[MY VIEW] You may have heard of that nasty ball -- the Jabulani (means "to celebrate" in isiZulu) – which has generated much nonsense from a handful of
players, egged on by eager beaver journalists, about the different qualities of the adidas pill.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter sent me a Jabulani match ball and I can see why the players call it a “beach ball.”
It’s handsome, with a plasticky feel despite tiny surface ribs, like Morse Code dashes or long goose-pimples, added to a completely smooth skin to provide “grip.”
It appears lighter but it has to be within official weight limits to bear the FIFA Approved quality logo.
At the risk of saying what you already know this ball continues the trend of using synthetic casings in place of leather. Adidas says the ball is as near perfection as man can devise “to suit the modern fast game and give the players a ball that is as precise as they are.”
The publicity jargon is “perfectly spherical, aerodynamically tested, with unparalleled accuracy and consistency,” etc. etc.
It has only eight panels, each being spherically molded and thermally bonded, so eliminating the slight stretch flexibility of sewn models. Therein lies the “problem.”
To maintain its shape it needs high pressure, at or near the maximum of 1.1 atmos. “Too hard” say some, particularly when used on hard surfaces. True.
I’ve seen so many matches ruined by hard balls on hard ground. When soccer is played on fields varying from porridge to reinforced concrete it’s not rocket science to advise referees to match the ball pressure to the field surface. That helps players show their skills.
The 2010 fields are mainly loose sods laid on a firm base – hence the “roll-up” and large divots when players slide – so excessive bounce is not a factor.
The “perfect” ball needs perfect striking from “perfect” players. I think the short answer to critics is that the players have not adapted to the hyperactive ball.
Although available for months before the tournament it seems clear the coaches have not insisted on intense practice to make the most of its different characteristics.
We’ve seen many free kicks blasted over the 24x8-foot target from 25 yards by high-profile players who haven’t learned to be more subtle. Also, long passes and crosses are often overweighted, putting target players out of the game and ruining potential goal chances.
In just three matches I noted a total of 56 – yes, 56! – such occasions. Some mastered this ball but it others didn’t adapt in this tournament. We heard many complaints about ball behavior as a smokescreen for imperfect technique.
A few goalkeepers say they have trouble because “the ball wobbles in the air.” But I don’t see this in the many slow-motion replays of shots on goal. It’s probable that the circular rings marked on the ball give an illusion of wobble when it’s spinning.
Ironically, goalkeepers should be happy, given the wild shooting attributed to the mysterious ways of the Jabulani ball.
Players at world level, paid fortunes, ought to be better at their job instead of blaming the tools.
(Stanley Lover is a longtime international referee instructor and author of the recently updated book "Official Soccer Rules Illustrated.")