Adidas JABULANI Field Test: Epic football or epic fail?

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Adidas creates a new ball for each global competition. The word Jabulani means “to rejoice or celebrate” in Zulu, one of the eleven official languages of the Republic of South Africa. This ball features eleven different colors that reflect the diversity of the Rainbow Nation. These balls are manufactured in China and have a retail price of US $150. Replica models cost US $25.

New Technology Features

  • Aero grooves create the clearly visible profile on JABULANI’s surface
  • JABULANI has a futuristic texture with fantastic grip, giving players full control over the ball under all weather conditions
  • Comprising only eight, completely new thermally bonded 3-D panels, which for the first time are spherically moulded, the ball is perfectly round and even more accurate than ever before.
  • 100% polyurethane.

Source: Jabulani Official Match Ball of 2010 FIFA World Cup by adidas.

My Impressions

Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten.

“The ball is round and the game lasts 90 minutes.”

That epic saying came from the 1954 World Cup winning manager for West Germany,Sepp Herberger. This football, to my untrained eye, is the roundest I have ever seen. I spun it on the ground and it always returned to the same position. The bounce seemed similar to a basketball. The texture is smooth but not slippery. If I recall properly from my Soccerlens review of the adidas EUROPASS ball for Euro 2008, that model had a very slick surface. This one had a better feel on one’s foot.

The Jabulani is virtually seamless, very light and has finely-chiseled grooves on the exterior surface. I watched the friendly between the USA and Australia on Saturday and the ball seemed to ascend very quickly and take different trajectories than usual. No doubt that altitude and winter weather will make this ball either a friend or a foe to goalkeepers and strikers alike in South Africa.

Expert Opinions

Does it surprise you that goalkeepers have already begun to complain? From England keeper, David James:

“The ball is dreadful. It is horrible, but I suppose it is horrible for everyone. You saw that from Frank Lampard’s free-kick in the first half against Japan, which dipped wickedly, so it will be interesting. There is no real way of coping, other than lots of shooting practice. There’s undoubtedly going to be some goals scored in this tournament which, in previous tournaments with different balls, wouldn’t have been scored. It will allow some people to score extra goals, but it will leave some goalkeepers looking daft.”

Source: The Guardian, 1 June 2010 by Dominic Fifield.

For a different perspective, Ricardo Kaka’ of Brazil:

“I will not criticise it, since I’ve been a footballer there have been criticisms of the ball. It was the same in the Confederations Cup, World Cup 2002, the last and other championships. The problem is that the impact at the World Cup is much bigger.

We have created this controversy but everyone is adapting and hopefully we will be champions with this ball.”

Source: The Telegraph, 5 June 2010 by PA.

Also see: More player opinions

For a scientific explanation, we will hear from Dr. Andy Harland at Loughborough University who was involved with adidas for research and development of the Jabulani. Dr. Harland and his associates replicated corner kicks, free kicks, passes and shots on goal with a robot.

“Fundamentally, what we are trying to achieve is a ball that is very consistent that allows the very best players in the world to express their skills. We used a wind tunnel to aerodynamically design the grooves on its surface, which guide the ball as it flies through the air.

In the past, their positions have been determined by the ball’s natural seams but the Jabulani doesn’t have any seams so, according to Dr. Martin Passmore of Loughborough University, engineers can put the grooves where they like.

What we’ve tried to do with the inclusion of grooves is to make sure that the ball looks much more symmetrical in flight, so it flies in a much more controlled way and gives the control back to the player to get it to do what they want to do.”

Source: BBC News, 4 June 2010 by Pallab Ghosh.

Who do you think will be rejoicing and celebrating on 11 July 2010 from Soccer City in Johannesburg? Do you think the official match ball will contribute to some memorable goals or goalkeeping howlers?


I would like to thank Daniel Crown and Wes Russ from Dick’s Sporting Goods in Washington, D.C. for their kind assistance.

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer, editor and translator from Washington, D.C. He writes the World Football Commentaries blog. He has written for AC Cugini Scuola Calcio (Italian soccer school), Football Media, Keeper Skool and Soccerlens.

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