Soccer technology

Posted on September 30, 2007. Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , , |

Ever wondered about the amount of technology that goes into soccer? I’ve always known that many products have a lot of technology and research involved, from the high quality leathers and synthetics on modern shoes to the latest innovations in ball design and testing. But I decided to have a good look into these technologies starting with soccer balls.

Historically (based on references and legend), early balls ranged from human heads, stitched up cloth, animal and human skulls to pig or cow bladders! Glad that’s not the case anymore!!

Before vulcanised rubber, balls were made from inflated pig bladders. This made the shape very irregular so you can imagine how hard it was to curl in a well-placed free-kick. In 1855 the first rubber soccer ball was made and we were on the path to our modern soccer balls.

Even though the English FA created the rules to the game in 1863, it wasn’t until 1872 that they agree on a size for the ball and the fact that it had to be spherical! It’s interesting to note that a weight was also given and that has basically remained the same until now.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s it was the type of the leather and how well it was sewn that decided the quality of the ball. As time went on, the construction of the panels allowed for a rounder ball but the problem with these leather balls was that they became water-logged and were painful to head due to the stitching. Eventually coatings and paints as well as better valves were introduced to reduce some of these problems.

In the 60s, synthetic balls were introduced but not until the 80s did they fully replace leather balls because initially they were less predictable in flight. In the 86 world cup, the “Azteca” ball was the first polyurethane ball used. It was great in the wet and very resistant to wear. The 90 WC ball was the “Etrvsco” and it introduced the black, internal neoprene foam which kept the ball water-tight.

In 94, the “Questra” had a layer of polystyrene foam that reportedly made it more water-tight, allowed greater acceleration when kicked and allowed better ball control. World cup 98 saw the famous “Tricolore” ball introduced, the first coloured ball (using the french flag’s colours). It had a newer type of foam that made it even softer and faster than the Questra. The “Fevernova” was the ball of the 2002 WC finals and was made up of 11 foam layers! Apparently this was to increase the ball’s accuracy when in flight. The technology reduced that amount of energy absorbed by the ball, rather it increased the rebound effect for higher velocities. The ball was small and heavy (the lower and upper FIFA limits respectively) as this made it more accurate.

It was a fast ball but was very controversial. Top players like Buffon, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Edmilson criticised it. It was said that it felt too bouncy and light and it soared too far when kicked. Only Beckham has good things to say about it’s accuracy but sponsorship by Adidas may have biased his opinion a tad 🙂

Finally 2006 saw the unveiling of the TeamGeist ball for Germany. The amazing new panel shape was designed to reduce the number of corners and panels (14 panels instead of 32 for the usual buckyball type soccer balls). The ball is rounder as there are less seams and this improves accuracy. A patented Thermal Bonding process makes the new ball almost completely waterproof with identical performance characteristics wet or dry. It’s astounding that it only absorbs 0.1% of it’s weight in water (compare that to FIFA’s guidelines allowing a maximum of 10%!).

All of the information here was summarised from soccerballworld. Check out the site, there’s much more info there (especially about the history and about the Teamgeist).

There is also info about the euro 04 ball, the “Roteiro”. I found it pretty amusing because it had a statement from Beckham that read as follows…
“The most important thing for me is to know that I can rely on the ball to go exactly where I want it to go. The new Roteiro reacts very well to my foot. When I’ve helped adidas to test the Roteiro in Madrid, I’ve noticed that the accuracy of my corners, my passing and, of course, my free kicks improved from using this ball. When you’re kicking it, it even sounds better. No one has ever seen anything like this before. I think it is great to kick and it’s going to be a great ball to play with. Keepers are going to have a very tough time.”
Should’ve practised those penalty kicks a bit better hey Dave?

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