World of Sport

Has ball technology gone too far? Brazilian wonder-goal makes mockery of goalkeeping

World of Sport

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Who would be a goalkeeper nowadays? A winger can make dozens of errors without costing his team anything, but every action of a keeper comes under scrutiny as it can lead to a goal.

High-quality video replays, youtube and social networking all intensify the magnifying glass placed on the last line of defence, and you need an incredibly thick skin to deflect the disproportionate criticism that comes your way.

One thing in particular has made life even harder for keepers, and that is meddling with the thing they have to catch – the football.

Just take a look at this frankly ridiculous goal by Fluminense forward Rafael Sobis – the keeper thinks he has it covered, but the ball swerves from one side of the goal to the other, leaving him helpless, and the former Real Betis man delighted.

In its quest to increase the number of goals in matches, FIFA has come up with some bizarre ideas, such as making the goal-frame bigger, and even reducing the numbers of players on the pitch as games go on. Those hare-brained schemes were met with resistance. So what better way to meddle with the beautiful game than to tweak the technology involved?

Balls have progressively got lighter and more mobile – and with those changes come an increased likelihood of spectacular, long-range goals.

In part this is natural progress: complex plastics are lighter, cheaper and more durable than leather, and this in itself allows for balls with a greater tendency to travel further, with the reduced mass making them more susceptible to changes in wind direction, and less influenced by the simple laws of gravity.

However, manufacturers were given a specific brief to create the ultimate, lightweight, 'swervy' for the 2010 World Cup, and with that the notorious Jabulani was born.

The technology had been ongoing – with balls throughout the new millennium increasingly reliant on polyurethane panels – but the infamous 'balloon' showcased in South Africa took the biscuit.

Scientifically developed to be more aerodynamic (read: 'move less predictably after striking'), it has played into the hands of strikers but infuriated keepers.

Spain and Real Madrid star Iker Casillas claimed it was "like a beach ball", with his Italy and Juventus counterpart Gianluigi Buffon going so far as to call it "shameful".

Ball technology has continued to develop since, with more long-range efforts bamboozling keepers.

Some have insisted that it doesn’t matter, that goalkeepers should keep up with changing parameters and readjust their expectations accordingly.

"I think I understand how that business works," Everton and USA keeper Tim Howard said. "Shut-outs don’t bring the attention. The ball is moving all over the place. 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."

There is also the argument that, in order to manipulate the ball to move so much, the striker needs to have superior technique – how else would we explain how some players, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, get more dip and swerve than others?

And who can forget the swerve Brazil legend Roberto Carlos was able to get on his free-kicks? His goal at the 1997 Tournoi is a famous case in point – and that came long before the dreaded Jabulani and the balls that followed.

What do you think? Has ball technology gone too far? Should we return to the good old days of rock-hard leather footballs, or is lightweight the new heavyweight? Have your say below!

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