Get ready for EURO

Nike Mercurial | 25 years of speed

Reading time: 11 min

Nike Mercurial football boots have been a staple on the feet of professional footballers since their debut in 1998. The sleek and aerodynamic design of the Mercurial quickly became a favorite of players, with its lightweight construction and innovative technology making it a top choice for speedsters and dribblers alike. In this article, we'll take a look at the history of the Nike Mercurial and how it has evolved over the years.

Mercurial R9 - 1998

The first Mercurial saw the light of day in late 1997 and was released in 1998 - but back then, it was actually developed as a continuation to the Tiempo line. It’s development name was Tiempo Ultra Light - and it was groundbreaking in so many ways - not only did Nike use a synthetic leather called KNG100 for the first time ever on a boot and almost halved the thickness of the sole plate, they also equipped it with a sticky coating to improve your touch. The boot weighed 250g but was cut down to 240g when Nike released improved versions first the Mercurial 2 and then this one, the 2.1 - in early 2000.

Match Mercurial - 2000

Later in 2000, Nike then launched the Match Mercurial, shaving another 10g off to 230g. It was based on the Mercurial R9 but now had a sleeker KNG100 upper and a re-arranged sticky coating on the side of the boot for a more even grip on the ball. It also featured the Speedtract plate, which was even more aggressive than the OG Mercurial plate. Nike also made an Air Zoom Mercurial VT that feature a turf outsole and Air Zoom pods in the sole, but it didn't perform well in sales, and Nike shelved the idea.

Mercurial Vapor - 2002

2002 was another tent pole moment in speed boot history - the introduction of the Mercurial Vapor, which was built as a track spike for the pitch. Every gram was closely considered, and Nike made a new last to bring the boot as close to the foot as possible. They also made a one-piece synthetic upper, the NikeSKIN to give an almost barefoot like sensation, plus a PEBAX plate with an even more aggressive stud shape - and weighing just 190g, the Vapor was something no one had ever seen before. Nike also made a K-leather version - but it never managed to gather as much attention as the synthetic version.

Mercurial Vapor II - 2004

The Vapor 2 took over in 2004 and continued where the Vapor 1 left off - the biggest improvements were to the comfort, giving you a higher heel tab and a slightly more stable upper package. Same outsole, same weight and a true icon of a boot.

Mercurial Vapor III

In 2006, Vapor III came onto the scene, made for the World Cup. It featured a new, slightly thicker Teijin upper, which wrapped all around the foot, a wider fit and higher toebox and heel plus PORON pads on the heel to give you better comfort and a more locked in fit at the same time. It also had carbon fiber in the outsole to make it stiffer, and once broken in, it was 196g of pure magic on your foot - although not everyone loved it. 2007 also gave us the 10th Anniversary edition, which was inspired by the first Mercurial R9 colourway that came out 10 years prior.

Mercurial SL - 2008

In 2006, Mark Parker also took over as CEO at Nike, and he challenged every team to make something insane and outrageous with no budget. In 2008 the Nike Football team showed the result to the world - the Mercurial SL, which weighed 185g and was more or less made entirely of carbon fiber. It set a trend that’d be used for years to come - and it was only officially worn by CR7 in the Champions League final that year, where he scored and helped Manchester United to victory. Only 2,008 FG pairs and 500 SG pairs were made - and it's truly an incredibly unique and sought after football boot, even today.

Mercurial Vapor IV & Vapor SL - 2008

Nike then used the carbon fiber soleplate on the next generation of the Vapor: the Vapor IV and Vapor IV SL in 2008. Both boots still featured a Teijin upper and slightly smaller PORON pods in the heel - and of course also had the infamous lace cover for a cleaner striking surface. The Vapor IV had a glass fibre heel counter and was 230g - and its big brother, the Vapor IV SL, shaved off 20g by introducing the carbon fiber outsole which took heavy inspiration from the Mercurial SL.

Mercurial Vapor V & Mercurial Vapor Superfly - 2009

In 2009 Nike then revolutionized the game once again with the Superfly 1. It introduced Flywire cables, which are supert-thin, but very strong vectran threads weaved into the material to create a seat-belt or suspension bridge-like effect for your feet - to provide stability and keep your foot in place while still offering an incredibly thin upper. It featured a VERY responsive carbon fiber outsole and weighed just 185g. It was accompanied by the Vapor V that featured a bit of Flywire but otherwise hadn’t changed much from the 4.

Mercurial Vapor VI & Mercurial Vapor Superfly II - 2010

But Nike wanted focused more on traction and less on weight - and in 2010 the Superfly II arrived. It continued with a thicker Teijin upper, more Flywire cables and a carbon fiber plate, but the big deal was the introduction of the NikeSENSE studs, which were supposed to move further into the ground as you applied pressure. Good idea, but it wasn't the best execution - and combined with a stiff upper, loads of blisters, a 221g weight and a very high price tag, it really split opinion.The Vapor VI got a new, full-length glass fiber plate and some small changes to the upper but didn’t make much note of itself.

Mercurial Vapor VII & Mercurial Vapor Superfly III - 2011

As 2010 turned into 2011, Nike released the Superfly III and Vapor VII. The Superfly III was essentially the same shoe as the II, just with a slightly lower toe cap, but there was nothing new other than that. The Vapor VII was much improved as it lost the lacing and got a softer upper - and more and more players started wearing the Vapor instead of the much stiffer Superfly model. Still, both boots weighed in at over 8 ounces, making both boots the heaviest in the speed boot category by a fair margin.

Mercurial Vapor VIII - 2012

That changed in 2012 where Nike killed off the Superfly for a while and only released the Vapor VIII. It weighed 185g and came with glass fiber outsole, a new stud configuration with only 2 studs in the heel and a superthin, much softer Teijin upper with a suede like finish to give you a barefoot like touch on the ball which still had some grip to it. And while the two-stud configuration in the heel split opinion, the Vapor VIII is widely considered as the return to the Mercurial DNA: lightweight, thin, snug and responsive - and there's a reason this is a lot of player's favourite Mercurial

Mercurial Vapor IX - 2013

2013 then brought us the Vapor IX which continued with the same Teijin upper, the glass fiber outsole and two studs in the heel. It did, however, feature a dimpled, golf ball like texture on the upper for a bit more texture and grip on the ball, and had a slightly tighter fit. It also came with a leather-like finish on the upper - and with 22 colorways there were some beauties in between - plus, a 15th anniversary colorway and some extremely limited edition CR7 boots, to name a few.

Mercurial Superfly IV - 2014

In the summer of 2014 Nike shook the football boot industry and brought back the Superfly with the introduction of a full Flyknit upper, a high-cut Dynamic Fit Collar and the re-introduction of the carbon fiber outsole. Nike also brought back memories of the Flywire cables with the introduction of knitted Brio-cables that did the same job, only with better flexibility. It weighed 195g and was probably the first Superfly to really fulfill the original brief of giving the player the complete package with a lightweight boot that responsive acceleration and which felt like you were wearing nothing.

Mercurial Vapor X - 2014

The launch of Superfly IV was followed up with the Vapor 10. It didn't get as much attention, as it was still 'just' a Teijin upper. It did feature a new nylon sole plate, a new, one-piece tongue construction, ACC and a textured upper to give you friction on the ball - and rocking the same stud configuration, it felt like the less radical and much more conventional version of the Superfly that kept the core DNA of Mercurial intact - and it was a much better boot than it got credit for, weighing just 175g.

Mercurial Superfly V - 2016

Things were changed up once again in 2016 on the Superfly V which continued with the Flyknit/brio cable upper but introduced both the knitted Speedribs for better grip, and the new anatomical soleplate made of a nylon material which allowed your foot to sink more into the plate and secure an even better lockdown at just 191 grams. It also brought us Anti-Clog and was overall well-received by a lot of players.

Mercurial Vapor XI - 2016

The Superfly V also gave us the 11th version of the Vapor, which is the lightest to date at just 167g. It featured the thinnest Teijin upper yet with synthetic speed ribs and an internal support cage like we’ve seen since the Vapor 8 to give a bit of stability. Add the anatomical sole plate from the Superfly to that, and you had an extremely popular Mercurial which is still used today.

Flyknit Ultra - 2017

But Nike were planning to do even bigger things, and teased a bit for their upcoming Mercurials with the Flyknit Ultra in the fall of 2017. Coming out as a low-cut Flyknit version of the Vapor 11, it had a knitted upper with hardened Speedribs and an interesting gradual NikeSkin coating that was stiffer and stronger at the bottom that then got softer at the top for a better fit and comfort. It was a very limited boot, but sparked the development of GripKnit, which was introduced 5 years later on the Phantom GX.

Mercurial Vapor 12 & Superfly 6 - 2018

2018 brought about the Vapor 12 and Superfly 6, which were made to shine at the biggest stage during the World Cup 2018. For the first time ever, the Vapor and Superfly were identical apart from the high-cut Dynamic Fit Collar on the Superfly 6. Both uppers were full Flyknit, which wrapped all the way around the foot with an internal chassis providing the stability. It also continued where the Flyknit Ultra left off with 3D engineered speed ribs for grip and a gradual NikeSKIN silicone coating for the most optimal fit.

Mercurial Vapor 13 & Superfly 7 - 2019

A year later, Nike perfected their Flyknit-upper formula with the Vapor 13 and Superfly 7, which combined the softer Flyknit yarns with high-tenacity yarns which blended naturally into the upper but also provided strength and stability to the upper, while only weighing in at 187g in the Vapor 13 version. The new upper provided a slightly more textured feel on the ball, and thanks to the mix of soft yarns and high tenacity yarns, many will argue that this was one of the most comfortable Mercurials generations to date. The Swoosh also increased the length of the studs with 1 mm, giving them even more bite than on the Vapor 12 and Superfly 6.

Mercurial Vapor 14 & Superfly 8 - 2021

In early 2021, it was time for another Mercurial upgrade. This time, Nike said goodbye and thank you to Flyknit as the main upper material, and instead introduced a synthetic composite upper called Vaporposite - in essence, it was a sandwiched upper consisting of layers of different synthetic materials to offer both stability, strenght and softness where it was needed. Those layers had a thin, textile mesh on top to provide a bit of texture on top, and was finished off with a thin silicone film - and while it was quite a change from the full Flyknit upper, both the Vapor 14 and Superfly 8 continued the trend of almost plug-and-play comfort and playability right out of the box.

Air Zoom Ultra - 2022

After years of hard work, Nike gave us another Ultra-boot, teasing tomorrow's innovation. This time, Nike had been working on integrating their Zoom Air technology into the Mercurial boots, and had engineered a highly limited edition boot around the Zoom Air unit from the KD12 basketball shoes. The boots had been shown as a concept boot in 2020 at the Nike Innovation Summit in New York, and was now finally ready to hit pitches all across the World - if you were lucky to get your hands on one of the only 1,000 pairs released.

Air Zoom Mercurial Vapor 15 & Superfly 9 - 2022

In 2022, Nike then introduced the current generation of Mercurial - but with a twist. The Vaporposite+ upper has been reworked from the ground up. Nike wanted as little structure in the upper as possible while still being able to secure the foot during the most aggressive movements - football is one of the sports that require the most lockdown, and thus you need to securely lock in both the toe, the midfoot and the heel - and still allow for a good, natural amount of flexibility. Nike took to the Roman sandal, and studying the sandals of Roman warriors showed a new way to create the perfect lockdown for a football boot. The result is the SpeedCage - made with a midfoot and heel strap for the most optimal lockdown. Nike made their SpeedCage from a thin, strong synthetic material with the ‘straps’ and the cutouts to fixate the foot as well as possible. On top of the SpeedCage, there’s a thin mesh layer in the forefoot to make sure that you get a sharp, barefoot like feel as well as a textile mesh woven in a chevron pattern and then covered in a silicon film to offer a grippy, uniform touch on the ball.

The gamechanger in the boots are naturally the new Air Zoom unit in the outsole - which we already saw in Zoom Ultra, however the new Air Zoom Mercurial are quite different. The Air Zoom has a 4.8mm thick pocket of compressed air - 20 PSI which is around 1,3 bar, more than a fully inflated football holds. Giving you that extra bounce in every strive, just enough to beat your competition. The Air Zoom unit covers ¾ of the sole and sits in a little cavity inside the tooling itself in order to get you as close to the ground as possible. It’s taken Nike 2.5 years and 3 prototypes to get here, which goes to show that this technology is more than ready for those big games.

Last but not least, Nike has opted for a new stud shape and placement. These new tri-star shaped studs, gives you a flat surface in three different directions, meaning that you can push off and cut more effectively. Lastly they also found that speed is more than just acceleration. Making this boot more responsive whenever you brake or change direction. Fastest just became faster.

25 years of Mercurial speed - but where will the boot silo go next? Let us know your thoughts below and don't forget to check out our huge selection of Mercurial boots to find YOUR next boots.