Whilst many people dream of signing a boot contract with one of the biggest sporting brands of the world – being supplied with the best and newest boots for free – could we soon see a shift towards elite players snubbing traditional boot deals in favour of creative and commercial freedom? Freedom to wear whatever they want, whenever they want?

Recent reports suggest that adidas are set to part ways with Mesut Ozil after a seven-year partnership. On paper, it seems like it would be a huge blow to the German, but would it actually be as bad for the player as it first seems? Ozil’s Arsenal teammate Hector Bellerin has been enjoying the freedom that comes with being a non-contracted player, with his PUMA deal having expired last year. The Spaniard has been picking and choosing the boots he wears in training and on match-day, often switching between various adidas and Nike models.

While Bellerin could just be subject to a post-term restriction (a clause that prevents a player from announcing an agreement with a new brand until a set period of time has elapsed), you wouldn’t put it past him, being the maverick that he so clearly is, to keep his position as a free-agent in the boot market. So, could Ozil and indeed other players follow suit and opt to not have boot deals in the future? 

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The first thing to understand with boot contracts is that at the very least, the contract will usually require the player to wear and use the brand’s products for training and in games. Standard stuff, but it’s unlikely to just stop there. For a number of elite players, wearing the particular branded football boot is only one part of an overall brand ambassadorial role that can include, among other things, being part of launch campaigns for new packs and silos, personal appearances, photo sessions, promotional appearances, and corporate responsibilities. It’s so much more than just getting new boots as and when you need them. You have to work for that, despite what us mere mortals may think.

For the biggest names in the game, it’s all worth it though. Cristiano Ronaldo's lifetime deal with Nike is reported to be worth over $1 billion, and Lionel Messi's partnership with adidas is believed to earn him upwards of $12 million per year.


Then there’s the signature boot: the ultimate honour bestowed upon the best of the best. It’s obviously a privilege that’s dished out accordingly – Nike only have room for so many headliners, with Mbappe recently muscling in on the arena previously reserved exclusively for CR7 and Neymar. For adidas, the signature line is even more exclusive, with only Pogba and Messi being graced with their own line in recent years, and even then it’s been sparing. Away from the big two brands, Sadio Mané has been graced with his own signature boots by New Balance, but aside from that the pickings are slim.


While the big bucks and signature kicks are only available to a precious few, the money a player can expect to earn is still quite enticing, with performance-related bonuses boosting the potential of any deal. But there’s also a downside to all that money and getting all that branded kit. A boot deal may actually limit the opportunities for a player to sign additional deals with other brands for merchandise. "Categories of endorsements that a player can enter into outside of a boot deal can be pretty restrictive," said Daniel Geey, a sports lawyer who has worked on multiple boot-deal negotiations.

"I've seen times when a player has signed a boot deal thinking it's just for wearing, say, adidas clothes, for example, but it actually covers moisturisers, skincare, electronic goods, headphones and sunglasses. Another brand approaches the player and says, 'Do you want to model our new skincare range?' The player says, 'Yeah, that fits in with my idea of the type of stuff I want to be doing.' But they then look back at the boot deal and realise that that's within the remit of that boot deal. Or even worse, they go ahead and sign the deal, and realise they're possibly in breach of their boot deal, which creates significant problems."

These are things that can obviously be negotiated at the outset if you’ve got a good lawyer, but one thing that can’t be negotiated: the boots. With the uniform nature of a football kit, there are only so many ways that players can otherwise express their personalities on the pitch. Being bound by a boot contract guarantees that you are going to be wearing the same boots as a host of other players, likely in the same game and on the same team. There is no room for expression here if you’re bound by a contract.

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Instead, several professionals use the training ground to indulge in their favoured boots, before switching back to their mandatory selection for game day. Ozil has been a key figure amongst these, always quick to pull on the latest Predator rerelease, and he’s joined by the likes of teammate Ainsley Maitland-Niles – who’s been on a real throwback drive since the return to training – Barca’s Ivan Rakitic, and Atletico’s Alvaro Morata, two more Predator aficionados. And that’s to name but a few.

Despite the potential end of contract between adidas and Ozil, the German's agent Erku Sogut has been quick to point out that there has been no termination, simply the expiration of his current deal. Sogut also announced that Ozil has no intention of signing another boot deal in his football career. ‘Mesut will be 32 in October,’ Sogut said. ‘He knows if he signs another two or three-year boot deal now, it could last for the remainder of his active playing career. For him, it’s not about the money — he wants to use that time to help build his own M10 brand. After this contract, he doesn’t have to wear something just because the sponsor says. Maybe he’ll wear Puma for a couple of days, then one day, Nike; maybe a brand from Indonesia or Malaysia. Who knows? It’s up to him now. There are some classic boots from the past he wants to wear.’ All points that back up the argument that Ozil could be one of the first in a new line of players to abandon boot contracts as we know them in the not too distant future.

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Whether there is any truth in the reasons that Adidas are not looking to renew Ozil's contract, or whether what his agent says is actually more accurate, the former German international has been vocal on certain political topics in recent years, and whilst his friendship with Turkey’s president has come into question, he is also pretty much the only footballer who has spoken up for Uighur Muslims in China being detained in re-education camps in the Xinjiang region. This may not have gone down well in China, and thus with his brand affiliations (China being one of the world's largest and most-lucrative markets), but his voice is still a rare one in western Europe, an outsider who has risen to the top of society, and his stance on Uighur Muslims gives more of an insight into the man himself than anything he has said about football. So should he feel restricted in his views and how he expresses them, just because of the boots he wears? Obviously not. Whilst nothing official has been confirmed regarding adidas’s reasoning for not seeking to renew the contract, Ozil’s outspoken nature and wish to not be tethered in any fashion lends weight to his agent's comments.

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We are seeing a generation of footballers who are more socially aware than ever before, unafraid to speak their voices when things need to be said, and unafraid to express their own unique personalities and styles in any way that they see fit, and this should be encouraged, both on the pitch and off the pitch. Ozil currently rakes in £350,000 a week at Arsenal, and while he is firmly at the higher echelon of what footballers earn, professional wages have been on the increase in a big way over the last few years, to the point where these players could quite easily do without the additional money offered by a brand. Instead, they could choose to move away from boot contracts, despite the financial benefits, opting instead for the chance to wear whatever they like, whenever they like.

Brands would actively seek to avoid this type of trend, so could there be another alternative? Could there be a more relaxed type of contract in the future, one that allows players to pick and choose any boot from a a brand’s back catalogue? James McClean, for example, has always favoured the Mercurial line, but picks and chooses whatever he wants from that range, often opting for the latest special edition.

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Ultimately, a contract-free status would mean that a player could wear any of latest new releases, special editions, custom creations, or throwback classics that they choose. A freedom of choice that is otherwise removed once a signature is placed on that dotted line. Is it likely to happen? Probably not in big numbers, because let’s face it, money talks.

But you never know, if the boot fits…