of time and money developing several prototypes and he experimented with various concepts before settled on a final design. Johnston was convinced his design would increase control, power and swerve when striking the ball. These revolutionary design features were created to increase friction between the boot and the ball.
The designs were initially rejected by various sports shoe manufacturers, including Adidas. It wasn’t until Johnston persuaded Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner to be filmed whilst using his prototypes in snowy conditions that anyone took notice. Being a German company and Beckenbauer in particular being synonymous with the brand, Adidas had their interest peaked by the stunt. It was enough to convince them to take up Johnston's design and they bought the rights, the rest is footballing history.
The first Predators debuted in 1994. The boots, made in Germany, came only in black with white stripes and red accents. The word "Predator" featured prominently on the tongue. But it was the rubber ridges that were the revolution. The Pred has been at the forefront of some iconic games and goals, starting with the very first Predator goal, scored by Scotland's John Collins against bitter city rivals Rangers.
The initial marketing campaign focused on the extra power the Predator generated, up to 10%, but Adidas quickly changed the ads to highlight the control, 20% more swerve apparently. Unlike a leather faced boot, the vulcanised rubber ridges held onto the ball even in wet weather, hence the Beckenbauer in the snow video. The choice was yours, blast it or bend it like Beckham.
The Predators were an immediate success. More than 60% of the players in the 1994 World Cup wore Adidas, and the boot gained a following in the United States where the tournament was held. Soon, youth pitches around the world were dominated by Predators. The original Predator was revolutionary but that was not the only key to it's success, the boot had somehow managed to blur the lines between form, function, and fashion.
More than 25 years later, the Predator series is the best selling boot of all time. In 2002 Beckham wore the Predator Mania editions, arguably the most popular of the series. But there have been many editions of the boot; Rapier (1995 the first boot released in multiple colours), Touch (1996), Accelerator (1998), Precision (2000), Pulse (2004, Absolute (2006), PowerSwerve (2007), Predator X (2009), AdiPower (2011), LZ (2012), LZ TRX FG (2013) and Instinct (2014). It was there that the boot took a break and was discontinued.
Luckily for fans of the Predator, Adidas relaunched the line in 2017 and included remakes of classic boots from the 90s, with the latest edition, at the time of writing, being the Mutator 20.1. Predators are now even more lethal on the pitch than they were when they were first introduced over 25 years ago and it doesn't seem that this design classic is disappearing any time soon.