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Could the Jabulani Ruin the World Cup?

  • Shawn Donnelly


This is the latest installment of The World Cup According to Kempt™, our series on the stuff that really matters at this summer’s tournament in South Africa (kicks off June 11).

A couple of months ago, we got our hands (and our feet) on the official 2010 World Cup ball from Adidas, the Jabulani (it means “to celebrate” in Zulu). Playing with it in a modest 5v5 scrimmage, the ball felt surprisingly cheap and plastic-y. It slipped off our feet. In short, we thought it sucked. We couldn’t believe it was the ball they were going to be using in the World Cup. As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones with this opinion.

Just read what American backup goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann says about it: “It’s horse shit. It’s the worst soccer ball I’ve ever played with. It’s plastic. It feels like shit when it comes off your foot. It moves like crazy. It swerves…. It’s kind of like one of those plastic balls kids play with at the beach. You can’t tell what it’s going to do. It sucks.” Ouch. Thanks for not holding back, Marcus.

And even though he’s just a backup, other more prominent goalkeepers agree with him. Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar compared the ball to one of those plastic ones you buy at a supermarket. And Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas called it “of appalling condition.” Which sounds even harsher when you imagine it delivered in a Spanish accent.

But it’s not just the goalies who hate it. Brazil striker Luis Fabiano seems to think it’s a ghost. “It’s very weird,” Fabiano says. “All of a sudden it changes trajectory on you. It's like it doesn't want to be kicked. It's incredible, it's like someone is guiding it. You are going to kick it and it moves out of the way. I think it's supernatural, it's very bad.”

Very bad indeed. Especially for Adidas, which says it’s shocked by the negative response because it received only positive feedback from the players it asked. (Who, okay, all happened to be sponsored by Adidas.)

What’s most amazing about all of this is that Adidas has been working on this ball for six years. Billed as the most advanced soccer ball ever made, the Jabulani uses eight 3-D panels (as opposed to, say, 32 flat panels) and its surface features many tiny grooves. The result, Adidas says, is a ball that’s perfectly round, more aerodynamic and easier to grip. Provided, of course, you can figure out where it’s going…