A month or two ago I thought a vuvuzela was a nasty STI infection. And a Jabulani? Thought it was a chicken dish, possibly served with sausage, rice and peas. I hate buzz words and I generally hate trending topics – it’s too easy to get sick of particular subjects when everyone talks about them. It is with some trepidation, therefore, that this blog is about the Jabulani – the ball that everyone is talking about. Bear with us however, the Half-time Whistle has decided the reason why the tournament has had a poor start in terms of goals, chances and shots. Still, it’s good to see Jamie Redknapp as accurate as ever.
As I think we’re all aware by now, the Jabulani is the roundest ball ever used in a tournament according to manufacturers Adidas. Of course it is much better than the triangular ball used in France 98, or the disk shaped ball used in Italia 90. And as for use of the egg-chasers’ ball in Mexico 86, well it was a disaster wasn’t it? I think we can all agree that round is best.
We probably have to say that, contrary to popular belief, this ball is not the lightest ball ever. FIFA regulations state that a match ball should be between 420-450g, and the Jabulani weighs in at 440g, comfortably towards the James Corden end of the scale. So why is there such controversy over the ball?
Adidas say that the ball offers the “truest” flight ever due to its perfectly spherical shape. But that’s not what the players say – and let’s not forget they are the ones who count. It seems that the ball is perfectly fine for short passes, the ball seems to zip along the ground at a nice pace and short passes seem to have a fairly high completion rate. The problem is when the ball is in the air for any period of time. Switching the play seems to be a much more onerous task. Watching the ball in one of the ubiquitous super sloooooow motion replays and you can see the ball vibrating side-to-side as it hurtles through the thin South African air. It is harder for the players to judge the trajectory of the ball, either when making or receiving a long pass. With long balls rendered more useless usual, could this be some sort of sinister plot to ensure that England don’t make it far in the group stages? Has Der Kaiser got something to do with this heinous plan? He probably has, the bastard. Interestingly, Luis Fabiano commented on the flight of the ball, calling it “supernatural”. Complaints also from outfield players and managers – including Capello and Maradona – although the Adidas sponsored players (Cech, Ballack, Kaka, et al) have been much more positive. Strange that.
Shooting has obviously been affected, we have seen so many shots from distance fly miles over the bar. Until Diego Forlan’s goal against South Africa, no player had scored from a shot outside the box. Except for Clint Dempsey and, well, let’s not count that one, eh? We did see Spain’s Xavi Alonso thunder a shot against the bar in their shock 1-0 defeat to Switzerland, so it may be the case that the players are getting more used to the ball.
As I pondered in my recent blog imploring for more goals, altitude may be playing a part and the thought occurred to me: could the balls be being inflated at ground level before being transported to all the grounds, including those at altitude, because that could massively affect the way the ball moves. Either way, at altitude the air is thinner and therefore offers less resistance to a ball in flight. The net result being that the ball will travel further than if you kicked it with the same force at ground level. Of course we can factor in the fact that some players are just getting knackered too quickly.
It really beggars belief that a new ball that has only been used in a few leagues for a few month is introduced at a major new tournament. Often, the only people to complain are the goalkeepers, whilst those who can truly thwack a good ball are generally happy. FIFA are happy too as it means potentially more goals. But it’s backfired in 2010, with far fewer goals than at similar stages in previous tournaments. If FIFA wants to ensure there are more goals, why not widen the goals? Or ban the offside rule? Or make all goalkeepers illegal on a field of play? All are as ludicrous as changing the most important element of football – the, er, football – just before a major tournament.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. As the tournament progresses I think we’ll see that more players will be more used to the ball and its conditions. Hopefully we’ll see more long passes reaching their target, more plays successfully switched and more long range strikes hitting the back of the net. Basically, I’m hoping that every player at the World Cup magically turns into Xavi Alonso.