The most iconic boots in history often makes people question their pre-conceived notions. The 1994 Predator questioned the idea of what a football boot could be. The 2010 adizero questioned if you had to make a sacrifice between weight, durability and comfort.
By now, you’d have read the countless eulogies about the true return of the Predator. You’d have heard the countless debates on what it means to be a Predator. Is it the tongue, the leather upper, or the signature “Predator Element”? You’re probably tired of hearing about its history, of creator Craig Johnston slapping on table tennis rubber to help with control, gatecrashing a Bayern Munich Board meeting to get footage of Franz Beckenbauer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge kicking in it to get adidas to make a deal. You’d have felt the hype behind those Demonskin spikes harking back to the bygone era where virtually every brand had a silo made for imparting extra spin or power in your shoots.
What makes a “Power Boot”?
So yea, we’re not gonna talk about all that, like everyone else. What I do want to talk about, is how the Predator 20.1 L made me question what a power boot really is.
Thanks to spreads of marketing, most people (myself included) have long associated lighter boots with speed and weightier boots with power. The heavier the boot, the more force you can generate on the ball, F=ma. But tell that to any die-hard Mercurial Vapor fan and they’ll give you a knowing wink that comes with the knowledge of that lovely ping on the ball you get only with those barefoot uppers. The Predator 20.1 L, lies smack in the middle of that Venn diagram.
Alright, to get the elephant out of the way, yes, those Demonskin spikes do work. It’s admittedly been awhile since I’ve tried a technology enhancement that really works, but these spikes REALLY do. It’s amazing the amount of curve you are able to get on the ball even if you hit it slightly off the sweet spot. Officially, adidas claims that it adds 17% more spin on the ball and I’ve got two assists off my corners so I’d say they do help in that regard. Knuckleballs are a little more hit and miss, but if you hit them right, with the area closer to your ankle, those go very true as well.
As I’ve hinted earlier as well, the 20.1 L is a dream to smack balls with. Thanks to the super thin upper, you feel every shot connecting with your foot, with little distraction. Shooting with your laces gives a nice pingy and barefoot sensation which makes you want to continuously blast the ball all day long. The Predator 20.1 L is the ultimate striker’s dream, giving you the flexibility of a nice bone to ball feel for those Gerrard-esque sledge hammers, as well as a cultured curl into the top corner ala Beckham. 100% unfair indeed,
Touch-wise, the boot is a little big of a mixed-bag. Thanks to the grippy rubber elements, it takes awhile to adjust and get used to it. However, it does make it easier to control passes that have a little more spin to them. On the instep, it imparts a slight dampening effect for those harder passes, but when it comes to controlling balls with the forefoot, it does feel a little unnatural at first. It’s not a clean touch, as say the X19.1 or a padded touch like the Copa 20.1, but the Predator wasn’t built for that. My only gripe about the spikes is how annoying it sound in wet weather and how the ball feels more slippery on the spikes. My theory is that the spikes mean that there’s a small surface area of the boot interacting with the ball and thus lesser grip. But these are all very minor issues compared to what the spikes bring to the table, the Demonskin is the real deal and adidas really deserves a lot of props for that.
Fit and Feel
Unlike the last two generations, adidas offers a proper low-cut option this time and for my money, this is the best Predator 20 out there. Despite weighing a hefty 235g (by today’s standards), the boot does not feel heavy on feet at all. In fact, thanks to the barefoot upper and the crazy fit (more on that later), the boot felt very much like a speed boot on feet. I felt quick and nimble in it, despite the boots not being particularly light or aggressive with traction. adidas have gone back to calling this an FG soleplate instead of an FG/AG soleplate, but it works extremely well on both surfaces.
If you’ve noticed, I’ve left the fit and feel on-feet out so far, so its time to address the elephant in the room – that really, really, REALLY strange fit of the 20.1 L. The boot follows a similar shape to the Copa series, which means it has a strangely wide forefoot, with a very narrow midfoot. Even when I went true to size, my midfoot was choked, but my wide forefoot was swimming in space. As a stickler for a good fit, I went down half a size to get the best possible fit length wise, but that meant that I needed a good number of training sessions as well as the water trick to get the midfoot to soften up and accommodate. I had the opportunity to speak to one of the designers of the boot and he suggested that it could be down to my flat-feet being the issue. A good number of my Asian friends had had similar issues with fit so I would really recommend trying them out in shops before buying them. It’s something that I’ve not heard the more prominent reviewers (with the exception of freekickerz and bootwizardbootreviews) mention, so I’m left to guess that its an issue that isn’t as prominent with “Western Feet”. Do let us know in the comment section how the boots fit for you if you’ve tried them.
Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t the end of my fit issues. Thanks to the laces and the crazy tight midfoot, the lockdown was good on feet, but I had some heel slippage in game. The heel padding would stay on my heel instead of above it to lock me in, so I’d constantly feel unstable in the heel area, which is a huge shame. I’ve seen images of pro boots (Oliver Norwood for those wondering) and they do seem to use a more traditional heel construction, similar to the X17.1s as well as the newest X19.1 AG, so hopefully that changes in the next generation.
The new split sole construction also sees adidas equip a very hard plastic as the Strobel which, when combined with the relatively thin insole, means that it can feel quite hard on your feet. It’s less of an issue in the HG, which uses a more traditional construction, but I would have enjoyed a thicker midsole. I eventually solved both the heel slippage issue and the hard strobel issue with my old Ace 17+ boost insole, which was thin yet firm enough.
My Newest Unrequited Love
Like Haidan and Shao Wei before it, the Predator 20.1 L is an idiosyncratic (in a good way) boot that I really want to love, but it doesn’t want to love me back. It comfortably straddles that thin line between a power and a speed boot, offering the best experience when striking or curling the ball, whilst making you feel nice and nimble on feet.
The Predator 20.1 L is constantly the first boot in my bag on match days and would easily be my boot of the year. Unfortunately, the fit on it is so unforgiving as compared to the previous generations that I hesitate to recommend it out unless you’ve tried it on. If you’re one of those lucky one where it really fits, congratulations, you’ve got the best Predator since the adiPower, and arguably the best performing boot in the past 4 years.