In streets, in stadiums, and on the feet of some of the game’s most iconic ballers – Air Max has always been one of the most visible style brands in football.
Whether you’re talking about Ronaldinho rocking a pair of Air Max 95s at the World Cup in ‘02, Nike dropping one of the most notorious Air Max sneakers of all-time with Juventus, or Kylian Mbappé finding himself as the only baller on Skepta’s SkAir seeding list – football has always loved Air Max culture, and Air Max culture has always loved football.
We’ve dipped into the archive and timelined some of the most memorable moments, releases and collabs between Air Max and the beautiful game.
1. Air Max 95 ‘Juventus’ (2003)
One of the earliest Nike Football x Air Max collisions was this iconic drop from 2003 in tribute to one of Europe’s most historic clubs. Not only is this one of the most unique colourways in the AM95 history – replicating Juve’s black and white stripes – but it also features details including a yellow Swoosh to acknowledge the club’s official third colour, two gold stars on the tongue to represent their 20 (at the time) Serie A titles, and a pink patch on the insole. The shoe helped launch Nike’s partnership with Juve, which started in 2003 and ended in 2015.
2. Air Max 95 ‘Brazil World Cup’ (2006)
After Ronaldinho delivered an iconic image in Korea/Japan by wearing AM95s on the bench next to R9, Nike upped the levels four years later for the 2006 World Cup, dropping a sneaker that was dipped in the Seleção’s national colours. The distinct overlays come in green, yellow and blue, while the Brazilian Football Confederation’s logo appears on the tongue patch. This is a grail for football fans and sneakerheads alike.
3. Air Max Mercurial R9 OG (2016)
Ahead of Euro 2016 and a major international tournament returning to France for the first time since World Cup 98, Nike paid homage to Ronaldo’s legendary Mercurial Vapor silo that defined football that summer. In addition to dropping a Nike iD option of the upper on 2016’s Mercurial Superfly IV, the Swoosh delivered an R9-inspired Air Max. One of the brand’s most iconic designs, they’ve since delivered famous silver/yellow/blue colourways to the Air Max 97 and Air Max 270 in more recent years.
4. Air Max Football Boots (2017)
To celebrate Air Max Day in 2017, Nike flipped the game on its head. Instead of dropping another football-inspired sneaker, they dropped a collection of sneaker-inspired football boots. The four boots were modelled on the most iconic Air Max sneakers and colourways all-time, including an AM97-inspired Magista that remains one of the most underrated boot drops ever. Rounding off the collection were AM90 Mercurials, AM95 Hypervenoms and AM1 Tiempos. Iconic.
5. Nike Air Max 97 CR7 (2017)
While the ink was still drying on Cristiano Ronaldo’s €162 million ten-year Nike contract, the Swoosh delivered the first CR7 sneaker. 2017 marked the AM97’s 20th anniversary and as part of the celebrations, Nike and Cristiano dropped a version of the shoe that was “patched up and dipped in gold”, to symbolise the patchwork his sneakers would have due to constant tears as a kid, and the success he’s worked hard to achieve. In years since, he’s released further AM97 colourways and some AF1 collabs.
6. Skepta Links Mbappé with SkAir Sneakers (2018)
Skepta’s own range of SkAir drops have been one of the most exciting Air Max developments in recent times, and one pro baller has always had a pair before anyone else. The PSG hitman was one of the very first people to step out in Skepta’s second SkAir release when arriving for training with the France national team, and he was personally gifted the third drop – the Air Max Deluxe SK – just four months later when Skepta visited Paris to watch PSG at the Parc Des Princes. Sk knows ball.
7. Kylian Mbappé Receives a 21st Birthday Air Max (2019)
Kylian Mbappé has grown to be a headline athlete for Nike and one of his biggest milestones was this signature sneaker in honour of his 21st birthday. While most Nike Football x Air Max collaborations have centred on AM95 or AM97, this was a rare chance to see the Air Max 98 get some special treatment. Chosen because of its original release in the year of Kylian’s birth, the KM98 dropped in gold and grey, and saw the striker’s KM logo adorn the tongue in gold stitch, a Mercurial inspired ‘Mbappé’ logo on the air unit and small French flags on the lace stays.
8. Nike Air Max 95 ‘NAIJA’ (2020)
After tasting rampant success with Nigeria kit drops in 2018 and 2020, it was only right Nike brought some Naija flavour to Air Max. Causing real waves because of the uniqueness and boldness of its design, the Nigeria 2018 kit was an instant Hall of Famer, selling out worldwide and caused the kind of queues round the block at Niketown that you’d usually see at Palace or Supreme. While 2018’s drop got a Naija Air Presto, 2020 received an Air Max 95 that wrapped the patterns of the jersey onto the sneaker’s upper.
9. Nike Release Air Max Club Kits (2020/21)
After bringing the Futura logo to club kits in the 2019/20 season, Nike took sportswear influence one step further this current season – dropping two sets of kits rooted in Air Max DNA. Elite clubs including Chelsea, Barcelona, Tottenham, Liverpool, Leipzig and more all received third kits based on classic Air Max drops (with accompanying sneaker releases), and it was followed up in January 2021 by a series of off-pitch jerseys that really pushed the envelope, replacing shirt sponsors with Air Max motifs.