New balls, please: Meet the new season's glamorous globes
The professional football season is back, and ready to follow in its wake are millions of keen part-timers. From amateur and semi-pro players already embarking on pre-season training to sofa-dwellers who fancy a kickabout from time to time, everybody is kicking balls.
But which ball to kick? That old Jabulani sitting by the front door is looking jaded and even Ã¢ÂÂ whisper it quietly Ã¢ÂÂ only 99% spherical. ItÃ¢ÂÂs time for a new one. (NB: the Jabulani is still being used in MLS this season, so if you want to insist itÃ¢ÂÂs still Ã¢ÂÂnewÃ¢ÂÂ, we wonÃ¢ÂÂt stop you.)
Here, then, is footballÃ¢ÂÂs real Big Four: the best balls being used this season, from the Champions League final in May next year to Burton Albion v Macclesfield on a windy Tuesday night. WeÃ¢ÂÂve had a play with each during our regular Thursday lunchtime kickarounds, and having retrieved them all from neighbouring gardens soon afterwards, fashioned a small report for you. WeÃ¢ÂÂre nice like that.
Look at these footballs. Read about them. Imagine belting one of them into the top corner. Then pick your favourite, and let us know what you think.
Premier League, La Liga and Serie A
First up, the ball used by the three major European leagues (sorry, Holland). Looks-wise, the splashes of colour are designed to help players see the ball and therefore make decisions faster, as part of Nike RaDar technology, which stands for Rapid Decision and Response. We certainly found that to be true at The FourFourTwo Arena: defence-splitting passes to nobody in particular were made, on average, 0.3 seconds earlier.
The Seitiro is hard Ã¢ÂÂ not break-your-foot medicine-ball hard, but sturdy enough not to turn to blancmange after a few thwacks from your centre-back. ItÃ¢ÂÂll keep its shape like no other.
But most importantly, the Premier League ball absolutely flies when you hit it. Sorry for blinding you with science, briefly, but the ball incorporates compressed polyethylene layers which store energy from impact and release it at launch. This is A Good Thing.
And, apparently, Jay Bothroyd is a fan. Which is nice.
Best for... belting the ball bloody hard. The Seitiro pings off your foot and moves through the air, responding to well-hit shots by gliding whichever way you want it to, as opposed to whichever way it feels like or in accordance with the wind. ItÃ¢ÂÂs on the more expensive side, but it will reward good technique Ã¢ÂÂ as Sergio Aguero has already shown.
Football League and SPL
At first glance the Mitre Tensile looks a little Ã¢ÂÂplastickyÃ¢ÂÂ (not our favourite word, admittedly), but we found it to be very reliable. ItÃ¢ÂÂs extremely light, with the reduction in stitching optimising power and reducing drag on the ball. In other words, when you smash the Tensile it goes faster than before, which is always a good thing, unless youÃ¢ÂÂre a goalkeeper with the reactions of roadkill.
The choice of the Football League and the Scottish Premier looks, in the best possible way, like the bastard child of R2-D2 and a fridge. It does, however, come in different colours and designs according to your supported team Ã¢ÂÂ nice and simply, red for Swindon, green for Plymouth. Essentially, then itÃ¢ÂÂs a sort of iFootball.
This makes it arguably the prettiest of the balls on offer (we cater for every audience here), although that depends on your liking of 21st-century aesthetics combined with emotional bonding sensibilities. What?
Pedants may argue itÃ¢ÂÂs a little on the grey side for visibility, but pedants always argue. That's what they do.
Best for... tiki-taka. No, really: this may be a Football League ball, but Barcelona would love it. Being so smooth, the Tensile glides naturally on wet or dry surfaces, and therefore allows quick passing play, especially because itÃ¢ÂÂs so light. ItÃ¢ÂÂs cheaper but with potential Ã¢ÂÂ like many a Football League player, then.
Adidas Finale 11
The official ball for the premier club competition this season looks like something out of Mario Kart, but it is, in every way, a real football.
It being relatively heavy, shots with the Adidas Finale 11 stay hit; an older participant in our kickabout said that the pentagonally-panelled plaything Ã¢ÂÂstill feels like a proper leather footballÃ¢ÂÂ. And this despite a brand new texture, not unlike a series of dimples, which provides better control and swerve.
It certainly feels less slippery as a result. Keepers will love this ball: itÃ¢ÂÂs easy to grip and handle, especially in comparison to one-skin balls such as the Jabulani, and thermal bonding replacing traditional stitching means it travels along a more predictable trajectory. That is to say, this ball goes where you hit it. If you miss, itÃ¢ÂÂs probably your fault. Sorry.
Best for... important games and the high-end market. Being the official Champions League ball, the Finale 11 is quite expensive, but for the extra money you get proven quality Ã¢ÂÂ FIFA gave the ball its highest rating for weight, water uptake, shape and size retention. It does get filthy, mind, and quickly: donÃ¢ÂÂt expect those fancy stars to stay bright for long unless you love a good clean.
Umbro Neo Pro
It being the official ball of the FA Cup, you might expect the Umbro Neo Pro to be unpredictable; able to surprise you at any time. Which, when you think about it, isnÃ¢ÂÂt ideal.
No, on the contrary itÃ¢ÂÂs completely predictable Ã¢ÂÂ and what more could you want from a football? The Neo Pro is FIFA-approved and also used by the England team, but again, that doesnÃ¢ÂÂt mean it falls to pieces under pressure.
We found that you can pass very accurately with this ball, and also that itÃ¢ÂÂs easy to control Ã¢ÂÂ thanks, apparently, to a "3D-effect" Japanese microfibre with a tri-ply lining system and it being cut by laser technology. Obviously. It being quite light, too, heading is a dream, at least if you keep your eyes open.
The yellow and blue hi-vis is being used in the FA Cup from the First Round Proper until the red and white ball comes into use for the Sixth Round and semi-finals. A new design will be commissioned for the final.
Best for... those with less to spend. The Neo Pro is a reliable football Ã¢ÂÂ a good, solid all-rounder that can be easily played with at any level Ã¢ÂÂ but can generally be found for half the price of the Premier League or Champions League footballs.