Compared to other sports, soccer requires minimal gear. In terms of importance, soccer cleats are second only to the ball. Cleats directly affect player performance. To accommodate different players’ needs, soccer cleats are meticulously manufactured from a variety of materials. Properly constructed, a good pair of cleats, also called football or soccer boots, feel like a second skin.
According to records, King Henry VIII owned the first recorded pair of soccer cleats in 1526. Early cleats took the form of high-top, leather laced boots. Pounded into soccer soles, metal nails gave players better footing on the pitch. When the metal tacks were banned in 1890, Soccer Fanatic.com reports that the nails were replaced with new leather plugs. “Studs were positioned to avoid isolated pressure points and unnecessary irritation of the foot…The common formation was six studs, two distal and proximal to the metatarsal heads and two on the posterior aspect of the heel.” In 1924, cleats advanced considerably when Adolf and Rudolf Dassler started a shoe company in Germany. According to Soccer 365.com, their cleats had “6 or 7 replaceable, nailed studs which could be changed.” In 1948, Rudolf left and started Puma, while Adolph created Adidas. Both companies have been at the forefront of soccer shoes for decades.
Though recent synthetic materials such as polyurethane microfibers have improved considerably in quality, leather is preferred for the upper part of the cleat. With its durable yet soft texture, kangaroo leather is comfortable and sculpts to the foot’s shape. A less expensive option is full-grain leather, which is durable but rigid. In the past few years, goat skin has also been used in soccer cleat manufacturing. Additional materials include laces, lining, foams and reinforcements.
Inspecting materials for defects and proper color is the first step in cleat manufacturing. Next, a machine prints multiple upper patterns on the laid-out skin (or fabric).
In the cutting process, computer programs calculate the most efficient use of material to avoid waste. According to First Pullover.com, “Cutting dies, which are metal cookies cutter like dies, are used with a large stamping machine.” Machines slice through several layers of synthetic material easily, With leather, each upper must carefully be cut individually. Special marks on materials ensure matching pieces of cut fabric are kept together in assembly.
Using a silkscreen, the uppers are printed with designs and then sent to be stitched. Following guidelines printed on each piece of material, workers stitch together the tongue, collar lining, lacing part and mud guard. Holes are made for the laces.
The lasting process shapes the cleat. Using “cement” or “board” technology to give the shoe more stiffness, the upper is stretched and formed around a mold. Cement is applied between the upper and the insole, joining the two. The sides of a leather shoe are often lasted by hand to better control the pull on the upper.
Finally, the cleat components are ready for assembly. The upper is attached to the midsole and the outsole. Coating and cement are applied to the outsole. This step prevents the shoe from separating during aggressive wear. According to First Pullover, “This must be done very carefully to ensure the outsole is put on straight and inline with the upper. The toe is first attached, then the heel, then the center area is presseed into place.” With sustained pressure, a machine bonds the outsole bottom with the upper bottom. Finally, multiple metal rivets, or studs, are attached to the bottom of the cleat. Quality control inspects each shoe for abnormalities.