The ‘Lani in Winter

For football, as in life, texture is important. In football it’s all about the interplay of air, ball, ground. That’s all you need. But all three vary. That’s why the new Jabulani ball is hurting this year’s World Cup.

Expect to see this all month -- leg outstretched, ball just out of reach. Note the blue (Greek) player is standing out of bounds.

Air has texture. Rain, snow, mist and fog will hold the ball up. Wind will slow it or speed it along, depending. Sea level air is the thickest. High-altitude air is literally thinner and, for a ball, faster. Golfers know this and can tell you how many yards farther the ball will fly in the mountains. The Colorado Rockies have more home runs hit in their park than any other and they keep the baseballs in a humidor to make them slower.

The ball has texture. Scuffed leather is very slow through the air. A loose panel is worse, it’s like the ball has a little parachute open. A new ball often has a layer of waterproofing, which makes it slick. Without it, a ball on a wet pitch will pick up water, rendering it leaden. An under-inflated ball is slow and a pumped-up ball will fizz along nicely. Panels and the stitching that bind them provide texture that acts like the ball’s gas and brake pedals, determining the speed of the ball.

The 1966 ball. Lots of grain, ridges and stitches.

The pitch has texture. Long grass is sticky. Short grass is slick. Artificial turf quicker still. Surface water is quick but standing water is sticky.

Any five year-old soccer player understands the factors at play here. Adidas does not. The South Africa World Cup, with its manicured, irrigated pitches glistening with the rains of winter has a FAST surface.

The South Africa World Cup, with several of its games played at altitude, has FAST air.

The South Africa World Cup, thanks to Adidas, also has a FAST ball. The Jabulani has eight panels: the standard ball, the one composed of pentagons and hexagons has 32.

The Classic 32-panel ball.

It has NO stitches and is thermally bonded instead. It is completely waterproof. The combination of few panels, no stitches and slick waterproofing makes it zip through the air and skip off the grass. Watch how many shots, if they have the slightest amount of backspin, rise and continue ballooning over the crossbar, because that is exactly what the ‘Lani was created to do.

Nine panels, no stitches, Teflon-coated.

This is what happens when the ball flies one foot higher than normal

FIFA want an exciting World Cup. So they had Adidas make a ball that would theoretically lead to more goals by flying faster through the air. Many articles have appeared quoting the goalkeepers’ disdainful remarks on its unpredictable flight. Here’s what they missed — most goals are scored after three or more passes. If the ball is unpredictable for ‘keepers, how are attacking teams going to complete three passes to prepare this unpredictable shot? Answer: they can’t. Wide passes are skipping out of bounds. Blanco of Mexico looked like a pub player on the receiving end of a routine pass. Vertical passes are sailing to the goalkeeper. And most critically, through balls into the wide channels are running off the pitch. When you hit that ball the you give it with backspin, which slows its flight and makes the ball check up when it lands.  Not the ‘Lani — it zips seamlessly through the air and skids off the wet, bikini-waxed turf. This is like trying to land a three-iron on linoleum. Expect to hear  this term a lot:  Saque de meta — goal kick.

A great (personal) coach of mine once said, “What you fear, you create.” The FIFAdidas clusterfuck has created a World Cup where goals will be tough to come by because juiced + juiced + juiced = hella juiced. King FIFA has gone off his ass and as everyone knows,

When the king is off his ass, nobody sleeps!

— the Lion in Winter

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