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Lili Cantero and the magic art of boot-painting

  • Lili Cantero is 25 and hails from Paraguay
  • Her art has been worn by Messi, Guerrero, Alves and Santa Cruz
  • “My paintings are the last thing to touch the ball before a goal,” she said

“Messi’s were going to be my last. But then I understood that what I do is more than just paint boots.”

Lili Cantero recounted her story – one in which her art has attracted the admiration of not only Lionel Messi, but of other major football stars such as Carles Puyol, Paolo Guerrero, Roque Santa Cruz, Dani Alves and Paulo Da Silva – in a refreshing manner, and with contagious enthusiasm. Her tale began far removed from Planet Football, however.

“I was 21 and I wanted to buy some sandals, but I couldn’t find any that I liked – they were all impersonal, and I was after something more personal,” Cantero told FIFA.com. “And so I bought some white ones and painted pictures of The Beatles on them. That’s where everything started.”

She continued: “This was back in 2015. I was studying accounting and fashion design at university. For a special project, they asked us to launch a mini-business: I brought out a line of sandals with ten different designs. I sold all of them, I got good marks on the project and my friends started sending me orders!”

It was then that football began to play a part.

“Somebody suggested that I paint football boots,” said Cantero. “I tried out different materials and techniques, and that encouraged me. The first design was for Milton Benitez, who now plays in Peru. He asked me for the ‘face of Bob Marley with reggae colours’. My footballer friends really liked it. And things took off from there.”

Her business was subsequently given a further boost courtesy of a Paraguayan national team player who wore a pair of her boots during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers.

“I started working with a sports shop that put me in touch with Derlis Gonzalez,” she explained. “He gave me carte blanche, so I painted some cultural elements, such as the Paraguayan flag, the guarani lion, and a local phrase. The design was quite striking. He used them against Brazil in Asuncion and posted a photo of them that went around the world.”

Up until that point, the artist’s only connection with football was cheering on her club team, Olimpia, and her national side during important matches. “Now I try to read and follow everything, because I have to do research on the players whose boots I’m about to paint – especially when they ask for a specific design,” she said.

Before and after Messi

Cantero suffered a crisis of confidence halfway through 2017. She recalled: “I had decided to stop doing it, because I had finished my degree and I didn’t think I could make a living from my art. On top of that, I had been on the receiving end of some criticism and prejudice, because I was working in the world of football, which can still be quite macho at times.”

How did she plan to draw the curtain on that period of her life?

“I decided to give my last pair of boots to Messi as a gift. Not for commercial reasons, but because I’m a great admirer of his. I identify with him, with his humility and the way he keeps a low profile. He didn’t go looking for fame; he got to where he is today because he’s good at what he does.

“A friend who lives in Barcelona left them at the club for me. I had my doubts that he would ever receive them, but one day I received a photo he had posted holding my boots! One of his brothers even wrote to me to thank me.”

It was then that Cantero began to make sense of things. “On the one hand, I understood that my work had value, that I could find a way to make a living from it. Through what I do, footballers’ identities, as well as a little bit of my own, are imprinted on their boots. It’s quite meaningful.

“On the other hand, I also realised that I could show the nice side of football. It’s a world in which passion and feelings are very important. I had to try to capture that and tell that story. In a way, the last thing to touch the ball before it ends up in the net are the creations that I paint. When I think about it like that, it’s pretty magical!”

Design delights

  • Pure creativity: “A friend of Dani Alves wanted to surprise him, and he gave me free rein. The design was based on the Brazilian flag, and it includes the jerseys of all the clubs he’s played for, his nickname, and it also portrays a story he told in an interview. Apparently he loved it!”
  • Originality, part one“Ariel Nahuelpan asked me for a design featuring cartoons that he used to watch as a child: Looney Toons, Donald Duck, and Tom and Jerry.”
  • Originality, part two: “The wife of Pablo Zeballos based the design she wanted on her children’s drawings, because she wanted to give him the boots on Father’s Day.”
  • Against the clock“I normally tell clients that I need a week for each design, but for Paolo Guerrero, Alvaro Pereira and Roque Santa Cruz, I completed the boots in four days.”

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