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It’s November 2012. The London Olympics has been and gone, Chelsea are the reigning European champions, and a 21-year-old Eden Hazard has just stepped onto the Stamford Bridge turf with an air of confidence befitting the world’s most in-demand young player.

There’s something different about him on this occasion though: his footwear. He’s wearing the new Green Speed II, Nike’s second iteration of their environmentally friendly concept boot, and also their lightest boot to date. That’s because he’s been selected to be part of the Nike GS2 Squad, an elite band of next-generation talent deemed worthy of wearing such a groundbreaking boot.

Hazard was joined by Theo Walcott, aged 23; Stephan El Shaarawy, Christian Eriksen, and Mario Gotze, all 20; and Raheem Sterling, who was just 17 years old. Most of the time with groups like that, when a brand tries to predict the success of young athletes, they’re lucky to get one, maybe two who go on to have careers right at the top of the game. To get all six is frankly outrageous. Clearly the GS2 was a good luck charm.

In the following six years, every player on that list has improved year on year, winning some of the biggest prizes in football. Hazard is the standout: Chelsea’s mercurial No.10 has won countless honours since first wearing the GS2 against Man City in November 2012, both for the team and for his individual performances. There was the Europa League triumph in that same 2012/13 season, the league and cup double in 14/15 when he won Player of the Season, another league title in 16/17, and finally the FA Cup win in 17/18. More recently, of course, he’s captained Belgium to a World Cup semi-final. Throughout all those years, he’s stayed true to the Mercurial silo, lacing up the Mercurial VIII, IX, X, XI, and XII, only deviating from regular Vapors to wear the understandably alluring Flyknit Ultra in 17/18.
Christian Eriksen, by contrast, enjoys switching things up a bit. He was in his final full season at Ajax when he wore the GS2, playing a pivotal role in their title success before moving to Spurs in the summer of 2013. At Spurs, it only took half a season for him to swap out his footwear, joining the Magista Obra squad on the boot’s release in 2014. At the end of the 13/14 season he was named both Danish Player of the Year and Tottenham’s Player of the Season, having registered 10 goals and 13 assists in all comps – not bad for a young No.10 playing his first season in the Premier League. Since that breakthrough year he’s flirted with different Magista flavours, high-cut and low-cut, but he’s now back in Mercurials, enjoying an extra boost of speed from the Vapor XII as he looks to win a first trophy with Tottenham.
Mario Gotze is an interesting case. On the one hand, he was a player of almost unlimited potential in 2012, doing unspeakable things to the opposition in the GS2 as the gamebreaker in Klopp’s frenetic Dortmund side. And he’ll live forever in German memories having scored the World Cup-winning goal in 2014, poking home in the Magista Obra to defeat Argentina. Since then though, things just haven’t really worked out for Gotze. What should have been a career-defining move to Bayern was instead dominated by injury troubles, and his form over subsequent years fluctuated with his footwear as he switched Magista for Hypervenom. Like Eriksen, he’s now gone back to the Mercurial – let’s hope it helps him make a success of his return to Dortmund.
There have been few emerging talents more exciting than Theo Walcott. By the time he endorsed the GS2 in 2012 (off-pitch only, unfortunately), the jet-heeled youngster was already six years into his Arsenal career, and had an England hat-trick to his name courtesy of that famous victory in Croatia – and he was still just 23 years old. Having worn Nike’s speed-based boot for most of his early days, Walcott continued to be a Mercurial stalwart throughout the middle part of his career, going through multiple generations of Vapors, flirting only very briefly with the Superfly IV in 2014. Since 2015 though, he’s been an adidas man, after the three stripes signed him up to be one of the faces of their new X silo. Today, he’s still in the X, spearheading Everton’s attack in the latest X 18 model as the Toffees aim to get back amongst Europe’s elite.
In 2012, Mohamed El Shaarawy was something of a phenomenon – a prodigious talent, one year into his big move to AC Milan, playing with superstars like Robinho and boasting one of the best hairstyles in world football. He was also an absolute monster on FIFA. A 74-rated silver, but with the rare double whammy of five-star skills and five-star weak foot. No surprise then that he notched a brace and an assist in his first game wearing the GS2, as Milan came back from a goal down to beat Catania 3-1. Sadly that was pretty much El Shaa’s peak at the Rossoneri. The next two seasons he was blighted by injury, with another landmark goal coming against Sampdoria in 2014 – his first in Serie A for 622 days. That goal was scored in the Superfly IV; unsurprisingly he’s stayed true to the high-cut Mercurial ever since, despite having worn Vapors for most of his earlier career. Now at Roma after a short spell with Monaco, El Shaarawy is once again bossing games with his unique combination of skill, speed, and shooting prowess.
If Walcott and El Shaarawy were prodigies, Raheem Sterling was the very definition of wonderkid. Only 17 years old when he first wore the GS2 against Swansea in November 2012, Sterling had raced through the ranks at Liverpool; his performances for the youth team had been so good that new boss Brendan Rodgers almost had no choice but to throw him into the first team alongside Luis Suarez and co. And his rise didn’t stop there. Following an electric spell in 13/14 when the Reds came so close to winning the league, he was named Europe’s “Golden Boy” in December 2014, becoming only the second English player to win the award – Wayne Rooney being the first. Throughout his time at Liverpool he favoured Mercurial Vapors, going through the VIII, IX, and X, before experimenting for a time with the Superfly IV. While at City he’s worn both the Vapor XII and the Hypervenom Phantom III, more recently sticking to the latter in a move that seems to have paid dividends in front of goal. Can he continue his rapid rate of progress and lead England to international glory? Let’s hope so.

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