🇿🇦 The Jabulani - a poorly designed football or a nostalgic gem?
If a hundred people were asked to compile a list of the most iconic footballs ever, the ‘Adidas Jabulani’ would receive a guaranteed mention by at least 80.
Allow us to take you back. It’s 2010. Football fans around the globe are filled with nervous anticipation and excitement. South Africa is hosting the World Cup and fans of every nation are ready for the greatest footballing spectacle on the planet. What ensued was a tournament defined by its great goals, spectacular drama and.. a football that didn’t quite work.
In the build up to the tournament, Adidas revealed the official tournament match ball, the ‘Jabulani’. In contrast to previous models, the Jabulani was advertised as a scientifically constructed specimen, a revolutionary contribution to the game. The ball was made using 8 ‘thermally bonded, three-dimensional panels’, before being spherically moulded. The surface of the ball was textured with grooves, a technology Adidas named ‘Groove ’n’ Grip’, that was intended to significantly improve the aerodynamism and flight of the ball. Although it didn’t quite turn out that way, the Jabulani certainly made an impact.
As the tournament went on, the ball became infamous for moving unnaturally through the air. The curvature, the swerve, the inconsistent swaying motion as the ball flew from boot to net. Every strike of the Jabulani was followed by baffled deliberation around why and how much the ball had moved through the air, as though it was being pulled side to side by invisible strings. The ball, that couldn’t really be kicked in a straight line whilst airborne, was widely criticised by the international football community, most noticeably by some of the elite footballers at the time.
Italian goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon said, "The new model is absolutely inadequate and I think it's shameful letting us play such an important competition, where a lot of champions take part, with a ball like this.” Brazilian trickster Robinho said, "For sure the guy who designed this ball never played football. But there is nothing we can do; we have to play with it." Brazil goalkeeper Júlio César suggested that the Jabulani was like a "supermarket" ball, as well as noting that it favoured strikers and worked against goalkeepers.
Clearly, it wasn’t working out for goalkeepers. However, the controversy did come with its perks. The 2010 World Cup produced some simply outrageous goals for our viewing pleasure. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s semi final screamer against Uruguay, Mesut Ozil’s delightful volley against Ghana and who could forget Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening match thunderbolt for the hosts against a young Chicharito’s Mexicans. Iniesta, Sneijder, Asamoah Gyan, Kevin Prince-Boateng. Goals galore.
However, the only player who seemed truly capable of taming the Jabulani’s unpredictability was the imperious Diego Forlan. Once regarded as a cult hero by some and as a flop by others during his time at Manchester United, the Uruguayan bagged five goals and one assist at the tournament, coming away with the 2010 World Cup ‘Golden Ball’ award. Had Adidas invested less in the ‘science’ behind the Jabulani, we may have seen an entirely different tournament narrative. Maybe THAT Frank Lampard disallowed goal would’ve soared straight past Manuel Neuer, to England delight. Maybe the quirky ‘vuvuzelas’ would’ve stolen the limelight away from the Jabulani as the love/hate item of the tournament. Maybe Diego Forlan might not have been regarded as the attacking force that we remember him as. I guess we’ll never know.
However, much like Diego himself, the now retired Jabulani ball is remembered with a sense of fond nostalgia as a staple memory of a colourful and explosive tournament. We wanted to immortalise the unorthodox beauty and character of the ball in our ‘Jabulani’ design, which is now available to purchase on a tee or sweat here: https://art-of-football.com/collections/autumn-winter-20