The new English Premier League season kicked off at the weekend in sensational fashion, with many players and clubs crushing the lazy assumptions and predictions surrounding them in the press. But, critic-defying performance aside, something else struck me about the opening round of matches in our beloved league, something that has had as big an impact as the new signings or the unwanted injuries…
The new Nike English Premier League match ball has been released, and, as ever, it promised a more exciting game of football. Usually the outrageous claims from manufacturers of balls being ‘rounder than round’ and the generic tags given to new products as a ‘goalkeeper’s nightmare’ are ignored by fans. Not being able to afford the £60 replica, we generally stick to the £5 sale ball available at a despised football club owner’s local sports shop, and only concern ourselves with a quick look at the colour pattern on the ball knocked about by our heroes.
This season however, I call football fans to pay attention! The Nike Total 90 Ascente ball actually seems to affect things. Nike’s claims that their ball offers players a larger sweet spot, greater range and power, improved visibility and better accuracy and speed seem to be more than just marketing jargon.
In all the matches this weekend, there seemed to be a remarkable increase in the tendency to shoot from distance. Of the 24 goals scored at the weekend, 6 were from the edge of the area or further. That’s a quarter of all goals – Match of the Day could have based their ‘Goal of the Month’ feature on this weekend alone.
Almost every match had a stunning strike in it. Wigan beat Aston Villa thanks to an unbelievable dipping volley from last year’s misfit and constant threat Hugo Rodallega. Didier Drogba copied Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kick technique to a tee, smashing in the first of his brace against scrappy Hull. Emmanuel Adebayor powered an unerring strike past Paul Robinson from 18 yards to open his City account and begin paying back some of City’s investment in the Togo international. Wolves conceded the first of the plethora they’re bound to leak this season to an edge-of-the-area Mark Noble effort. Denilson silenced his critics by curling Arsenal’s first of six into Tim Howard’s top corner from 25 yards, and the usually-reluctant-to-shoot-from-range Cesc Fabregas scored Arsenal’s fifth and his second of the game from a similar distance. Sunday saw the trend continue as a wonderful volley from Spurs’ left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto flew past Pepe Reina from outside the box, as Liverpool lost their opener with a whimper.
So why is this happening? Well, every aspect of the T90 Ascente has improved upon last year’s Nike effort. Each panel has been designed to have the same amount of pressure, creating a ‘360 degree sweet spot’, so wherever the ball is struck, its performance should be consistent. A three layer construction of the ball means that it travels a couple of feet further than last season, and also means that a speed/power increase of 2.4% can be achieved with the T90 Ascente, which translates as roughly 1 metre per second faster. The new texture of the ball is designed to reduce drag and therefore increase accuracy
In fact, the only positive for goalkeepers is the greater visibility of the new ball, as its pattern, designed with optical specialists, creates a flicker effect when the ball is travelling – so at least ‘keepers will be able to see it fly past them…
Yes, goalkeepers beware: your nightmare ball has arrived! After all, who shouldn’t be afraid of a ball that can make Hugo Rodallega… erm, good…
After he was only just getting used to the last ball, I feel sorry for Spurs’ Gomes already.