“Technology is not everything. Scientists came up with the atom bomb; it doesn’t mean we should have invented it.”Days away from the opening kick of the World Cup in South Africa, players gathered from around the world and five continents (six, if you count Australia) to reach a consensus seldom, if ever, found in the United Nations: the new World Cup ball sucks. Big time.
Marcus Hahnemann, reserve goalkeeper for the United States World Cup squad
Hahnemann expressed his displeasure with philosophical overstatement; it’s not exactly a weapon of mass destruction, even if you’re a goalkeeper trying to parry, block and defend the adversary’s shots. Maybe that’s why he’s the reserve keeper. Tim Howard, the starter, was fatalistic: “I think we learned a long time ago as goalkeepers, it’s no excuse. You have to figure out the movement of the ball. If it moves too much, then you just get it out of harm’s way and don’t try to be too cute and clever with it. It’s about adapting.”
Goalkeepers, who obsess about taking cheap goals -- in Brasil they’re derisively labeled “chickens”-- were the ball’s biggest critics: Julio César (Brasil), Iker Casillas (Spain), Cláudio Bravo (Chile), Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), David James (England), and Fernando Muslera (Uruguay) have all blasted Adidas’ terrible orb.
Some of Brasil’s players, whose game depends on precision passing, weren’t so happy either. Robinho said whoever invented the ball “never played this game.” Wingback Michel Bastos joked that the ball had transformed him from a mere mortal shooter into Roberto Carlos, who anchored Brasil’s left wingback position the past three Cups.
Roberto Carlos’s free kick against France from 35 m (115 feet) out made him especially famous: “The ball curved so much that the ball boy 10 yards to the right ducked instinctively, thinking that the ball would hit him. Instead, it eventually curled back on target, much to the surprise of goalkeeper Fabien Barthez (a dead ringer for Donald Pleasance), who just stood in place.” If this is what Bastos meant, it should be a surprise-laden, lively Cup competition.
Striker Luís Fabiano, whose task is to score goals for Brasil, sounded like a character from Invasion of the Body Snatchers complaining about his spouse’s odd, “supernatural” behavior. An estrangement between striker and ball in such a relatively short competition with little time for recovery and adapting can have dire consequences. Only the immortal gods of the game like the greatest of them all, Pelé, reserve for themselves the luxury of painting masterpieces of goals not scored:
So the concern with the new ball is we’ll see a whole lot more of this:
The New York Times has a nice interactive feature on the evolution of the World Cup ball. It’s not just in baseball, it seems, that the ball has evolved to become “livelier” and jump off the foot as it has jumped off the bats.
Speaking of baseball, on behalf of sports fans everywhere, memo to Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig: Give Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga his perfect game, you Republican’t jerk! Or does he have to produce his “papers” for a perfect game earned on the field and taken away in the League Office to count?