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The most hated football ever made?

There has long been raging debate surrounding the question of the ideal football to be used for the professional game.

Some have garnered more uproar than others – and this may well be the most controversial ball ever used…

The offending ball…

It is 2010 and time for the 19th FIFA World Cup

It is tradition that a new type of ball be created for each world cup tournament, and almost all of them have brought both criticism and praise.

2010, however, may well have brought more of the former than any other ball created for the beautiful game. 

This particular ball was dubbed the ‘Jabulani’, which translated to ‘to celebrate’ in Zulu, one of the native languages of South Africa where the tournament was held. 

Ironically, the ‘Jabulani‘ was perhaps the least celebrated ball ever made, by players from all corners of the pitch.

This was unique, as most world cup balls prior had been favoured by either attackers or defenders, and loathed by the opposite end of the pitch.

Adidas Jabulani ball used in 2010 World Cup
The most hated ball in history? The Adidas Jabulani. Image credit: New Atlas

The Jabulani was somewhat despised by both disciplines of players. 

The backlash towards the Jabulani began with the goalkeepers. Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon, and David James were among many high-profile keepers that had less than favourable words about the ball from the warm-up stage of the tournament. 

England’s James said of the ball “The ball is dreadful, there are undoubtedly going to be some goals scored in this tournament which in previous tournaments with different balls wouldn’t have been scored.

It’ll allow some people to score extra goals, but leave some goalkeepers looking daft”

Forwards and defenders alike soon also started to voice their displeasure at playing with the Jabulani

The ball was described as “difficult for defenders to deal with” by Japan’s Tulio Tanaka, and as “a disaster for strikers” by Italy’s Giampaolo Pazzini.

They were joined by a host of other players who had issues with playing with the now-infamous ball.

You might be asking yourself why so many professional players could have an issue with the ball.

Perhaps the best way to sum up the many complaints surrounding the Jabulani came from Spain’s goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, who compared it to a beach ball.

This was a result of the ball apparently being unstable in the air during flight. Players often complained of the ball being too light and bouncy, resulting in them over-hitting it regularly.

Iker Casillas
Spain’s Iker Casillas was one of the first to speak out about the Jabulani’s uncontrollable behaviour. Image Credit: Sky News

Despite many claiming that the ball was too light, the Jabulani weighed in at 440g, with FIFA’s tolerance being between 420-445g.

Exactly why the Jabulani behaved as it did when struck hasn’t been concluded, however many claimed that the unique 8-panel design made the ball “too round to fly in a straight line”.

Adidas, the creators of the Jabulani, said they had paired revolutionary ‘grip & groove’ technology with high-tech 3D panels to make a ball that is perfectly round and extremely aerodynamic.

This led many to claim that it was the ball’s ‘perfectly round’ geometry that made it so unpredictable in the air.

Not Adidas’ first rodeo…

As mentioned above, there has hardly been a World Cup go by where there isn’t some faction of players that are unhappy. And Adidas have fallen foul of this sort of backlash several times before…

The ‘Fervernova‘, developed for the 2002 World Cup, was accused of being made in favour of the more technical players.

This was a result of Adidas making the ball lighter than previous entries, weighing in at 435g.

Adidas Fervernova 2002 world cup
The 2002 Adidas Fervernova. Image credit: World Cup Ball

Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon said that the ball was like a “ridiculous kiddie’s bouncing ball”.

When the 2006 World Cup came around, Adidas had clearly paid attention to the backlash caused by the Fervernova.

Their ‘Teamgeist‘ ball clocked in at 444g, the heaviest ball used yet.

This amendment still garnered unwelcome comments, with Germany’s goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn claiming that the weightier ball was “built in favour of the strikers”

Adidas teamgeist ball 2006 world cup
The 2006 Adidas Teamgeist ball. Image credit: World Cup Ball

Whatever players’ feelings are surrounding the ball of choice for World Cup tournaments, they still have to play with it at the end of the day.

In fact, some may even believe that adapting to a new ball should be considered one of the many skill sets required by a professional footballer.

Take, for example, Diego Forlan’s mastery of the Jabulani throughout his 2010 World Cup campaign with Uruguay.

Instead of complaining about the ball, Forlan simply adjusted his own approach on how to use it and ended up becoming known as the master of the Jabulani. It all goes to show that it’s a player’s attitude that counts in the end.