July 06, 2010

Craig Johnston: the Australian former Liverpool striker and the developer of the Adidas Predator boot once said that playing soccer for Australia would be like surfing for England. He recently aired his views about the World Cup Jabulani ball on the BBC, but now he's written a 12-page open letter to Sepp Blatter at FIFA.

posted by JJ to soccer at 11:08 AM - 16 comments

I think the bottom half of the letter, the technical details, is interesting and possibly important, but its effect is countermanded by the same lame compilation of quotations from players who've been knocked out of the competition and Johnson's melodramatic suggestions he will be blacklisted (from what?) for speaking out. Not quite David Ickes, but still a bit crazy-sounding.

posted by yerfatma at 11:40 AM on July 06

What I don't quite get is why they didn't start using this ball until the World Cup. If this ball had been used at FIFA events leading up to the World Cup, players would more likely be used to it by now.

For those wondering why the German team is doing so well, consider that the Bundesliga has been using this ball for a while now, and their players are used to it. That's as big a reason as any why I'd call them the favorites now.

The ball does seem to do odd things, though. Diego Forlan's goal against Uruguay looked like it was being steered by a remote control.

posted by TheQatarian at 11:45 AM on July 06

Interesting letter ...though he would have more....credibility....without the ellipses....

It boggles my mind they introduce these new balls at the highest levels first. If even a tiny part of what they say is true it is pretty unacceptable: is there any sport where the relationship between the ball and the body is so important? For a player like Messi, a deviation of a millimetre from the expected rebound off the foot might be enough to make the difference between a successful dribble and an unsuccessful one.

And yeah, making a smooth football is about as sensical as making a smooth baseball - the imperfections/seams are what allow the players to take advantage of airflow anomalies. They trumpet the fewer panels in the ball, as if that was intrinsically a good thing when it is almost certainly only a cheaper manufacturing imperative to have fewer pieces, and changing the seams on a football strikes me as only slightly less radical as inroducing a one seam baseball for the next world series.

Argh! FIFA!!!

posted by rumple at 11:45 AM on July 06

Agreed on the god...damn...ellipses. Dunno about open letters, but he's definitely got the outraged blog post down pat. He'd also be aided by fewer unsourced absolutist claims ("Worst accuracy ever", etc). I am confused how the person who designed the original adidas testing lab did it without using any math. Because that person couldn't be the guy who wrote:

"It has an artificial feel and trajectory and only about 20% of the craft a player is putting on the ball is being translated.

This equates to about 70% or more of crosses and dead ball free kicks being overhit"

He also has the US sportswriter one-sentence paragraph down.

posted by yerfatma at 11:48 AM on July 06

For those wondering why the German team is doing so well, consider that the Bundesliga has been using this ball for a while now

That is not why the German team is doing so well. How many of their four goals against Argentina were aided by the ball? They all came from about two feet out other than the first header. And if this were so, it's not like the other teams don't have Bundesliga players. Why weren't those people excelling? Also, the Bundesliga wasn't the only league to get ahold of the ball early. Why didn't the US make it to the semi-finals with all those MLS players?

posted by yerfatma at 11:50 AM on July 06

LOL, Fatty, but of the normal starting US XI, only Donovan and Findlay were MLS players, everyone else plays in Europe.

posted by billsaysthis at 12:13 PM on July 06

"For those wondering why the German team is doing so well, consider that the Bundesliga has been using this ball for a while now, and their players are used to it. That's as big a reason as any why I'd call them the favorites now. "

The ball was also used extensively in France. How did that work out for them?

To go to your other point, the ball was used in the World Club Cup and African Nations tournament.

More tellingly, it was provided to every Football Association earlier this year and any FA that did not introduce the ball into their league did so for their own reasons.

The FA declined to use the ball in the Premier League because they have an exclusive supplier contract with Nike. If the ball really does have such a huge effect then their decision harmed their own national team. But at least they have a bit more cash.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 12:26 PM on July 06

And another thing, before I hand my soap box token back in to the conductor...

At Euro 08 in Austria Switzerland, Adidas released an exclusive 14-panel ball called the Europass. People complained that the ball moved unpredictably in the air, was difficult to control, etc.

A couple of months from now qualifying will begin for the European Nations tournament in 2012. Adidas have the exclusive rights to provide the match ball for this tournament.

England will continue to use a Nike ball in the Premier League and better yet, because they don't have quite enough money, they've signed a deal to play all non-competitive England home internationals using a ball from kit supplier Umbro.

The only time they will use an Adidas ball will be in the 12 or so qualifying games themselves.

Meanwhile, in Germany... can we guess?

Either the ball is vital, in which case The FA needs to let us know if it prefers money or the needs of players, (I can answer this one), or it's not vital, in which case it's a tremendous fuss about nothing which will be repeated in 2012, 2014, 2016...

posted by Mr Bismarck at 12:46 PM on July 06

That's as big a reason as any why I'd call them the favorites now.

I did not intend that to mean that familiarity with the ball is the only reason the Germans have been doing well. But I certainly think it's a factor.

posted by TheQatarian at 02:33 PM on July 06

The baseball analogy is the one I was thinking about too. What would happen if the balls were stitched on the inside, making them perfectly round?

posted by MW12 at 02:36 PM on July 06

I have a soft spot for Johnston, and I'm sure that lots of Boro fans share that. He's a gadfly, with a bit of a chip on his shoulder -- he blames the FA and other national associations for his post-Predator financial woes -- but he's never been in hock to the game.

Lots of British fans have been reminded of the Wembley Trophy or other cheap "floater" balls. There's a sentimental attachment to the Telstar and Tango -- when a little kid draws a football, it looks like a Telstar -- but it's more than just sentiment to think that a tournament ball should have "affordances" for dip and curl and the other key skills that are learned in the playground and on the park. The ongoing evoiution of the Adidas tournament ball sets up a kind of discontinuity between the park and the grand stage, and I'm not convinced that's a good thing.

(A British researcher at Caltech did some wind tunnel testing and noticed some differences in the aerodynamics, too.)

posted by etagloh at 03:30 PM on July 06

The baseball analogy is the one I was thinking about too. What would happen if the balls were stitched on the inside, making them perfectly round?

You'd have a lot more Ray Chapman incidents as pitchers wouldn't be able to grip the ball properly and pitches would fly in all directions. Also, without stitches, the ball would lose the ability to really curve/dip/move.

posted by grum@work at 04:00 PM on July 06

Also, without stitches, the ball would lose the ability to really curve/dip/move

Precisely. Or at least, the ball would lose the ability to really curve/dip/move the way the pitcher wants it to, which is exactly what's happening in South Africa.

posted by MW12 at 04:27 PM on July 06

Points on the ball being used in domestic leagues: all 23 Germans played in the Bundesliga last season, so all of them used it. Comparatively, only four of the US 23 play in the MLS. The other team with a large percentage of players from a league using the Jabulani that I can think of hearing about was Japan, most of whose players play in the J-League, which used the Jabulani.

(I did not thoroughly research those numbers, but I remember hearing or reading them somewhere reputable.)

posted by boredom_08 at 04:50 PM on July 06

Which of the guys hitting 35 meter strikes today play in a league with the Jabulani? It's also been playing havoc with the keepers, so whether it sucks or not, seems like it sucks equally. And I still don't see how it made much of a difference in Germany v. Argentina, especially when the Argentines used it in qualifying. Why didn't Algeria play better, having used the ball all through the Cup of Nations (btw, why the hell is that the same year as the World Cup)?

posted by yerfatma at 07:08 PM on July 06

We had a Jabulani at the game last week, and used it in the pre-match kick about. All I can say is that the ballistics of the thing are very, very different from the 'standard' match balls we use (Mitre, if anyone's asking). The first thing I noticed was that you could really make the ball 'fly' off the boot. If you hit it dead straight, it stays straight, without revolving - a bit like what you Yanks call a knuckleball, I think. But hit it to the side, and you can get some sideways motion, although not as extreme as some make out. However, the major difference was the ease at getting it into the air, which probably explains why the World Cup players are having trouble keeping shots down, especially at altitude.

I might not have played football for Australia, but I think I could have surfed for England.

posted by owlhouse at 08:24 PM on July 06

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