In the early 1990s, the sporting brand Adidas was almost bankrupt. Two people saved it from oblivion – Craig Johnston and Madonna.
Johnston is the Newcastle-raised soccer legend best known for starring for the highly successful English soccer team, Liverpool, in the 1980s. He's also known for having invented and patented the Adidas Predator football boot 25 years ago.
The Guardian news website released a video of the milestone this week, which it titled "The Adidas Predator at 25: the football boot that changed all boots".
The boot featured a ribbed design that improved a player's ability to kick and swerve the ball.
Some might wonder how a footballer became an inventor. In an interview in Newcastle on Friday, Johnston said: “I was an inventor that became a footballer”.
The idea for a different type of boot had been forming in Johnston's mind for many years, since the days when he taught himself to become a better player as a teenager in Middlesbrough Football Club's car park.
He later became a coach of kids. At a coaching session at Avalon in Sydney, he was teaching kids to bend the ball. He told the youngsters to "think of your feet and your boots as a table tennis bat".
One of the kids said "our boots aren’t made of rubber, they’re made of leather".
"The funny thing is, the session had to be cancelled because it was raining so heavily. I raced home, got a table tennis bat, stripped off the rubber and wrapped it around my boot with elastic bands," he said.
"I took the boot back in the rain, kicked the ball and it squealed like a pig because of the extra grip. That was the hallelujah moment."
He then worked on the boot concept furiously, developing at least 1000 prototypes.
"I took it to Adidas. They said it will never work. Then I took it to Puma, Nike, Reebok and Umbro and they all said no," he said.
"I went back to Germany and I rocked up at Bayern Munich. I said I wanted to see The Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer. They said 'who are you?'. I said, 'my name’s Craig Johnston, I’m Australian, I played for Liverpool'."
It was December 1990. Snow was falling in Munich. Johnston was able to get a meeting with Beckenbauer, who is nicknamed "The Kaiser" because he was Germany's greatest player. He was also a great coach. When he met Johnston, he had just led West Germany to glory at the World Cup in Italy.
Beckenbauer remembered Johnston as "the number eight for Liverpool".
"He said, 'come back tomorrow and bring four pairs of the boots with you'."
The next day, Johnston returned. Beckenbauer brought three other German soccer legends with him – Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Breitner and Hansi Mueller.
"They went to the training field in the snow and started kicking the ball to each other. They started saying 'ya vol, ya vol, ya vol' [which means yes, yes, yes]."
Johnston videotaped the session. Then he went back to Adidas.
"They said, 'we’ve already told you we are not interested, we don’t think it’ll work'."
Just like in his playing days, when he made it to the professional ranks against all odds, Johnston didn't give up.
"I forced my way into a board meeting. They'd been discussing bankruptcy. Within minutes of seeing the video, they stood up and started clapping."
Johnston's idea was about to go down in history as shaping the future of Adidas.
"They wouldn’t let me leave the room until I’d signed an exclusive contract with them," he said.
"I owned the patent. They licensed the patent from me. They said 'you have to move from Australia right now and run the business from Nuremberg'."
As well as the patent for the boot, he also owned the patent for the boot's advanced "Traxion soul" and stud configuration.
Johnston became the boot's lead designer and head of football innovation at Adidas. He lived in Nuremberg for about five years.
"I built them a lab to develop the boot."
Johnston and Adidas launched the boot in Las Vegas in 1994 ahead of the World Cup in the US. The boot became a phenomenon, making Adidas hundreds of millions.
Johnston initially received a royalty from each boot sold, but the boot became so successful that Adidas pressured him to sell the patents in 1998. He can’t disclose the sale price, but it’s common knowledge that it was far less than what he should have received. The boot remains a big seller.
"I was then headhunted by Nike and Reebok. I eventually went to Reebok and ran their global soccer, rugby and cricket business out of Boston for two years."
As a company, Adidas had a remarkable turnaround. A financial analyst later attributed the transformation to two things. Johnston's Predator boot was considered the main factor. The other one was Madonna. At the height of her fame, she was photographed wearing a red Adidas skirt.
The power of sport and fashion had combined to devastating effect. Adidas was on its way to becoming the mega-brand and multi-billion dollar company that it is today.