Craig Johnston writes to FIFA about World Cup ball


By The Drum Team | Staff Writer

July 6, 2010 | 19 min read

Former Liverpool FC player and designer Craig Johnston has written an open letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter to complain about the 'perfectly round' Jabulani football which has been the source of much controversy during the World Cup.

Dear Mr Blatter,

If a sponsor came into your office before the World Cup and said. “ We are going to give you a new, perfectly round match ball…the players wont like it at all…and there will be more mistakes made than in any other World Cup…”

“ There will be less goals scored…less free kicks scored...less passes complete…less control by players….and roughly 70% of crosses and shots on goal will miss wide and go way over the crossbar…”

What would you say to them..?

My name is Craig Johnston. I am risking my reputation and goodwill within certain football circles by writing this open letter to yourself and anybody else who is interested in the Jabulani ball issue and why its endorsement by FIFA could ruin the game as we now know it.

I am however not only writing with the problem, but also an easy solution to the problem…

The latest marketing news and insights straight to your inbox.

Get the best of The Drum by choosing from a series of great email briefings, whether that’s daily news, weekly recaps or deep dives into media or creativity.

Sign up

I am a former football player with Liverpool Football Club in England, and I am also known for inventing the adidas Predator football boot, the adidas Traxion sole system…and the research and testing done on previous World cup footballs.

I am a big supporter of the FIFA Goal initiatives, and we have met many times over the years, on various football issues. I have also presented to you, the executive committee and the FIFA Technical team many innovations in football and specifically youth development over the years.

I am therefore writing to you as a friend of football, a friend of FIFA. I am also writing to you as someone who actually knows what they are talking about when it comes to World Cup footballs and their flight characteristics.

A lot of things have been said and written about the new Jabulani Ball…but the word disaster is on a lot of players and managers lips...

Pazzini -Italy

“ The Balls are a disaster, both for goalkeepers and for attackers.”

David James-England

" Dreadful and Horrible..."

Fabio Capello-Manager England

" The worst Ball I have ever seen."

It is very alarming that the best players and teams in the world are struggling to control this ball to their own satisfaction.

What is even more alarming than the players’ assessment of the ‘bad ball’, however, are the statistics of ‘ bad play’.

What this means to the quality of this tournament

in South Africa is quite shocking.

The statistics are showing that is the worst passing, shooting and controlling of the ball of any World Cup in history of the competition.That cannot be ignored…and it cannot be fixed up we are being told..

The problems with this ball will not go away and they need to be understood by the FIFA Technical department and addressed immediately…before there are any more on field disasters.

I know you and FIFA are under pressure at the moment. The issues such as Goal Line Technology and poor refereeing decisions are not as important compared to the Jabulani Ball issue and the poor quality of play that it is causing.

There was a furious global public reaction to Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany that was denied by the officials…

By my calculations we have been denied at least 10 more goals that were not scored in this World Cup so far, because of the erratic and unstable flight of the Jabulani football..but nobody is jumping up and down…yet…!

Who is taking responsibility for denying us these goals and bits of magic..

To make a get a goalmouth call wrong and make a mistake happens once or twice a year.

To get the actual football itself wrong, affects every single touch, pass or shot that a player makes, in every single game.

And there are an awful lot of mistakes happening at this showcase tournament.

Daniel Agger-Denmark- Dead Ball expert

"It makes world Class players look like drunken sailors"

The erratic behavior of this ball is ruining the flow of the game and downgrading the quality of play.

This is an absolute disaster for the purists…and it cannot continue in this manner.

Just listen to the players ….just look at the statistics…they are very very damning of this ball.


“ The guy who designed this never played Football.”

The fact is that the Jabulani ball with its new materials and new construction methods simply does not behave in the same predictable aerodynamic manner as the old ball we have all been using perfectly well for 40 years previously...

The players are all saying that the Jubalani has a mind of its own...

I have a trained eye and have been watching these things for years. If you watch carefully, and know what you’re looking for, you can see it move erratically, even on television...I have seen hundreds of basic trajectory miscalculations so far in this World Cup where the ball usually ends up going out of play…

Surprisingly, nobody has made a big deal out of it yet…but football people who really watch for the art and craft are starting to notice…like the players…like the managers…like the purists…like the statisticians…its all starting to add up.

I have outlined the more scientific reasons for the balls unpredictable behavior in a separate section below…please read it and you will understand the problem immediately….then count the on-field mistakes…

In short, the new ball does not translate a lot of the backspin, topspin or sidespin…all of the special language that a player normally applies to a ball to make it behave properly in the air.

Why is this so important…?

This language is the real art and craft of the footballer and of the game..

This is what we really pay all of our money to see.

This is what makes these guys so different from us…this special language is the genius..Asking players to Shoot or pass with this new Jabulani ball is like asking Picasso to paint a picture without bristles on his brush…to paint without the usual texture and without all of the feeling…

I have spent 3 weeks in South Africa at the World Cup and I have seen the Jabulani ball move more than 2 feet in the air in some instances when it is not supposed to move in the air. I have also seen the ball go absolutely straight at other times when clearly the player has tried to put a bend on it of 2 feet or more.

Luis Fabiano-Brazil

" All of a sudden it changes trajectory on you...I think it is Supernatural.."

Unfortunately the ball is also very nervous and jumpy to the touch when controlling it close to the body and when dribbling it.

Julio Cesar- Goalkeeper Brazil

" A Ball you would buy in a Supermarket..."

So the ball is a disaster… and because of it there have been many mistakes...more than any World Cup ever…I really believe that FIFA cannot continue to endorse this ball…


Because by endorsing this ball, FIFA are endorsing every mistake that that has been made by the players using it during this World Cup...

By endorsing this ball, FIFA are endorsing the removal of the players’ art and craft at the very top end.

The most frightening thing however is that by endorsing this ball, FIFA are allowing a sponsor to alter the very dynamics of how the game is played… and for the worse. Not just in this competition, but going forward…into schools and youth leagues the world over..

Players are very clever and are adapting already technically and tactically to the balls idiosyncrasies…

The German team knew exactly what they were doing when their goalkeeper kicked the ball deep into the edge of the England Penalty box, up and over the English defense for an unchallenged 1st goal. No other ball could ever have traveled that far…

That is also called Route One Football and soon everyone will be doing it because the ball is encouraging it…

To change the dynamics and the craft of the game like this is not a call that a vested interest sponsor should be allowed to make…they have got it horribly wrong already…Mr Blatter, I know you are horrified about the poor play because I know you are a football man. We have heard the excuses from FIFA but who is really making these critical footballing decisions about the players craft..?

The governing body of a sport needs to be independent from the sponsors products. FIFA should have been far more diligent in their own tests….and should have binned the Jabulani ball before the competition..

This is what a very respected goalkeeper said a week before the competition started.

Tim Howard-USA Goalkeeper

"It's tragic that you’re going to see good players look foolish. Defenders are having a tough time judging it, strikers are having a tough time judging crosses as well and for goalkeepers it's murder so what can we do?''

"I think you're going to see some really weird and unfortunate goals.''

From day one I have been saying that there is a simple solution and back up plan for this World Cup. You can easily apply exactly the same Jubalani ball graphics onto the traditional construction of your sponsor’s previous Buckminster construction World Cup balls.

Two of the best footballs ever made were made by your sponsors...The Fevernova and the Tricolor Ball from the Asian World Cup and French World Cup’s respectively…

The normal Buckminster construction has given us every glorious moment of football we can ever recall...

As players and as fans…it set the standard for the very craft and soul of the game…it has proven reliable, predictable…dependable…

This new Jabulani ball is unnatural, unpredictable, unreliable ... and it is totally unacceptable how this ball has been endorsed by FIFA for this tournament and going forward..

The sponsors and FIFA marketing seem to be the tail that has been wagging the FIFA dog…and so far they have got away with it…

The only people that can make the call to radically change the dynamics of the ball and therefore the game itself…. are the players….

And no….not the players that are already being paid by the sponsors…!

For me, probably the post prophetically damning statement about the Jabulani ball comes from the English midfielder Joe Cole..

‘’ It took a bit of skill out of the game…but It's the same for everybody.”

Wow…what an unbelievably sad statement…

I am not employed by anyone...and I am not looking for a job…I also know I won't make any new friends at FIFA, in-fact, I will probably be blacklisted, but it’s a price I am willing to pay.

I owe it to the game to speak does anyone that believes in skill and craft as the ultimate attributes for a footballer…

Mr Blatter, and FIFA…this has been a fabulous World Cup in many many ways, and you all need to be congratulated.

I am sure that the ball designers, manufacturers, sponsors and testers of the Jabulani ball will not have been as honest and straight with you as I have in this letter….and that is the big problem..

But why would they…?

They are making hundreds of millions of dollars already out of this perfectly round football..

So, having had the benefit of understanding the problem, I will ask you the simple question one more time

If a sponsor came into your office before the World Cup and said… “ We are going to give you a new, perfectly round match ball…the players wont like it at all….and there will be more mistakes made than in any other World Cup…”

“ There will be less goals scored…less free kicks scored.....less passes complete….less control by players….and roughly 70% of crosses and shots on goal will miss wide and over the crossbar…

What would you say to them..?

Craig Johnston

Ex Footballer with Middlesborough FC and Liverpool FC England.

Technical Observations of the Jabulani Football… Craig Johnston …South Africa June 2010…

Unfortunately, the players do not know WHY or WHAT is causing the Jubilani ball to behave., so erratically,

I do have some knowledge of the reasons, and that is why I am writing to you now to explain why this new ball is behaving in the manner that it is.

First of all….How do I know all of this information.....?

I know it because I personally designed, built and set up the original testing Lab for adidas In Herzogenaurach Germany in the early 90’s...

In my role as lead innovation consultant I created the Predator football boot, The Traxion sole system...and tested the original prototypes of a ball that would fly further …the Questra World Cup Ball for USA 1994...

It was also at this Lab that I pioneered the use of super slow motion footage with Oxford scientific Films and digital techniques with the Frauenhoffer Institute.

This was specifically to study and understand the moment of contact between boot and ball and the following aerodynamic characteristics of the football in flight…

Although this was conducted with scientifically controlled parameters ... I did it with a footballers touch and sensitivity always in mind...and a solid vision and feel for the end result...

First of all however, just a bit of background is required to put the balls behavior into a more scientific context...

Each kick of a ball can be quantified as a mathematical equation ...and some of the forces important to this equation include but are not limited to velocity, trajectory, lift, drag, external and internal air pressure and of course gravity...

You and I, and Pele and Franz Beckenbauer , and every other footballer on the planet grew up kicking a 32 panel Buckmister construction hand stitched football....It had 20 hexagon panels and 12 pentagons (small black ones).

The design and shape of this Buckminster ball that we all know so well, is not spherical, but is called a Truncated Icosahedron. It is not rounded until it is blown up with air and forced, with a butyl bladder...into a ball shape.

This football with its 180 panel edges, exposed to the elements, is far from round and far from perfect.... ...and these very imperfections are what gives it it's unique repeatable feel to the footballer. These imperfections help produce an optimum flight trajectory that players have been able to depend upon, every single time they kicked or received a ball...before even the World Cup Telstar ball in Mexico back in 1970.

This ball has a soul…it is predictable… reliable… beautiful....

Technically speaking, the construction of this normal ball, with its exposed panel edges and stitch lines, give it high lift and drag co-efficients which in turn, encourage a high rotation rate around the balls axis...

It is this rotation, when propelled forward which help create the drag and lift properties which magically seem to hold the ball up in the air.

This is called the Magnus effect…and it impacts the many types of technical kicks in many different ways

The long Pass

The Magnus effect happens at a optimal velocity when the airflow around and perpendicular to, the balls rotational axis, become a different pressure, and the ball starts to deviate substantially in the air...

This is usually when a ball has decelerated and is closer to the target.

This is what we call swerve or curl...where the ball literally bends it's flight path in the direction of the spin that has been imparted...

We have all kicked a ball into a strong headwind and witnessed the huge and dramatic swerve effect that extra lift and drag have on a normal football...or cricket ball..or golf ball…

This phenomenon, is what allows a player to shape and curl each pass or shot on goal with backspin, topspin, sidespin or a combination of those attributes....

This is what you and I and every other footballer grew up with...and this, is the ultimate craft of a footballer...

Unfortunately the designers of the Jabulani have totally misunderstood the importance of this as their ball doesn't behave in the same way…

It has an artificial feel and trajectory and only about 20% of the craft a player is putting on the ball is being translated.

This equates to about 70% or more of crosses and dead ball free kicks being overhit…

The passing in this World Cup has been the worst ever.

Unfortunately the problems with the ball do not stop only with the craft of passing of the ball...

Straight Shooting With Power

It is a little known fact but once a ball has been kicked it is always decelerating…

With a hard straight shot towards goal, that is, without spin, the drag and lift on a normally constructed ball is roughly equal on both sides….

The balls forward movements are therefore stabilised, predictable and repeatable... that's why golf balls have dimples...

On the Jabulani ball the flight path is unstable, erratic and unpredictable...

This World Cup has seen the worst long range shooting ever...

Shooting with Accuracy

On a hard shot for goal, drag on the ball is really important to keeping it stable, to keep it flyng straight and steady..

With this technique, the ultimate objective of a players strike is to get the centre of percussion (sweet spot) of his kicking foot, through the centre of the ball..

With traditional footballs, the kicking foot sinks deep into the panels and deforms the ball substantially, therefore the foot is in contact with the balls surface for longer.

This extra time, even if it is measured in milliseconds, allows a player to be far more accurate with his strike...

It is also the extra time that allows the secondary movement of the foot to put the spin or movement of the ball that the player wants to shape the shot…as in passing above…

With the Jabulani, the ball seems to jump nervously off the foot before the required deformation and therefore before enough purchase has been achieved by the kicker...which has ended in the disastrous number of strikes over the crossbar or completely missing the target on either side of the goal...

This lack of purchase issue, combined with the unstable flight path, can also account for the many mistimed headers and volleys in the competition so far...

The accuracy of shooting and heading is the worst of any World Cup...ever

Goalkeepers and Attackers Receiving the Ball

It is not only the goalkeepers who have been complaining about unstable and erratic movements of the ball.

Many attackers have complained about the ball moving at the last second as they attempt to head or volley the ball from crosses or set piece plays...

Refereeing Errors

I believe that the erratic and unpredictable flight paths of the Jubilani balls are the cause of many strange refereeing errors and have also contributed to controversial goals and penalty decisions…

The pace of game itself has become faster and more frantic, at this World Cup, specifically because the Jabulani ball is hyper sensitive to the touch. It is nervous and flighty to control, and to the players feet it has an artificial and jumpy feel.

The players are all making simple mistakes…and the referees simply can’t keep up with play..

Craig Johnston July 2010


More from Design

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +