When athletic equipment companies launch new products, they often attempt to market them to consumers with a compelling sales pitch: that their latest sneaker, hat, helmet, glove or cleat is a true game-changer.
When adidas launched its first Predator soccer boot all the way back in 1994, they accomplished just that. With the boot's trademark fins providing its wearers with improved power, control and swerve on the ball, they had created a tool to help players of all levels.
Now adidas may have done it again with the creation of their newest soccer boot, the Predator Lethal Zones.
With last week's official launch in Manchester (featuring United's Nani and Tom Cleverley and City's Edin Dzeko), coupled with Saturday's launch in the U.S. at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the folks at adidas are ready to bring new technologies aplenty to professional and amateur players alike.
But how does a company like adidas create a product for the finest players in the world?
And—perhaps, more importantly—can it really make them better?
"We started with this pure, white boot," product manager for adidas soccer Tor Southard told me, "and we gave a pen to pros and amateurs alike and said, ‘Circle where you touch the ball.’ And whether it’s a 13-year-old or a professional, they’re using the same zones [to make contact with the ball]."
So imagine soccer superstars like Robin van Persie of Arsenal, Barcelona's Xavi, Angel di Maria of Real Madrid, Nani, Cleverley and Dzeko given a blank boot canvas and drawing lines of where they hit the ball.
Or don't imagine it. Just watch the video.
From those lines drawn on a pure, white boot came this diagram from the designers at adidas.
"Players today can influence a match with a single touch on the ball," said Antonio Zea, director of soccer for adidas America.
"The five lethal zones on the new Predator allow players to accurately place the ball wherever they are passing, dribbling or shooting on goal."
"We’re speaking to every major skill in the game [with the Lethal Zones]," Southard told me.
"The shoe’s not so specialized that it’s just going to help you curve the ball more or hit the ball harder. It’s not only going to help you drive the ball 60 yards. But it’s also going to help with your short passing, your trapping, your dribbling, different types of shots.
"That’s why I consider it a revolution. It’s on to that next level because the shoe is helping you with multiple facets of the game, not just one."
So let's examine how the new boots can help even the most skilled pros out there.
All soccer players know that their first touch is insanely important and can make the difference between your team retaining possession or a turnover to the opposing side.
The first touch zone atop the toes "features recessed ribs to cushion and slow the ball on contact for instant control," a vital component to any player's game.
(Quotes obtained from http://news.adidas.com/US.)
When it comes to dribbling, the boot's "spaced-out rubber ribs...ensure optimum grip during high-speed dribbling and a large number of quick ball contacts."
Nani (pictured) demonstrates the skill quite impressively at the European launch in Manchester.
Manchester City's Edin Dzeko, too, runs through a dribbling drill at the European launch.
Something tells me he might have gone a bit faster if Paul Scholes were nipping at his heels.
Xavi is one of the finest passers in all of the world. So what can the new Predators do for him?
Well, their instep is cushioned with memory foam and "features a 3-D sticky print to provide more contact time between the ball and the foot for more precise passes and consistent kicks."
Maybe one perfectly weighted pass could have made the difference between Barcelona winning or losing in the semis of the Champions League against Chelsea.
During the launch in Manchester, Nani tries to hit different targets in a timed drill.
Manchester United fans would be delighted at the possibility of his distribution being even just a smidge better next season.
Everyone wants to bend it like Beckham, right?
And the Predator Lethal Zones are designed to help you do precisely that with their "raised ribs...[that] generate greater speed and spin for powerful shots."
Given the struggles the L.A. Galaxy have experienced of late—like Saturday's 1-0 home loss to the New York Red Bulls—Becks and his mates could use the help.
Nani blasts the head off of a polystyrene cutout figure during the "sweet spot" target practice at last week's event in Manchester.
Finally, every soccer player's favorite drill: blasting the ball as hard as possible at goal.
Edin Dzeko is so excited to drive the ball, he falls over trying to do it.
So is Fredy Montero of the Seattle Sounders, who wore them in his side's 1-0 win over Philadelphia on Saturday.
Also on the Predator Lethal Zones bandwagon is Teal Bunbury of Sporting Kansas City, who fell to Montreal 2-0 over the weekend.
New York Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper has helped in the shoe's creation and will be rolling out his new boots soon.
“In Major League Soccer, every touch on the ball matters, and matches can be decided by a pass too short or a shot too long,” said Cooper.
“The Predator Lethal Zones provide ultimate ball control on the field and give me the confidence I need when it counts.”
Of course, David Beckham is the lynchpin to the roll-out of the adidas Predator Lethal Zones here in the States.
And while he's yet to break them out for a match, he will likely be doing so next Saturday in Montreal.
Be on the lookout for a slightly different color scheme than the blue, orange and white version, too. Becks has his own custom white and pink kicks set to debut.
But can an ultra-light boot with all of this technology really raise the game of a player on Beckham's level?
Southard believes it can.
"When you speak about a player like Beckham or any professional at that elite level," he told me,
"you’re getting into millimeters of the game.
"So when we’re engineering a shoe and we raise, say, the thickness of a certain zone by three millimeters, that’s something that might be able to provide that little bit of extra curve to a skill that he has already mastered."
But the new Predator is not just for the David Beckhams of the world.
"Just as it’s going to help that top-level player," Southard says, "it’s going to help that lower-level player, too. If you’re a player at that lower level, you still have to learn to do all the basics: pass, trap, hit longer types of balls. So that’s where this boot is going to help that lower player, too."
Who knows if adidas' newest boot—like its Predator predecessors—will become the stuff of legend?
But with some of the greatest players in the world involved in bringing it to life, the Predator Lethal Zones have the ability to raise the bar for soccer cleats and the players that use them.
The new Predator Lethal Zones will be available in Bright Blue/Navy/White/Infrared for $220 on June 1 at adidas retail and soccer-specialty stores worldwide.
Or you can pre-order them now at soccer.com.