Other manufacturers may produce colorful balls for next month’s FIFA World Cup, but there’s only one official ball, and for the 11th year, Adidas earned the right to field its version of what a world-class ball should look like.
This tournament’s ball, called “Jabulani,” which means “to celebrate” in Bantu, represents advances in both design and innovation.
Rather than being made of leather, which is traditional, the Jabulani ball is constructed of synthetics. Instead of 14 panels, there are only eight, which are held together by thermal bonding, not hand stitching.
That “grip ‘n’ groove” technology makes for improved wind channeling and, thus, a truer flight, Adidas officials say. Fewer seams also translate into a greater striking surface, making the Jabulani the roundest and most accurate soccer ball ever created.
As a result, this ball is faster than ever — potentially making for higher-scoring games. That’s a plus for markets, like the U.S., where less soccer-savvy audiences are less appreciative of a sophisticated defense than of the primal thrill of a boot into the net.
But it’s likely to lead to frustrated goalies, who have already started to whine about it. Kasey Keller, a U.S. goalie, told the Wall Street Journal that the ball is too unpredictable and thinks the sport should just decide on a ball, and forget futzing around with innovation. Take away that man’s iPad!
Apart from the technical finesse this ball represents, its design was also conceived to pay homage to the African continent’s first crack at hosting the games.
Following the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Adidas dispatched designers to Africa to begin gathering data for the 2010 redesign. “Designers showed us videos from their trips,” says Antonio Zea, director of soccer for Adidas America. “They had pictures of fans who create these hard hats decorated with dioramas about their teams that expressed their passion for the game.”
One of the factors influencing the ball’s design was South Africa’s diversity — its various climates, tribes, and languages. The number 11 turns out to have been seminal: “There are 11 players on a soccer team, 11 distinct tribes in South Africa, 11 languages spoken, and this is our 11th time to furnish the World Cup ball,” Zea says. To honor all that, Adidas used 11 colors on the ball and a graphic image that represents the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.
Adidas will also outfit 12 federations at the World Cup, more than any other brand. In addition to South Africa, they’ll include Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Japan, Spain, France, Nigeria, Paraguay, Denmark, France, and even Greece.
Adidas jerseys will feature the company’s high performance compression TECHFIT technology, in which various bands around the shirt improve speed, power, endurance, and vertical jumping ability. Adidas says the new technology — soccer’s answer to the Olympics’s controversial swimsuits — can improve a player’s power by 5.3%, his vertical leaping ability by 4%, and his sprinting speed by 1.1%.
“The bands minimize muscle vibration, which minimizes fatigue,” Zea says, adding that the company also makes TECHFIT underwear.
Asked about the potential for controversy — which broke out already when the French team wore TECHFIT gear when playing Ireland — Zea is philosophical. “Our innovation gives players a slight edge, but still allows them to be part of the team.”
Zea says replica balls and jerseys will be on sale at soccer specialty retailers. Adidas is also promising a huge digital push as part of the tournament, with lots of social networking to engage fans.
Below are the F50 adiZero cleats, which will be worn by World Player of the Year Lionel Messi (Argentina) and U.S. forward Jozy Altidore at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.