Every four years Adidas redesigns the official ball for the World Cup. This year’s ball is called The Telstar 18, a perfect sphere that designed to reduce wobbling.
The Telstar 18, the design for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, is as close to a perfect sphere as you can get. It has subtle pimples and six thermally bonded panels designed to avoid knuckling, which is the characteristic bobbing and weaving movement when a ball is kicked without spin. All 32 teams have been able to play with it since November in preparation for the tournament, which runs from June 14 to July 15. But despite its similarities to the old ball, players have grumbled about the Telstar 18. Compared to the last few World Cup balls, the Telstar 18 is very similar to the ball used for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It won’t fly quite as far down the pitch, and will wobble in the air a little differently, but aerodynamic testing suggests it will be more stable in the air overall.
Adidas tested the balls using wind tunnels, trying to mimic the unpredictable nature of a Ronaldo or Messi kick. Some say past designs weren’t so sturdy and may have given some teams an advantage. The 2010 South Africa World Cup ball, known as the Jabulani, fit the short-passing style of the World Cup winners Spain.
Despite the ball’s aerodynamic optimization, one thing is certain: the goalies always hate it.
I kind of feel sympathy for the players and especially the goalkeepers that have to get used to a new ball,” Goff says. So far the Telstar 18 has received criticism from a few goalkeepers that played with it starting in November, unhappy with how it moves in the air and the way the surface feels. Goalkeepers, unlike every other player on the pitch, have to predict where the ball will go in order to block it, while also not having the freedom to run around the field to adjust as the ball flies. That means goalies often have the most complaints about a new design. “Every time there’s a World Cup and a new ball the goalkeepers complain, because they’ve been given a new ball,” says Goff.