Creative Soccer Culture

Nike's World Cup Mercurial Is A Throwback To Ronaldo's 2001 Match Mercurial

It was a new millennium, and with that came significant advances in technology; the internet continued to gather pace, mobile phones started to feature cameras, and football boots continued their lightweight development. Chief among them was the Nike Mercurial, which took an evolutionary step under the brand’s Alpha Project.

As any self-respecting football fan knows, the Nike Mercurial made its explosive debut on the feet of Ronaldo at the 1998 World Cup in France, and it hasn’t looked back since, existing as one of Nike’s longest serving silos ever, second only to the timeless Tiempo. But to last that long and stay relevant, it had to continuously evolve, changing with the times to ensure that – being that it was designed as a speed boot – it could keep up with the pace of the game. And one such iconic evolution has been brought back into focus recently, thanks to the latest colourway of the current generation Air Zoom Mercurial Vapour XV and Superfly IX, which arrived on the scene in a 2022-World-Cup-ready “Metallic Copper” colourway as part of the Nike ‘Generation’ pack. 

An argument could be made that no boot had had quite the instant impact on the game that the Nike Mercurial did back in 1998, but that was just the beginning. On New Year’s Day 1999, Nike launched ‘Alpha Project', and the philosophy behind it was simple: identify and solve product performance problems for (and with) the athlete. It was identified by the signature five dot sign-off on products, with each dot representing a letter from the word Alpha. Among the impactful line of shoes, apparel and accessories was the latest generation of the Mercurial, the Match Mercurial, which was launched in 2000 and that was once again made famous on the feet of Ronaldo. 

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Now, given the uncompromising athlete approach to performance products that was the calling card of the Alpha Project, it’s no surprise that Ronaldo would’ve had some input into the design and development of the Match Mercurial. His injuries may have stopped him making an instant impact in them upon release, but that didn’t stop him making them a boot to remember in his own inimitable fashion. Upon his return from injury, he wore them throughout his participation in the 2001/02 Serie A season – his last at Inter, in which he scored seven goals in 14 games as the Nerazzurri lost out on the title to Juventus in heartbreaking fashion on the final day. 

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Two things were clear from this though: first, Ronaldo was back, perhaps not as explosive as he had once been, but no less lethal, a point backed up by his performance in the 2002 World Cup; and second, the Match Mercurial was most definitely an effective weapon and a fitting follow up to the original R9 Mercurial.

Weighing just 230 grams, it was once again constructed from a KNG-100 synthetic upper, while it was here that Nike first introduced the heel reinforcements that became a hallmark of the Mercurial line, with almost every boot since having a recognisable design to protect the heel, born from this feature. 

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It was released in four colourways: “Black/Blue”, “Black/Red” and probably most notably, the R9 signature “Metallic SIlver/Black/Vibrant Yellow” and “Metallic Bronze/Black” looks, although it was the latter that was most prominent on the feet of the Brazilian through the final stages of the 01/02 campaign, and therefore in the minds of many. And, although it may have been overlooked somewhat, it’s this boot that has been homaged with the latest Air Zoom Mercurial colourway; 20 years after the original rampaged on pitches across Italy through the latter part of the Serie A season we’re set to see the current Mercurial, in the same guise, rampaging on pitches in Qatar throughout the next month.

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Daniel Jones

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