A Brief History of the T90 Series: Nike’s Innovative Air Zoom Total 90

nike air zoom total 90 football boot

It’s the 2002 World Cup and left-back Roberto Carlos has bagged yet another breathtaking free-kick for Brazil. It’s not quite as good as that one against France a few years prior, but it’s bloody good. Criminally underrated in fact. Watch it on YouTube, you’ll see. You’ll also notice the Brazilian’s sporting a pair of Nike Air Zoom Total 90 II, one of the most iconic boots of all time. The second edition in Nike’s classic Total 90 franchise. Here we explore the history of one of Nike’s most loved silhouettes.

Nike Air Zoom Total 90 l (2000)

The OG was first launched in 2000, with Nike looking to take the Air Zoom international and other similar models in an entirely different direction.

Its design was completely unique. The lateral lacing was positioned towards the outside of the boot rather than smack bang in the middle for a cleaner strike of the ball. This was covered by a small, fold-over tongue. While the heel featured a “zoom-air” unit for enhanced comfort. Five different colourways were launched over two years. 

This was a boot designed for the most technically gifted players in the world. Roma captain and Italy legend Francesco Totti was one of the first to be seen wearing the silo. The likes of Davids, Nakata, Thuram and Seedorf soon followed. All of which featured in the Nike Mission ad to celebrate the launch of the silhouette. It was mega.

The star-studded lineup invaded the Square Colosseum in Rome in search of a silver T90 ball. Louis Van Gaal’s outside flying a helicopter, while the lads defeat an army of cyber-samurais, it’s weird but good. Very nostalgic.

Nike Air Zoom T90 ll (2002)

The second instalment of the T90 franchise was possibly its best, the Air Zoom T90 II. It was iconic. And so too was the marketing campaign that accompanied it. Arguably one of the greatest sports marketing campaigns of all time. Everyone remembers “The Secret Tournament” or “The Cage”. It defined a generation. 

24 of the world’s best players, 8 teams, Eric Cantona as the host and A Little Less Conversation by Elvis x Junkie XL blasting in the background. The tournament was held on a ship and eventually won by the ‘Triple Espresso’ a trio consisting of Totti, Nakata and Henry beating Figo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos in the final. It was epic. FIFA Street tackle. Nutmegs galore.

The boot itself became one of Nike’s best ever. It was lightweight and constructed from a soft KNG-100 G synthetic material. Yet again it featured a tongue over the off-centred lacing system, but this time it was much smaller and neater than its predecessor. The upper featured Nike’s First Touch coating to enhance ball control and touch. Initially launched in a Black/White/Red colourway, Nike switched it around for the 2002 World Cup with White/Red/Black. Overall eight different colourways were available in the Air Zoom T90 II.

Nike Air Zoom Total 90 lll (2004)

For the first time in four years, Nike made significant changes to the Total 90’s aesthetics. The outstep featured the classic Nike Swoosh, while the instep displayed the new, soon to be iconic, T90 branding.

The changes didn’t stop there, though. With the modern game becoming more demanding and intense, Nike had to adapt. Their goal was to achieve a design that achieved maximum comfort, control, strength and stability. And they nailed it. A new externally contoured heel counter provided added protection and was specifically designed to reduce the risk of Achilles injury. The midsole featured a unique phylon, which helped reduce stud pressure and boosted comfort, while Nike’s specially designed spinal structure bars were added to the outsole for increased traction.

The Nike Air Zoom Total 90 III had it all and was fast becoming the total boot for the Total 90 minutes. The adidas Predator had a new rival. Totti, Rio Ferdinand, Roberto Carlos and Figo all wore the silhouette, and when Wayne Rooney bagged four goals at Euro 2004 wearing a pair, he became the youngest player ever to score at the tournament. Nike had a new talent on their hands.

Rooney fast became one of the brand’s leading athletes, and he joined fellow countryman Rio Ferdinand in Nike’s successful Joga Bonito campaign.

Nike Total 90 Supremacy (2006)

With R9 on the decline and Ronaldinho the face of the Tiempo, Nike turned to Wayne Rooney as the poster boy for the launch of the Total 90 Supremacy in 2006, with the youngster playing a huge role in the development of the boot.

Only subtle changes were made to the technology of the boot, which once again delivered high levels of traction, comfort and stability. The off-centre lacing system once again provided a more significant surface area to help generate a cleaner strike – this was now an iconic feature of the silhouette. A higher than average midfoot also provided a greater fit.

The Supremacy was dropped in a number of vibrant colourways including Blue/Silver/White and Red/White which Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro wore when lifting the World Cup trophy in 2006.

Earlier that year Wayne Rooney grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons. First, he fractured his metatarsal wearing the Supremacy playing for Manchester United in May. He recovered in time to feature for England at the World Cup in Germany but was famously sent off after an hour in their quarter-final clash with Portugal. The lowest point of his career.

Nike used Joga Bonito TV and presenter Eric Cantona to introduce new colourways throughout the year.

Nike Total 90 Laser l (2007)

Rooney’s incredible accuracy and shot power saw him continue as the face of T90, and in 2007 he played a pivotal role in the launch of Nike’s Total 90 Laser I. A completely new series focussed on power and precision. 

Over the next few years, Nike would drop four generations within the series. For the first time in T90 history, the lacing system was central, which allowed Nike to feature an extravagant Shot Shield made from foam. And while the design was entirely different for other T90 models, precision and a clean strike remained the focus. Superior comfort was achieved with Nike’s historic Air Zoom technology. 

As always, Nike dropped the silhouette in numerous vibrant colourways, with the Zest/Black probably the most iconic.

Nike veered away from Joga Bonito TV and used a new technique within their marketing campaigns, engagement. They wanted to produce ads that resonated with the public. Ads that were current at the time. And so they linked up with TV sensations “Dirty Sanchez” – Europe’s alternative to Jackass. The lads travelled across Europe testing the skills and accuracy of players like Rooney, Malouda and Gattuso who used the Welsh lads as human targets. At the end of each video, Nike asked viewers to upload their own clips to YouTube, which created a viral marketing campaign. It was a huge success for Nike.

Nike Total 90 Laser ll (2008)

The second generation of the Total 90 Laser II featured very few, if any, changes in its design. However, there was a massive shift in Nike’s marketing campaign. Now the emphasis was on point of view. Their ad ‘Take it to the Next Level’ from 2008, featured a first-person perspective of a player’s rise from grassroots to the top flight. It featured legends Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Arsene Wenger.

Nike Total 90 Laser III (2011)

Revolutionary shotshield technology, a specially designed upper and Finns on the front for increased swerve of the ball were all part of the reengineered Total 90 Laser III. The silhouette returned to its roots with the laces off centre.

Wayne Rooney was wearing this model when he scored that iconic overhead kick against Manchester City. It was a fitting goal that perfectly encapsulated everything the boot was about. Power, precision and flare. 

Nike Total 90 Laser IV (2013)

The final instalment of the T90 franchise was the Laser IV. Originally intended for strikers, the boot fast became a favourite with all types of players. 

With a wide last the boot will fit almost all foot types. All Conditions Control-technology, worked into the upper, provided enhanced touch and precision. At the same time, the newly developed Nike Adaptive Shield was designed to boost power and swerve. Once again, Nike dropped a wide range of vibrant colourways which was one of the main reasons behind the silhouette’s success.

Over the last couple of years Nike have rolled out several remakes including the Total 90 Laser SE and most recently the Nike Phantom Venom which was a nod to the Air Zoom Total 90 II.