We are currently 11 games into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and already criticism is mounting in regard to the “Jabulani” ball manufactured by Adidas and introduced to this World Cup as a partial tribute to the South African culture. Many goalkeepers have described the ball as “horrible”, “similar to a ball that you buy in a supermarket”, and “a bad invention” and comments made by outfield players and coaches may lead us to believe that FIFA has once more laid another egg for purely financial gain.
It is not unusual for World Cup tournaments to be christened with a new type of ball. The Fevernova and the Teamgeist were both used at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups respectively. It is part and parcel of FIFA’s way of creating a revenue stream to fund it’s worldwide efforts. They allow Adidas to produce and market a totally new style of ball, and Adidas then pay a huge fee for the rights to do that. But as is the case with all of these types of arrangements, particularly where FIFA are involved, the well-being of the sport is given a seat at the very back of the theater. However, the notion that this particular ball is brand new to this World Cup is totally wrong. The Jabulani has been used elsewhere, in particular, at the 2009 FIFA World Club Cup, the 2010 African Cup of Nations, and the 2010 Argentinian Clausura. The ball was even utilized in the German Bundesliga this season and is the ball of choice in the 2010 MLS League in the USA.
I have some personal experience of handling a new tournament ball which goes back to Euro 2004 when the Roteiro was the official choice of UEFA. Two of my sons played club soccer at the time so I bought one as a Christmas present. It is, without a doubt, the worst ball I have ever kicked. I’ve played with all types through my life and this thing was like trying to kick a soft stone. Simply horrible.
What is it about the Jabulani then that is causing so much consternation ? Stories abound that the ball doesn’t fly straight and moves around during flight which turns goalkeepers into nervous wrecks. Other complaints focus on the fact that it bounces too high and rolls too fast. Probably all legitimate issues but there are other forces at work here. Many of the games are being played at altitude which causes the ball, any ball for that matter, to fly further. Some of the stadiums have pitches which are “hybrid” in nature which is where artificial grass is interwoven with natural turf to create a truer surface. However, I’m a fan of “seeing is believing” and personally, I think that this ball is having a negative effect on how this tournament is being played.
First of all, forget the goalkeeping mistakes. There have been 3-4 “howlers” up to this point which might be more than you’d like to see but none of them have been ball related. Each mistake has been the result of poor goalkeeping and it’s not unusual to see that group blaming the ball for their own misfortunes. What I have seen though, is a lack of accuracy from long range shots. The ball seems to veer off and climb when it leaves the foot. Also, when passes are played out to the wings, if there is just a little too much weight on the pass, it speeds off out of play. If allowed to bounce, players are becoming disinterested in even chasing it, choosing to just let it skip across the line.
The ball striking of some of the free kick takers has been poor also, and that I attribute to the Jabulani. The most visible proof that I have seen however is the effect on a player’s control and touch. The basis of a top team’s success is the ability to maintain possession and move the ball forward, but it looks as if many teams are struggling to do that.
It will be interesting to see how Brazil and Spain fare in their opening matches but if this trend continues, you can guarantee that complaints will start to rain down on Sepp and the Boys from Geneva.