The Puma King: The History of a World Cup Legend

The Puma King: The History of a World Cup Legend

Today the Puma King is best associated with tough tackling centre halves. Lads with little or no stamina who turn up to Sunday League with a hangover. But back in the day when they first hit the market, they lived up to their name and were worn by footballing royalty. Diego Maradona, Pele, Johan Cruyff and George Best are just some of the names to have worn the iconic silhouette throughout the 70s and 80s. And they all played a huge part in helping the KING achieve legendary status.

Ahead of the King’s launch in 1968 Puma had already enjoyed great success with the Super Atom boot launched some 16 years prior. The boot’s revolutionary design was the first to feature screw-in studs. It was the start of a long-lasting relationship between Puma and football, and that relationship was taken to new heights with the KING. 

Pele and the KING (1970)

Originally launched to celebrate Eusébio’s exceptional form at the ’66 World Cup, where he finished the tournament as top scorer with nine goals, it wasn’t until 1970 when the silhouette became a household name. Pele, wearing a bespoke pair aptly named ‘Puma King Pele’ at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, famously asked the referee to delay the kick-off in Brazil’s quarter-final clash with Peru so he could tie his laces, knowing all eyes would be on him. This allowed the tv cameras to get a clear shot. The boot was in full view for the entire world to see. It was a marketing master-stroke. Later in the tournament, Pele went on to secure his third World Cup title and was named player of the tournament. Fair play.

Pele was a fantastic dribbler and his game benefitted from the soft and responsive leather upper provided by the Puma King. A central lacing system, with additional material around the toe area improved touch and control. Puma made the black upper with yellow Formstripe colourway almost exclusive to the Brazilian legend. Although modern releases like the King XL have served as a tribute.

1974 & 1978 World Cups

Four years on from Pele’s Mexico heroics, Puma had a new phenomenon on their books. A certain Johan Cruyff starred on German soil securing the tournament’s best player award. Like Pele, he wore Puma Kings, this time though he sported the iconic monochrome colourway. And to this day the black and white silhouette remains a firm favourite with many footballers, especially the traditionalist. There’s no-nonsense. No messing about. You know exactly what you’re getting.

In 1978 the Puma King three-peat was completed when Mario Kempes helped Argentina to their first World Cup win. The striker scored twice in the final against Holland, whilst also securing the Golden Boot.

By now, ten years on from its launch, the Puma King was worn by some of the best players in the world on the biggest stage, and to great effect. The 70s had been hugely successful for Puma, but there was more to come. Lots more.

The 1980s and Diego Maradona

In 1981 a young Diego Maradona burst onto the scene. He was magic. Breathtaking. He did things with a football nobody had ever witnessed. And like they’d done so many times before Puma wasted no time in making the game’s new golden child one of their athletes. Once again, it was a master-stroke.

The 1986 World Cup was, arguably, the most memorable of all time. Argentina won it and Maradona was player of the tournament. He bagged five goals, two of which came against England. You remember them. The ‘Hand of God’ and that mazy run from the halfway line. Outrageous. The greatest World Cup goal of all time. No questions. He single-handedly – no pun intended – tore England apart whilst wearing the legendary Puma King. It was another massive success for the German sports brand. Probably their biggest yet.

From day one Puma have always looked to innovate their products. It started with the Super Atom and continued with the KING. Earlier models of the silhouette featured Puma’s vulcanization process. Introduced in 1960, the process was a revolutionary way of joining the soles to the uppers. Ten years later, Puma introduced another key feature, their very own S.P.A. technology. This consisted of a higher heel to reduce stress on the Achilles tendon.

Over the course of two decades, the Puma King hardly changed in its appearance. It was a classic design and still is today.

Lothar Matthaeus: “Yes, but…”

In 1984 Bayern Munich wanted to sign one of Germany’s hottest talents, Lothar Matthaeus. The midfielder, who went on to make 150 appearances for his national side, was keen to sign for the National Cup winners providing he could wear his beloved Puma KINGS rather than boots provided by the club’s technical supplier, Adidas.

Eventually, the club agreed, and Matthaeus got his way. Although it’s believed the contract was nearly pulled due to his unprecedented demands. Looking back, it was groundbreaking. It was the start of sponsorship deals as we know them today, enabling players to have separate, and usually lucrative, sponsorship deals for their footwear.

While Bayern agreed to Matthaeus’ footwear demands, his national team – also sponsored by Adidas – were less accommodating. Numerous times the midfielder was handed fines for refusing to wear the three stripes. But he didn’t care. He was Puma through and through, and his passion for the brand started at an early age. Growing up in Herzogenaurach, his father worked at Puma’s original headquarters as a facility manager, so when Lothar was deciding what boots to wear, it was a no brainer.

Matthaeus was a key brand ambassador throughout his career. And to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Germany’s most capped player winning the World Cup, PUMA launched a Premium edition of the KING. It featured a special heel lining which read “Inter Milano inspired” In honour of his time in Italy.

The Modern-Day Puma King

After two decades of dominance, Puma was knocked off its perch in 1994. Adidas had finally got their shit together and were now the preferred boot of many of the world’s best players. Nike too was beginning to mix it with the big boys and to great success. But that didn’t stop Puma. They continued doing their thing and the fact that the Puma KING remains a classic today is testament to everyone involved. 

The KING Platinum (2019)

2019 saw the return of the KING and to give it the launch it deserved Puma teamed up with Thierry Henry. The Frenchman helped with the design of the boot, which featured an inbuilt knitted tongue for increased comfort and 3D Touch texture for improved control. It was also a lot lighter than its predecessor.

The all-black colourway provided a fresh update to a classic silhouette.

Platinum Lazertouch (2020)

The latest version of the Puma King is lighter than ever and features 3D Touch texture for improved control. Premium K-Leather and a RAPIDSOLE help increase speed and acceleration.

Aesthetically, the boot is minimal, a bit like the original, but there’s no flappy tongue here. Those days are long gone, unfortunately. Still, it looks mega to be fair. Available in numerous colourways including a traditional monochrome black and white, it’s one for the purists.