The best and worst match balls in history as Euro 2024's Fussballliebe is unveiled
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The match ball for the 2024 European Championships - the Adidas Fussballliebe - has been unveiled, and not only does it have the most German name for a football possible, but it's an absolute beauty. Colourful without being garish and with some lovely detailing (a plan of each of the stadiums being used for the tournament is etched into the design), it stands among the finest tournament balls ever made, and will look lovely being picked out of the net by teary-eyed goalkeepers in the knockout phases.
To celebrate its release, and to give us an excuse to praise its beauty, we've dredged up some pictures of some of the finest balls from days of footballing yore and come up with a few kind words to say about them - and then we've picked out a handful of clunkers that we want to be mean about, because we're cruel at heart.
The best of the best
Let's start with another classic from Adidas, who are responsible for all the footballs that you think of when you think of the word "football" - and that applies to no ball so much as the Telstar, which is basically the ball that artists always paint on those trite football-related birthday cards your grandparents get you. It's an effortless and gloriously elegant effort, a testament to the power of simplicity. Indeed, when we get to the balls we hate towards the end, most of them are guilty of being far too jazzy.
Not that the Brazuca, designed for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, isn't jazzy - it's just a refined, melodic jazz, rather than the dissonant clattering of a group of hungover student musicians. A lovely, elegant composition of colours and flowing lines which came in two versions, one with primary colours and another with the green and gold of the host nation. Very nice indeed.
One last Adidas classic before we move on, if we may - this time the relatively little-known Wawa Aba, designed for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana. Everything here is gorgeous, front the bold sweeps of red and green to the delicate detailing around the panels. Just a fabulous thing to look at which looked even better at the feet of a player in one of the many bold kits employed by the participants.
Moving away from Adidas for a moment - probably healthy, given that we clearly have a thing for their work - let's take a moment to appreciate the work of Mitre, whose balls don't crop up so often these days but includes some stone-cold classics, especially in the early years of the Premier League. We've picked out the Delta Max, the bright red sweeps of which looked absolutely fabulous swirling through the air off a striker's boot.
Let's also take a moment to praise the work of Puma, whose Orbita series has graced La Liga as the official match ball for a good few years now. Their latest contribution to Spanish football, the Orbita La Liga 1, is a perfect example of the range, and looks pretty nice at Jude Bellingham's feet. Orbita balls are also in use in the EFL Cup, but they're rather spoiled by the rather ugly logo of a certain energy drinks company taking up a lot of space.
Lastly, before we start excoriating a few stinkers, we should give a nod to a true classic, the ball that every Englishman sees in his dreams. The Slazenger Challenge 4-Star is the apogee of the art of the great big orange leather ball, the same one that Sir Geoff Hurst rocketed into the roof of the West German net while a handful people laboured under the misapprehension that the game was all over. If we could nominate just one football to be placed in the Louvre for future generations to gaze upon, this would be it.
One major manufacturer who were notably absent from our list of nice balls was Nike - and it turns out, entirely unbeknownst to us before we spent several hours searching for "best looking balls" on our work laptops, that we really hate quite a lot of their work. Let's start with the ridiculously-named Strike Phantom Scorpion, which sounds like the kind of name you'd give to your secondary school metal band, and looks pretty much like all of those bands sounded.
Nike have also been responsible for the Premier League match ball for a while now and while there are plenty we don't mind at all, there are quite a few which basically make all the same mistakes - day-glo colours flying absolutely everywhere, random geometric shapes, and the overall effect of an epileptic fit in aerial form when sent over for a cross. We've picked out the Ordem 4 by way of example, but the Merlin and Flight balls were just as guilty.
Now, let's get off of Nike's back and raise an eyebrow back in the direction of Puma. We've already praised their Orbita La Liga 1 from this season, but now we need to be mean about the Orbita La Liga 1 from last season, because this is a proper eye-gouger. They couldn't even be bothered to change the name, either, which has probably led to a handful of horrible Amazon-related mix-ups and several children being simultaneously disappointed and revolted when they open their presents on Christmas Day.
Finally, let's take a look at the most controversial football of all time, the Adidas Jabulani. The official ball of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, there's nothing wrong with how it looks and everything wrong with how it plays. You see, the geniuses in Adidas football science team (presumably that's a thing) decided that what football needed was more goals - and the way to do that was to design a ball that swerved erratically and unpredictably through the air, to make life harder for goalkeepers.
Which it did, but many readers will immediately spot the flaw in the grand plan - professional footballers spend a very long time perfecting the art of kicking a ball and having it go exactly where they want it to. Suddenly, shots arced towards the top corner were veering of all over the place, and the amount of goals actually went down for the tournament as all those instinctively calibrated strikes zinged a mile over the crossbar. The concept was ditched for future releases, and presumably the boffins responsible were sent off to work on rugby balls instead.