About this Article
Written by: Paul C. Martinez
Written on: October 24th, 2011
Tags: sports & recreation, physics, lifestyle
Thumbnail by: Baikovicius/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Paul is 25 years old and is from Santa Monica, CA. He is currently a fourth-year architecture student at the USC School of Architecture and also minors in Business.
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Volume XIII Issue I > The Naughty Jabulani
The 2010 World Cup brought on the advent of the controversial Jabulani soccer ball and many questions of whether or not the ball played a critical role in some of the soccer players’ blunders during game play. Adidas engineers designed a brand new soccer ball to debut as the official World Cup ball. Jabulani featured a seamless multi-panel design aimed at providing players with a perfectly smooth and aerodynamically consistent ball. However, the ball drew heavy criticism from players and coaches who protested that the ball greatly affected the outcome of several key games. To understand some of the nuances behind the ball’s design, the logistics and forces of a soccer ball in flight must be examined to see how Jabulani differs from the traditional ball.
“Soccer is not a matter of life or death. It is more important than that.” Bill Shankly

Bill Shankly, former manager of the Liverpool Football Club and author of the above quote, exemplifies the passion and downright lifestyle that many soccer enthusiasts have around the globe [1].
The World Cup is Earth’s largest sporting event, with FIFA having stated that cumulatively some 26 billion people watched the 2010 series. The series, however, was fraught with officiating oversights, phantom injuries, questionable ejections, and endless complaints about the official match ball, the Adidas Jabulani, an anglicized version of the Zulu word “celebrate” [2]. Despite its supposed inherent flaws, there is extensive design and engineering behind creating a match-worthy soccer ball, even if its game day performances leave one with little to celebrate.
A video from Loughborough University’s website shows Frank Lampard, a player from the English Chelsea Football Club, saying that the Jabulani is a “...very strong ball, feels very good, very true to hit...” His fellow Czech teammate and goalkeeper will say of the same ball, “It’s nice to catch, because it feels good on the hands...” [2].
Ask Landon Donovan, a player from the US national soccer team, what he thinks, and he’ll tell you that it’s hard to judge the flight of long balls and difficult to hit properly in general. “You’re seeing a lot of missed chances, a lot of crosses that are mistimed or misplayed that would normally be goals, that are not going in” [3].
The Deccan Herald has Diego Maradona, Argentina’s head coach, challenging prominent soccer players and saying, “I’ve tried it myself. This ball doesn’t go round the corner, and you can’t get in a good cross to the far post because the ball flies straight. We are not going to see any good moves in this World Cup because no one can get the ball and control it” [4]. Others prefer a more abbreviated means of publicizing their grievances. David James, a goalkeeper for England’s Bristol City, declares “The ball is dreadful. It’s horrible...” [5].
Adidas was stunned and vehemently denied any design defects, with its spokesman Thomas Van Schaik stating that the ball had been in use since December of the previous year, and had only received positive feedback in the six months leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup [6].
So who should we believe? Are the players simply blaming equipment for poor performance, or was there a real design flaw in the extensively engineered Jabulani soccer ball?

Soccer Ball Aerodynamics

Simply put, a soccer ball should do what a player wants it to do. A defender should be easily able to give a straight, long, and precise pass to a player downfield; a striker should be able to curve a ball around a wall of players, and a goalkeeper should be able to somewhat accurately predict the trajectory of a ball while it races towards them. The ball should roll and bounce consistently (as a spherical object should) as well as display uniform flight characteristics (e.g., have consistent airflow around the ball), and English engineers at Loughborough University strived to do just that with the Jabulani soccer ball [2].
Figu​re 1: Drag pressure and wake behind the ball.