It's an archetype well-known to many an amateur soccer player: the guy with the fancy shoes.
In this day and age, there must be some rule of thumb that says that for every X people who show up to play soccer on grass, at least one will sport bright yellow/blue/otherwise fluorescent footwear. The amateur soccer player automatically knows one of two things about said wearer of bright boots: either he is one of the three best players on the field, or he has significantly more money than talent.
But at the 2010 World Cup, these maxims don't apply. If you've been watching as much as I have, you've probably seen a remarkably high number of gifted athletes this year sporting glowing footwear, and not just the star central midfielders for each team. What gives?
Look closely, and you'll see that many of the luminous shoes at the World Cup come in a metallic purple and hunter orange colorway. Nike has released four new "Elite Series" boots this year, all in the same two-tone effect. According to press material, "this unique combination is designed to increase visual performance enabling [players] to quickly spot their teammates and execute a game-changing pass."
Whether the color scheme fulfills its stated goal, with so many on the field at any one time wearing one of four similar-looking models, is debatable. What is more likely is that players probably appreciate the technology that goes into these boots — the lightweight carbon fiber chassis, the thinner-than-leather synthetic fabric, the textured area where your foot impacts the ball, etc. — and certainly don't mind being sponsored for shoes that would retail for over $250 (and counting). What's also obvious are those Nike swooshes on television.
Nike isn't the only company to be thinking this way: Adidas chose the World Cup to unveil its F50 adiZero shoe, which at 5.8 ounces (for a U.S. size 9, by company estimate) is being billed as "the lightest and fastest football boot ever made." And it's outfitting the world's best player at the moment, Lionel Messi, with an purple model. (Others of the world's top players sponsored by Adidas might have elected to take the bright yellow model, or the relatively conservative black with bright yellow accents.) Puma, the third giant in soccer cleat-making, has also unveiled a variety of bright orange accents for its top-of-the-line v1.10 models.
All this is something of a change in soccer aesthetics. Not long ago, demure black boots made with thin kangaroo leather were still the dominant look among professionals. With so many players now turning to high-visibility synthetic uppers backed by enough technology for a James Bond film, that's changed somewhat. Much of the commentariat has noted how ugly these new-school shoes are; to Puma, Adidas and Nike, they must look like sound advertisements.
As for this amateur soccer player, who still dons his Adidas Copa Mundial boots from high school — a model that is about as crustily quaint as it gets — the new aesthetic is taking some getting used to. There's no need for my clumsy ballhandling to be seen in HDTV. But for the World Cup, the leading footwear manufacturers have taken the name of this blog to heart.
Patrick Jarenwattananon edits NPR Music's A Blog Supreme.