On this day in 2008, 12 years ago, Manchester United won their third Champions League title on a night of high drama against Chelsea in Moscow. And for the occasion, Nike had supplied two of their key assets – one from each side in Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba – with a radical new concept design the like of which had never been seen before: the Mercurial SL.

The Mercurial SL debuted on the grandest club stage of all, for the first all-English Champions League final ever. In the red corner was Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and in the blue corner it was Chelsea’s Didier Drogba. However, the latter opted not to wear his, instead opting for the Vapor IV SL, a decision he might have come to regret after he watched the United man score a towering header for the Red Devils, while Drogba was dismissed four minutes from time for slapping Nemanja Vidic. Two opposing tales, but that's only the start of the story behind one of the most impressive and unique boots ever to grace a football pitch.

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One of the most revolutionary boots seen since its predecessor debuted 10 years before, the Mercurial SL was an indication of what could be created when restrictions were lifted. The product brief for it was simple when set out by new CEO Mark Parker in 2006: create a football boot with no design or financial limitations. Taking money, time and manufacturing considerations out of the equation, Nike set about producing the lightest, fastest football boots possible.

Upon its production the Mercurial SL weighed only 185 grams (SL for super-light) and was made almost entirely of carbon fibre, something which had never been done before and has never been done since. The development process took three years and spanned four different continents. The Mercurial SL was truly a product of the global game.

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For the soleplate, Nike worked with a partner in Germany to create a seven layer carbon composite material interwoven with TPU and polyurethane to maximise the material. With no lasting board, the structure was in the plate itself. The construction provided a torsional stability, offering greater propulsion across the field. The carbon fibre was woven together at angles to provide the most flexible, lightweight, foot-fitting support without sacrificing strength.

In Korea, the studs were injection moulded on to the plate, creating a single outsole piece. The traction of the boot was built for speed, allowing for quick acceleration across the field with or without the ball.

At Nike’s research centre in Montebelluna, Italy, engineers created a new process enabling them to mould the carbon fibre into a soft performance upper. 

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The black aesthetic of the boot was dictated by the colour of the carbon fibre, and the pink Swoosh on Ronaldo’s boot was the only added element. “It invites you to take a closer look so you’ll see the detail and the beauty of the football boot” explained Nike designer, Peter Hudson. “With the Mercurial SL, we’ve truly delivered on a promise – as a lightweight, high performance football boot for acceleration, the Mercurial SL sets a new standard not only for football performance, but as a conceptual product without limits – a product based entirely on a vision. We created a new design and aesthetic vernacular for football.

Marketed as Nike’s most lightweight, most highly responsive yet flexible and strong football boot to date (so fast they needed the world’s fastest man, Asafa Powell to test it – hey, this was a time before Usain Bolt), only 2,508 pairs of the Mercurial SL were made, each one individually numbered, making them the most limited of limited releases. If you’re lucky enough to have one of these in your collection, hold on to it.

Coming a decade after the Mercurial changed football boot design forever, the Mercurial SL went back to its track sprint origins for what was one of the most radically flamboyant and decadent designs ever seen in the game – an example of what is possible when the shackles are off.

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Yep, they don't make 'em like this anymore...