USA goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who plies his trade for the Wolverhampton Wanderers of England's Premier League, is not happy about the ball created by adidas for the 2010 World Cup, which begins June 11. Asked by a reporter for The New York Daily News to offer his assessment of the official ball, dubbed "Jabulani" by adidas, Hahnemann could hardly have been more blunt.
"It's horse[crap]," is how the Daily News rendered the quote. "It's the worst soccer ball I've ever played with because it's plastic and feels like [crap] when it comes off your foot. It moves like crazy. Like a cross. You go up and jump to catch it and then it drops like three feet. You're not going to see any headed goals, probably. Forwards are going to get deceived as well. It's just ridiculous. There has to be a standard of what the ball should be like. Imagine baseball all of sudden you came out, 'Oh, we're playing at this place now and a new ball.' The pitches would look totally different. You can't do it. There's no standard."
Hahnemann wasn't quite finished. "These things, you try to bend them, they don't bend, they go straight. It's like those little kids' plastic balls you play with at the beach. You go to bend them and they go the wrong way. They bend exactly opposite. That's exactly what these things do. You can't tell what it's going to do."
Funny. Back in 2006, many players voiced concerns when adidas unveiled what it called the "+Teamgeist" prior to the competition, which took place in Germany. That ball was considered revolutionary because of its departure from the traditional Telstar model introduced at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico - the now-iconic 20 white hexagons stitched together with 12 black pentagons. The +Teamgeist used fewer panels and a heat-and-glue process rather than stitching, leading to a more aerodynamic ball that either would "go where you want it to go," as paid adidas endorser David Beckham promised at the time, or behave more erratically, giving goalkeepers fits.
If you're wondering who you can trust on this score, consider that tournament officials predicted that the 2006 World Cup would see more goals because of the ball design - but the final per-game average of 2.3 goals ranked the 2006 Cup 17th all-time out of 18 tournaments.
Hahnemann's larger point is worth thinking about. Major League Baseball - I think - tells Rawlings the specifications for its official balls, not the other way around. And Rawlings doesn't unveil a new ball on the eve of each World Series, asking pitchers to start using a ball that they've never used before, with possibly different properties to the one they've played with all year long. The NCAA did, in 2002, switch from leather basketballs to balls covered with a synthetic material prior to its national tournaments, but in that case, the organization knew that 89 percent of its teams were already using synthetic basketballs. FIFA's decision to give adidas the right to dictate what the planet's best soccer players will use during the planet's biggest sporting event is questionable, at best.