Meet the former Portsmouth and Oxford United defender who helped fulfill footwear needs of Tottenham's Harry Kane, Manchester United's Marcus Rashford and Eden Hazard

If you own a pair of Nike football boots, the likelihood is former Gosport Borough manager and newly signed Baffins Milton Rovers player Lee Molyneaux was heavily involved in creating them.

By Lewis Mason
Thursday, 29th July 2021, 2:23 pm
Lee Molyneaux, right, has now left his role with sportswear giant Nike. Picture: Keith Woodland (230521-122)
Lee Molyneaux, right, has now left his role with sportswear giant Nike. Picture: Keith Woodland (230521-122)

Whether it be the Mercurial, Phantom or Tiempo ranges, Portsmouth-based Molyneaux would have spent hours gathering information from elite level athletes, right the way down to non-league players to make sure all consumers pick up the best possible product.

During a decade working for the sportswear giant - before recently moving onto advanced football technology company Playermaker - the former Oxford United and Forest Green defender would meet a host of Premier League and global stars to gain an insight into their footwear and how it could be evolved.

After graduating from Hartpury University in 2010, Molyneaux, who was released by Pompey after they reached the Premier League for the first time in 2003, started out as a footwear trial manager before moving onto become senior insight analyst for Nike

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Lee Molyneaux met with Real Madrid's Belgian star Eden Hazard through his previous Nike role. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

His privileged position would allow him to meet mega stars of the game such as Real Madrid's Eden Hazard, Tottenham's Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min as well as Marcus Rashford to help gage an idea of what they required from their footwear.

It was all along from Molyneaux's, 38, days combining studies while playing for then fifth tier Forest Green Rovers, but just a few years later he would be rubbing shoulders with the stars and making sure consumers had the best possible Nike footwear products.

He said: ‘I know a lot of footballers said they wanted my job and how could they get into doing my job.

‘It was nice because going from professional football to a student is very, very hard. But, ultimately, the end game when it comes off you realise you did the right thing.

Lee Molyneaux sits down for a Nike footwear discussion with Sevilla's former AC Milan star Suso

‘I still managed to play part-time whether it be at Forest Green, Gloucester or Cirencester when I was studying up in Cheltenham or whether it was Gosport or Havant living back here - I’ve still managed to play whilst concentrating on work.

‘I’d speak to every level of consumer so whether it was an everyday consumer, feet on the streets, or whether it’s Eden Hazard or a professional footballer.

‘I was fortunate enough to meet the majority of Nike’s big ambassadors, which was nice, just talking to them about their footwear and how we could improve it.

‘Over the past 10 years I’ve met a good fair few of them (Nike elite athletes).

‘I’d say the most exciting one to talk to was Hazard - we would meet at events we had going on - I managed to get some good time with them - I could have sat all day with him (Eden Hazard). It was a good job, I just decided to move onto different things, joining a smaller start up.

‘It was basically gathering what they’d like about their shoes, what they like about their boots and what they don’t like and how they could improve it. I’d show them some prototypes of materials, prototypes of designs and get some feedback.’

Molyneaux admitted advancing through Nike - and even landing a job with the sportswear giant - would have been incredibly unlikely had he not realised he needed a plan for when his football career was over.

It was after leaving Oxford United in 2007 when he realised he had to put the work in to gain qualifications for an alternative career away from football.

So, Molyneaux took the step to mix university studies while playing for Forest Green Rovers, who were in the National League at the time.

The former Hawks and AFC Portchester assistant manager says it was a real struggle to combine both, but his hard work would eventually pay off.

And Molyneaux would urge other footballers plying their trade outside of the Premier League or Championship to start planning for the future at an early age - just like he did.

He said: ‘Personally, I think all too many footballers are sold the dream, they’re told they’re going to be footballers and what happens with that you just concentrate on football only and it’s a very, very big fall when you’re thinking about going to study or having to go and get a job.

‘I could have easily said no to going to university and carrying on trying to chase my dreams, ultimately, I don’t think I’d have been in the position I am now.

‘I think I’d have been 38 with no experience outside of football and obviously we know, unless you’re at Championship or Premier League level, you’re not going to earn enough to retire on.

‘When I left Oxford I went to Cirencester and then I managed to get to Forest Green, which was hard for juggle because they were Conference National, so it was difficult to mix university with playing Conference standard.’

It's been a time for change both on and off the field in Molyneaux's life over the past few months.He left his Nike role to take up a position as consumers insight director for advanced football technology company, Playermaker, at the back end of last year.Away from work, he's also embarking on a new challenge, joining Wessex League Premier Division Baffins Milton Rovers.

Molyneaux explained how he hopes to be part of a technology company which will ‘pave the way for football in the future’ with Playermaker.The advanced technology not only gathers players’ GPS data, but also technical information to be viewed, from placing a sensor on football boots.And, with a number of Premier League clubs already onboard, Molyneaux revealed the plan is for it to become available in retail in the future.

He said: ‘I strongly believe (Playermaker) it’s going to pave the way for technology for football in the future.‘It’s a wearable technology which you wear on your football boot and it tracks everything that GPS tracks, but it also tracks your technical data, so it tracks how many times you touch the ball and with which leg you touch the ball.

‘It’s kind of a revolutionary technology which I was fortunate enough to hear about through Nike.

‘I think the opportunity to go and work for a small brand, away from the corporate world, is exciting for me and I can get in on something early.

‘We’re already in the majority of the Premier League teams already and we’re pretty much unheard of.‘We’ve released an individual project to market which is going onto retail real soon.’