With an estimated 265 million players, football is the most popular sport across the globe. The FIFA World Cup – the most prestigious award in football that happens to mark its 20th anniversary this year – occurs every four years, and has since 1930 (excluding 1942 and 1946 due to WW2). The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be hosted in Brazil starting in June and culminating in a championship match mid-July. While watching the top 32 teams in the world duke it out, check out their gear. Many of them sport Adidas Predators – a top-of-the-line football cleat designed by Liverpool FC alum Craig Johnston. Johnston took his knowledge of the game and created a boot to improve ball handling, control and feel. Have you ever wondered how he came up with the concept? Check out Johnston’s interview with Red Touch Media‘s Kelly Forshaw at The Anfield Wrap Down Under.
Craig: Well, it was never the Adidas Predator, it was actually my Predator and when you say designed it, I spent about three years developing it. Which about 100 designs went into the final product, but how it happened was, I was.. Some kids knocked on my door and said, Mr. Johnston can you come and coach us? and I had retired from Liverpool and swore I’d never get back into the game. All of a sudden these kids were saying we’re not very good can you come and coach us? So, their cute little faces, I couldn’t ignore them. I couldn’t say no so I was back in football, you know? So I was coaching them and I was saying, well look, when you swerve a ball, you’ve got to bite the ball on the outside and I says it’s a little bit like a tennis table bat.
Kelly: Put a spin on it kind of?
Craig: Put a spin on it, see? You know the language, get a spin. And I said well, like a table tennis bat. They said, well that’s fine Mr. Johnston, but our boots are made of leather and it’s raining and the leather is slippery, we don’t have table tennis bats on our feet. And I thought they are right, the little buggers. They’re right. So I race to town, I took the table tennis bat, cut the cover off, stuck it on my boot with elastic band, Nike band right? Went back out in the rain, kick the ball and it squeaked and balls are made of polyurethane, well they were back then. And this ball actually squeaked because the rubber was engaging into the.
Kelly: With the material?
Craig: With the material. I thought, They’re right, the kids are right. So anyway, I got a patent on it. Which is weird because we are talking about 1990, but I intrinsically knew what to do because I think I’ve always been inventive and I’ve studied for years. I did a PHD in a major university degree in how to kick a soccer ball, which is what you do when you’re trying to kick a soccer ball if it doesn’t come naturally you analyze what you’re doing. So that’s what I did. Exactly, so I studied that. Didn’t get a PHD, I was only kidding. I played for Liverpool. I know, I had you didn’t I?
Kelly: But you play for Liverpool, that’s like a degree.
Craig: Well yeah, that’s the equivalent to it. That’s it, so I knew what to do and how to shape it. I patented it, took it to Adidas and they said, nah it won’t work, not interested. Took it to Puma, Nah not interested. Nike, Nah not interested. Reebok, Nah not interested. And I knew it worked and I thought these people are dumb.
Kelly: I don’t understand why you were rejected.
Craig: Because it was outside the box of their thinking and they were in it because they weren’t footballers, they were commercial people that make shoes, they’re not footballers. So they couldn’t get what I got and they didn’t believe my story. Anyway, so long story short. I’d spent a fortune. A quarter of a million pounds, about three years of my life, patents around the world and all of that stuff, but I knew it worked so I took it to.. And I knew Adidas was kind of like the ones that almost understood it because they’re a football brand. Nike was a womans, I’m sorry they are a running brand. Reebok was a women’s fitness brand. So they definitely didn’t get it. So, I went to some footballers that Adidas would listen to, so I went to buy in Munich, middle of December, really snow, freezing cold. Knocked on the door, Franz Beckenbauer, Karl Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Breitner was there and they were having a board meeting and I kindly interrupted the meeting and said, guys you’ve got to help me, I’m a fellow footballer, spent all this money, Adidas doesn’t believe me, I mean it’s a German brand. Please will you put this shoe on, come out in the snow and kick the ball and the three of them sort of felt sorry for me, because I was a bit desperate you know? And I was saying I need your help and they were like, this is weird, but we’ll do it. Anyway, they came out and I had a video camera, a bit like this one, but cheaper. Anyway, so I followed them around, they were wellying the ball backwards and forwards and going, yeah that is good and they were talking to each other in German.
Kelly: What’s the boot like?
Craig: It’s rough prototype, yeah rough prototype. It was basically a rubber pop out, it was like a wind surf boot. Yeah, it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. It was horrible, and they laughed at me. So anyway, they put it on, but when they started kicking they started saying, you could see their eyebrows getting serious, and they’re going, yeah… Whatever they said. So, I just filmed it and it took about half an hour and they were going, yeah yeah yeah and I knew they got it and they were footballers, German footballers. So I race back up the motorway, from Munich back up to Nuremberg, which is where Adidas were and they said, oh not you again, the Australian. They said, Oh blah blah blah blah. They said, Well we’ve got a board meeting and it’s very important and we can’t interrupt it. I said, no I’ve got this off Franz Beckenbauer for you. They said, what? I said, Franz Beckenbauer sent me with this tape. So anyway, they stop the meeting said come in. They put it on the big screen, right? And all these guys that laughed at me. I think six months before, they all stood up and they started clapping and I said, what were they saying? And they said, doesn’t matter what they were saying, I said no no no what were they saying?! Doesn’t matter, we’ve got to do a deal, you can’t live without doing a deal. So whatever Beckenbauer and Rummenigge said on the video tape was amazing.
Kelly: Do you know what it was?
Craig: No no no, still don’t know what they said, but I did a deal on the spot and now it’s the largest selling soccer shoe of all time and when I went to them, which is an interesting story, they were actually insolvent, they were trading as insolvent because they couldn’t pay their debts. This was in 1990, and the board meeting was because the Dessler sisters had to sell the company for $1 to a Frenchman called Bernard Tapie because they couldn’t pay their debts, so then I walked in with this thing and they thought, hang on, this can.
Kelly: This could be the savior?
Craig: Yep, eight years later, they floated for something like a billion and a half dollars on a stock exchange and the main driver, a predator boot.
Kelly: And that was to yourself?
Craig: It was.
Kelly: What an achievement.
Craig: A little bloke from Australia mate. Not too bad! Actually, the poor kids that gave me the idea got nothing! They’re great.
Do you own a pair of Predators? What do you love about them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.