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World Cup 2010……What A Load Of Balls!

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So here we are….2 weeks and 48 games into South Africa 2010 and if I had to sum up the World Cup so far I’d say it has been nothing but a load of balls! Or to be more specific…..a load of Jabulanis!

Yes, I realize that this has been debated to death but the outcry seems to have died down as the competition has progressed……..probably because those who objected so vociferously at the outset realise, not for the first time, that when it comes to legitimate protests to the FIFA hierarchy you’re time is more productively spent climbing Table Mountain in wintertime and taking a relieving piss into the wind.

As usual, it’s all about money with FIFA. We could rake over the logic of introducing a new version of the most critical object in the game for the showcase tournament, and one of the biggest sporting events on the planet; and we could debate the process for approving the output of such projects, but why bother?

Football has long since prostituted itself to the mighty dollar and no doubt this particular process involved Blatter and countless other FIFA executives scoring freely, as Adidas ensured that all the right balls were massaged it tying-up this multi million dollar farce.

And of course all the feel good factors were tied in. Jabulani is the Zulu word for ‘celebrate’. Ironic that……I wonder what the Zulu word(s) for ‘high wide and handsome’ is (are)? The Jabulani has 11 colours incorporated into the design, apparently representing the 11 official languages of South Africa, the 11 communities of South Africa, the 11 players on a team and the fact that this is Adidas’ 11th FIFA World Cup ball.

All very touching I’m sure you’ll agree, but I suspect that the wonderfully hospitable, colourful and musical (Vuvuzelas excepted) South Africans would rather ‘their’ World Cup be remembered as one of the finest in terms of the game itself rather than one where they were patronised by platitudes from a money grabbing monolith who assembled a bunch of suits around a boardroom table (whose cost alone could feed several South African families for a year) to come-up with a touchy feely name for the object that ultimately tainted the entire event.

I mean, you see those close up shots, the innocent faces of those beautiful South African kids in awe at the spectacle unfolding before them and you wonder……is this to be their first real experience of the ‘beautiful game’, seeing the best players in the world only able to hit the target with something like 1 in 10 attempts.

I recently emailed an old friend who I hadn’t heard from in a while and asked him how he was enjoying the World Cup so far. Not one to mince his words….his answer was unequivocal.

“It would be a lot better if they weren’t playing with a fucking balloon!” was his response, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Maybe I’ve lost the plot on this one? I mean, when I tried to explain it to my “what’s so interesting about 22 guys chasing a piece of leather around a field” wife, her response was a, very objective:

“But it’s round isn’t it, so what’s the problem?” Hmm….time for a beer and a spell on the patio.

But when all is said and done what is the evidence for damning this ball and accusing it of spoiling the competition?

Exhibit 1: I could list or copy the links to all the statements made by players, coaches and other professionals in the game, not to mention the mere mortal fans, but you’ve seen most of that list.

Ivory Coast manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, was one of the most outspoken, calling for a summit meeting… Sven Objects …but it fell on deaf ears. The one thing Sven has wrong in, however, is that it’s not a problem for the goalkeepers. It’s much more of a problem for everyone else! Keepers have had an easy time of it as balls fly everywhere but in their general direction. In fact if you told me that the goalkeepers union had designed this ball I’d have no problem believing you.

Exhibit 2: Last night (depending on your time zone) Japan beat the Danes 3-1. So what!…I hear you say. Well the ‘so what’ is that they scored directly from a free kick….twice! So what? Well after 44 games they were the 2nd and 3rd goals scored directly from free licks in this World Cup! I (almost) rest my case.

Exhibit 3: Ok, I don’t have the stats, but please don’t tell me that you haven’t noticed the legion of over-hit passes, corners, crosses and through balls? I find it endlessly frustrating watching players unable to judge the flight of this ridiculous object, and make no mistake…..the lack of goals, the proliferation of close results, and the many upsets…..are, to my mind anyway,….the direct result of the Jabulani ball. I’m convinced at this point that actual results and group outcomes have been determined by this shocking sphere. And I am the only one who rues the fact that the ball seems to spend more time out of play than in play as a result?

Exhibit 4: Time for a bit of science…as opposed to my tainted ramblings…I hear you cry (ever in touch in my audience me!) Well what really provoked this outpouring was a piece I saw on SBS (Australia) television two days ago. For the youngsters on here, Craig Johnston was a Liverpool player in the 80’s who went on to become Director of Innovation at Adidas. He invented a (supposedly) revolutionary football boot known as ‘the predator’ and knows a bit about the science and dynamics of footballs.

No longer working for Adidas, here is Johnston’s verdict on the Jabulani ball, and he pulls no punches. Having no scientific knowledge whatsoever of what makes a ball ‘tick’ but having observed what I’ve observed so far, I think he’s bang on the money in his assessment: Craig Johnston on the Jabulani

So I rest the case for the prosecution on this excuse for a football. I’m convinced that it favours the defensive minded teams as it’s the shots on goal, corners and crosses that seem most affected….and maybe that’s why we’ve seen so many unexpectedly close games and surprising results so far…….or maybe not….but that’s my theory for what it’s worth.

Then again, maybe all of the above is just an aberration and in the final analysis when you set 22 guys “running around a field after a piece of leather” anything can happen…and probably does….but I just don’t buy that!

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