Please withdraw the Jabulani ball and rescue the World Cup!

by Charlie Coffey

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Yesterday’s my11 blog briefly covered one well-publicised issue particular to this World Cup: the widely unpopular vuvuzela. The conclusion was that by handing over the mantle to South Africa you also give them the choice of how the tournament should be run off the pitch.

Another aspect which is having a negative effect on the tournament is the Adidas Jabulani ball. At the start of every tournament there is the same old guff about lighter modern balls travelling faster and moving more to the disadvantage of the goalkeeper etc., with journalists jumping on small complaints (usually by goalkeepers) in an attempt to fill empty sports pages before the tournament begins.

Last World Cup it was said that the Adidas Teamgeist ball was hard to handle, unpredictable and so on. Some players complained, but then after five minutes of the opening game Philipp Lahm smashed it into the top corner of the Costa Rican goal, and the issue was all but forgotten.

This time Siphiwe Tshabalala scored another great opening goal for the hosts, but unlike with Lahm in Germany it seems that was a one-off. This time the speculation seems to be valid. Everybody is complaining, goalkeepers and outfield players alike. Adidas claim the ball has been painstakingly tested, but this cannot have been by top players, as the complaints rolled in as soon as the 32 competing nations began to train with it. It seems that rather than being hard to save as usual, this ball is also hard to strike.

If the ball is to the benefit of the attacking player, the only people who really suffer are the goalkeepers faced with the task of stopping them, and the odd set of fans who fall victim to their ball-induced errors. Billions of others around the world are happy to see more goals, especially if they are anything like Lahm’s.

The frequent sightings of quality players like Fernando Torres blazing miles over the bar, or Marek Hamsik failing to produce the bend he requires, is commonplace in this tournament and this tournament alone. As I said yesterday only Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso have come close to scoring goals from any real distance, the kind that have been commonplace in previous World Cups. If they can’t score what chance do other, less talented players have?

The fact that not many people seem to realise is that this ball isn’t actually any lighter than those used at previous World Cups. The thinner air at altitude does have an effect, but not all of the venues are at altitude. So if these excuses are void the problem must be one of design.

Unlike the vuvuzela debate, with issues of culture and politics tied in, this problem is simple. Adidas have designed hundreds of excellent footballs. The technology has worked in the past be it the old-school stitched balls or the Tricolor of 1998, with it’s 32 independent bladders surrounding one central bladder (I’m really worried that I didn’t have to research that!).

Yes, if Adidas withdrew the Jabulani now it would be a PR disaster for the company who have invested so much into being the official ball supplier of the World Cup, but it wouldn’t be as bad as being held accountable for spoiling the first World Cup to be held on African soil.

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  • Darren

    The Solvenian players don’t seem to having a problem with that ball! Class goal. 6 points, no goals conceded.

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