Since 1970, every FIFA World Cup brings a new challenge for Adidas: designing a better soccer ball. “It’s a lot of science and some black magic as well,” says Antonio Zea, Adidas’s director of football innovation, who ran the team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, charged with creating the ball for this summer’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The ball was christened the Brazuca via a 2012 social-media poll in Brazil. It translates roughly from Portuguese as “inherently Brazilian.” Swirls of color evoke the Brazilian flag, traditional religious ribbons known as fitas and the curving Amazon River. “We’ve got social psychologists and neuroscientists working on this stuff,” says Zea. “It’s all about telling a story.”
Seam Between Two Panels
The Brazuca’s polyurethane panels are thermally bonded (glue plus heat and pressure) at a Longway factory in China. The last stitched leather ball was the Tango España (Spain, 1982). “I remember being 11 years old, heading this waterlogged Tango España that my Spanish father had bought for me. It got so heavy in the rain. That pissed me off,” says Zea.
Center of One of the Panels
The iconic 32-panel pentahexagonal pattern of the original Telstar (Mexico, 1970) was finally abandoned by Adidas for the 14-panel +Teamgeist (Germany, 2006). That number dropped to eight for the Jabulani (South Africa, 2010), and now it’s down to six identically shaped panels for the Brazuca. “The geometry reminds me a bit of a propeller,” Zea says, “and it fits with that idea of a ball undergoing dynamic propulsion.”
The Ball’s Interior
Inside the Brazuca’s cover is the same innovative core developed for the Tango 12 (UEFA Euro in Poland and Ukraine, 2012): a butyl rubber bladder surrounded by nylon and polyurethane foam. A robotic kicking leg designed at the UK’s Loughborough University was used in high-repetition trials to test the ball’s consistency and durability. “Our team has been discussing what to name the robot leg,” Zea says. “We’re thinking ‘The Beast.’”
Visible Pebble Texture
Brazuca prototypes were tested on-field by more than 600 players during training sessions, international friendlies and the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. One of the final fine-tunings following player feedback was adding the nondirectional “pebble” surface, designed to provide grip and control in variable weather. “We want the best players in the world to be able to put this ball exactly where they want to put it,” Zea says.
What great writers have to say about the beautiful game.
“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”—Albert Camus
“I was crazy about goal keeping. In Russia and the Latin countries, that gallant art had always been surrounded with a halo of singular glamour. Aloof, solitary, impassive, the crack goalie is followed in the streets by entranced small boys. He vies with the matador and the flying ace as an object of thrilled adulation…. He is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender.”—Vladimir Nabokov
“Nationalism stems from catastrophes, whether they are caused by earthquakes or lost wars. In his novels, Tolstoy writes about how the war against Napoleon helped shape the Russian identity. An 8 to 0 loss against England is a similar catastrophe.”—Orhan Pamuk