If you ever want to consider how far football’s developed, just look the greatest match balls of all time. And consider, how far that football has really developed.
This silly, stupendous sport started life, essentially, as a fight over a pig’s bladder between Victorian gentlemen. The centrepiece of the beautiful game has since evolved and expanded, though – literally – to become rounded, softer, lighter, technicolour and packed with more technology than a space shuttle. Our forefathers wrote the laws of the game to apply to a lump of leather: now, match balls are tested in laboratories for years before they even touch a blade of grass.
Like a specific song from a lad’s holiday or a t-shirt in the back of your wardrobe, just the look of a specific football will evoke specific memories. You see, manufacturers will promise with every new ball this season that this iteration of this brand of match ball is so much more high-tech than the last one – but these footballs will always hold special places in our hearts.
Where it all began. The T-model – named after that distinctive shape of panel – is Year Zero for what modern balls would become, used in the second half of the inaugural World Cup final in 1930. We've come a long, long way…
49. Nike Maxim
One of the classier efforts that Nike have provided the Premier League in their 20-odd years of supplying the match ball, the Maxim combined red and blue for darker panels. It looked superb and the design still holds up today.
48. Mitre Delta Max
For some, Mitre are old-fashioned and fusty. This FA Cup ball, however, was anything but: the red and white swirls made pretty patterns as it flew through the air – a great effort.
47. Puma Adrenalina
Puma haven't been in the ball game as long as others but their early La Liga products have been well-received. This is a particular highlight and one that has lit up Clasicos.
46. Nike Total 90 Tracer
Another simple design from Nike, the Tracer was the Berba ball: the Volt-infused sphere that Dimitar dominated with to send United to another title. It's stripped back and sophisticated.
45. Versace Barocco Soccer Ball
The kind of thing you'd expect Zlatan Ibrahimovic to have in his living room, this might be the most extra football of all time. It's never been used in a proper match – to our knowledge – but still worthy of a spot on this list for sheer opulence and grandiosity. Bellisimo.
44. Adidas Finale Cardiff
The Adidas Finale has become an icon of the game – so it's only right that the roadshow of Champions League finals should adapt the match ball to its identity.
The Cardiff edition was one of the most recognisable, with dragon scales and touches of Welsh crimson inbued into the design. Real Madrid, of course, won the trophy with this one.
43. Mitre Halftime Slice
The half-time orange may be something that you haven't considered for roughly 25 years but the Mitre tribute to an old tradition is unforgettable. A product released in tandem with Art of Football, the cleanness and classiness is simply sublime.
42. Derbystar Brilliant APS 2017
Derbystar, the official suppliers to the Eredivisie teamed up with renowned tattoo artist Henk Schiffmacher for this one. The aptly-named Brilliant celebrated the 60th birthday of the Dutch division – and it's suitably beautiful.
41. Nike Seitiro
The geometric patterns on the Seitiro were reminiscent of burning comets plummeting to the Earth – and that's exactly what this thing looked like when Sergio Aguero smashed it in against QPR in dramatic fashion.
With nine layers of casing and bright colours, this was as technology-savvy as it was good-looking. A landmark for Nike.
40. Adidas Wawa Aba
With imagination in short supply at Adidas around this time – they were still using their ball design from two years ago – someone had a genius idea for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. Just look at this ball.
The Adidas Wawa Aba – named after the seed of the Wawa tree, one of the strongest woods of Africa – took the patterns of the Teamgeist and transformed them into something distinctly Ghanian for the host nation. Instead of the panels being the focus, the swirls of yellow came to the fore. Genius.
39. Molten Europa League 2018/19
Molten don't make kits but have somehow become the ball supplier to UEFA's second-biggest club tournament. They don't show themselves up either – this particular Europa ball was a fiery beauty.
38. Nike Strike Phantom Scorpion
A tribute to the shiny sphere that Ronaldinho fixed his hair in the reflection of in 2002's Nike Cage ads, the Scorpion version of the Nike Flight was pure nostalgia.
Never used in a match, this came as part of a collection that included Scorpion-themed boots. They were used in games, though, with Mason Mount donning silver Phantoms in the Premier League.
37. Adidas Nativo 21
It's called a football. Adidas made that particularly clear when giving MLS their designated soccer sphere for 2021, that featured stars, stripes, red, white and blue, somehow, without looking in the least bit tacky. Great job.
36. Nike Merlin 2019
Premier League balls used to be black and white. This particular pink effort from 2019, however, was as eye-catching as anything we'd ever seen. A great twist on the Merlin design from Nike.
35. Puma Accelerate
Puma's Accelerate ball just feels built for LaLiga. Incorporating the logo and with flashes of warm colour, this looked like it was built in a lab with the likes of Benzema and Pique watching over scientists' shoulders. Perhaps the best LaLiga ball in recent memory.
34. Nike Ordem 3
There are some out there who seeth with anger that the Premier League rebranded with a rounded new logo, soft green colours and rounder arm patches, for the 2016/17 season. The Nike Ordem 3 ball recalls a simpler time: a time when Claudio Ranieri was a tactical genius, a time before Joe Hart was given marching orders from Manchester City.
This was the 2015/16 ball, by the way. With its Spiderman-like casing, red gradients and big volt Swoosh, it’s almost the definitive 2010s Premier League football, despite having virtually nothing special to separate it from any other football released that decade. It’s just… nice. Leicesterian souls still yearn for it.
33. Adidas Europass
Chances are, you don't remember this all that well if you're from old Blighty. Nope – the English never did get to kick this thing about.
The silver Europass from the 2008 European Championship played on the well-worn Teamgeist with simple black dots – to recall the Adidas Telstar look, too. It wasn't groundbreaking but it was lavish and lovely.
32. Nike Joga Bonito ball
Another ball that never made it to the top leagues, this remains one of Nike's greatest-ever products – and it's just a side product of some of their boots.
With the gold fade of the Mercurial Vapor woven into the design, the American manufacturer created a half-and-half ball that looked regal, simple and stunning when it was spinning on the volley. Forever associated with the likes of Ronaldinho and Henry, who appeared in ad campaigns tapping this thing about.
31. Adidas Questra
For each World Cup, Adidas would take their original Tango and tailor it to the home nation – rather like they've done with the Champions League ball in modern times. The Questra was to become an American hero of the 90s.
The last black-and-white match ball of a World Cup, the Questra incorporated nebulous patterns of stars and swirls for a dreamy World Cup in the States. It didn't take a genius to think of, did it? But it was executed immaculately.
30. Nike 'Tunnel Vision' Merlin
The coronavirus ball. After football returned to a post-lockdown world, Nike brought out a Premier League ball with bright orange spots. The Swoosh was jagged, too – as if further emphasising that things were simply not the same right now. It was a work of art.
29. Adidas Finale Roma
The Finale has been through many guises but one of the most memorable is the 2009 match ball, used when Barcelona won their first European title under Pep Guardiola.
Deep scarlet is offset against silver, with one star panel missing – fittingly, having the icon of the trophy itself. This was a bold evolution of the ball and one of the best efforts Adidas have had in the past 20 years in this competition.
28. Adidas Jabulani
Look at this thing and tell us, straight-faced, that you can’t still hear the rumble of a vuvuzela.
As is tradition for every World Cup ball, the Adidas Jabulani was panned by just about everyone who kicked it – aesthetically-pleasing, as it was. The final ball was marvellously called the Jo’bulani – in reference to Johannesburg’s nickname, Jo’burg – but not even that would save the abhorred orb from its haters. There were even those who thought it was to blame for Frank Lampard’s ghost goal against Germany being ruled out.
“Whoever is responsible for this should be taken out and shot for crimes against football,” Craig Johnstone, former Liverpool midfielder and inventor of the Predator boot claimed in a leaked letter. Bit harsh, Craig.
27. Adidas Azteca
It's Mexican, of course.
Adidas haven't always looked to reinvent the (three-dimensional) wheel, you know. Including Aztec patterns, naming it after Mexico's most famous stadium and presenting this thing for Maradona to mesmerise with both his feet and fists was one of the Three Stripes' simpler MOs. It worked though, didn't it?
26. Nike Flight 2022
Covers are so rarely better than the originals – but this one comes pretty damn close, right?
Nike's 30-year Premier League match ball takes the original Mitre design and adds Roman numerals for the anniversary. The gold is stunning, the typographic logo both refreshing and ever-so-slightly cheeky (could you be more obvious about the Mitre influence, lads?). This one is going down as a classic already, though – before it's even been kicked.
25. Adidas Roteiro
The Italians complained that it swerved too much. English tabloids questioned whether it was to blame for penalty misses (no guys, it’s just us). But looking back, the Roteiro from Euro 2004 is that smelly supply teacher who you didn’t particularly like at the time but look back on semi-fondly now.
The Roteiro was a silver thing with black patterning, that had the name of the stadium, plus the longitude and latitude of the centre spot of the pitch inscribed on it. It didn’t scream “cool” at the time but looking back, it’s quirky enough to occupy a corner of your memory that subsequent Euro balls have failed to.
24. Umbro Ceramica
Like Stonehenge, Gary Cahill or COVID-19, no one really knows where the Umbro Ceramica came from and no one remembers life before it. It’s an ever-present image in your mind’s eye – you probably can’t even remember a game that it was used in. Maybe an England friendly? Who knows.
Everyone’s had a kickabout with this – or at least punted it back to some kids in bibs at a park. It’s a simple enough design, utilising the Umbro logo nicely and despite its absence from top-level competition, it’s instantly recognisable.
23. Adidas Tango 12
It literally looks like the Tango had a child. This particular relation of the original was used at Euro 2012, with intricate little patterning of the hosts' colours – that was Ukraine and Poland.
22. Adidas Finale Istanbul (2021)
20 years after first giving the Champions League the Finale ball, Adidas celebrated all the versions they'd made since. The patterns of those classics were incorporated into the 2021 ball – which never was used in Istanbul – as Chelsea lifted their second title.
The silver colour scheme recalled the original, with orange tying everything together nicely. It's a stunning tribute.
21. Mitre Permawhite Max
Basic can be boring – or it can be beautiful.
The Mitre Permawhite Max is one of the greatest balls of all time for its simplicity, yes, but also off the back of a name. The Mitre logo is a good'un – but it's because of Mitre's heritage that this thing works. It recalls the tapestry of the manufacturer's history… and it's impossible to imagine this ball in the real world and not covered in mud.
20. Adidas Brazuca
The Brazuca was Brazil 2014’s World Cup ball. It was trialled for two years before the World Cup, even tested into a DFB-Pokal final – just to confirm that it wasn’t as mental as the Jabulani – and it went on to influence balls used in the Europa League and Bundesliga.
It was an instant hit too: the swirls looked childlike, with celestial stars where these darker patches met. The blue, orange and green is distinctly Brazilian: ironic, perhaps, that you can’t look at one now without thinking of their collective meltdown during the 7-1 discombobulation.
19. Mitre Delta Max (Championship)
Mitre have made some great Championship balls, haven't they? It's almost impossible to pick a favourite but the triangle-covered Delta Max with faded colours and the customary big chevron is perhaps the definitive orb of an era.
18. Slazenger Challenge 4-Star
The only match ball from a World Cup final that went home with a goalscorer.
The 1966 ball was originally selected in a blind test at the Football Association headquarters in Soho Square (make jokes as you wish about the Russian linesman doing the testing). Ironically for a ball chosen blind, this is the brightest-ever World Cup ball – and being British, we had to have one from Derbyshire before the German Adidas took over manufacturing duties. Spiffing.
17. Adidas Finale 18
Adi were probably always going to invert the colours on the Champions League ball – when they did, they gave it a new lease of life.
A white and blue UCL effort that was used in the group stages of the competition in 2018, this caught the imagination immediately. It was so bold and colourful, yet still looked white from distance. A lesson in how to reinvent while not switching the formula too much.
16. Adidas Telstar 19
The old was new for 2018 at the World Cup. Adidas even gave their native Germany two shirts based on classics from 1988 to 1990, in a bid to bring the Coupe De Monde back to Deutschland, like they had done in Italia 90.
It failed spectacularly – but at least the ball looked great. A glitching, space-age update on the 1970 Telstar, this ball was Harry Kane's best mate all summer with the design becoming the basis of Adi's balls over the next couple of years. Football nearly came home with this thing…
15. Adidas Al Rihla
For the weirdest World Cup ever, Adidas's match ball is suitably… out-there. They've never delivered anything like this before. You can't even look back at a classic this is influenced by.
With big triangular panels and bright primary colours, the Al Rihla is absolutely gorgeous. It uses the new textless Adidas logo and is textured for better flight – though it's a staple of the tournament to complain about the ball by now. Now, to make memories with it…
14. Adidas Finale Istanbul (2020)
Poor Istanbul. They'll get to host one day, surely.
Adidas's first attempt at a Turkish delight for the Champions League final (see the second above) was marred by lockdown, as Bayern Munich stormed to the title in a silent, single-tie stage in Lisbon. The ball, however, was anything but quiet, combining purples, pinks and blues for the most regal sphere that the competition had ever seen.
It's now forever associated with Alphonso Davies, Robert Lewandowski and co. destroying Barcelona with.
13. Nike NK 850 Geo
A pure white ball with nothing but the competition logo and Nike's Swoosh. Beat that.
It's almost impossible to. This was the LaLiga ball that Ronaldo bamboozled defenders with, that Pep put on plates for his mates, that Raul broke through in the 90s with. Sometimes it's hard to beat the original – even if the original is fairly unimaginative.
Nike could reintroduce it right now and it wouldn't look a touch out of place. You can't say that for every ball on this list…
12. Mitre FA Cup 150 Year
It was only used in one match. But for the 150th year of the FA Cup, Mitre really did outdo themselves.
Features a graphic celebrating every team to win the competition since 1872, integrating with a heat map design of England and Wales and with those trademark chevrons, this is an absolute beauty. Typically for its colour scheme, the team in red won with it. We can't wait to see what Mitre do for the 200th…
The chances are that you know what it looks like without knowing what it’s called. The Allen ball – not to be confused with 1966 World Cup winner, Alan Ball – is a classic of the genre: the ultimate orange-brown match ball, complete with cotton laces.
The Allen was made of leather, consisted of 13 panels and debuted at the 1938 World Cup in France – fittingly, it had the words “Coupe De Monde” in bold black lettering. This has become the standard stock photo of any brown leather football, from the panelling down the warm, chocolatey colour. It would give you concussion if you tried to deliver a bullet header, but oh, was it a pretty thing.
10. Nike Flight WE
It will go down as an all-time great.
Nike don't do many international competitions but their Women's Euro 2022 ball was loud, proud and stylish, just like the tournament itself. Based on the Nike Flight tech but with a unique pattern, there's simply never been a design like this, making it forever synonymous with the competition in England. It's a triumph.
9. Adidas Tricolore
It was the 1970s when the FIFA World Cup was first widely broadcast in colour; Johan Cruyff in vibrant orange, Brazilians in glowing carnival shades. It took a whole two decades for the ball itself to get with the programme.
It was worth the wait. The first coloured ball at a World Cup, the '98 Adidas Tricolore, played on the traditional Tango design with an intricate pattern. The French red, white and blue decorated the ball beautifully; it was the last Tango-style to feature at a World Cup but it opened Pandora’s box in terms of future designs.
8. Adidas Teamgeist
Another World Cup ball, more hate. The 2006 Adidas Teamgeist was criticised by Roberto Carlos and David Beckham – hilariously, a swerve connoisseur and an Adidas ambassador respectively – not to mention the fact that its density would radically change when wet. But don’t let that put you off from how damn iconic this beast was.
The Teamgeist came slap bang in Adidas’s golden prime when Lampard and Gerrard were still being crowbarred into the same midfield role and the walls of JD Sports would be filled with nothing but Predator boots. The gold version of the Teamgeist is synonymous with Zinedine Zidane, who was also kitted out in gold Adidas boots for his last tournament – even the regular version had gold-tinted along the curves.
It’s opulent, exciting; a relic of pre-credit crunch Europe where footballers wore gold like peacocking monarchs. The infinity-shaped panels are still an awesome design to this day.
7. Adidas Fevernova
The World Cup was reinvented in 2002. New continent. New millennium. New look for Adidas. The Fevernova is just as bold and groundbreaking, inspired entirely by Asian culture: the dark gold shape resembles a tomoe (comma-like swirl symbol used in Japanese) with the red streaks representing calligraphy brush strokes that you might see in manga.
This thing looked super-cool when Becks and Raul shuffled it about in their Predator Manias. Not sure we believe those who claimed it was to blame for the shock results of that tournament, though.
6. Nike Merlin Geo
Dennis Bergkamp’s turn on Nikos Dabizas. The original Total 90 boots. Ruud van Nistelrooy going beserk. The Premier League highlights being broadcast on ITV1. There are so many memories evoked by this classic football, which was the first that Nike created for the Prem.
It was also the ball that got the chrome makeover for the incredible Scorpion adverts, too. The Geo is as timeless a design as a Dalek or a Bakelite telephone. It’s part of English footballing heritage.
5. Adidas Telstar
The Adidas Telstar was beamed onto TV sets from the Mexico World Cup in 1970 – a futuristic black-and-white beast of a ball – and it became so ubiquitous that it became the standard of how children around the world would draw a football.
The 32-panel globe coloured every hexagon white and every pentagon black: it was that simple a design. Yes, it looks blocky and boring now but at the time, there was nothing cooler than Pele skinning defenders with this thing. It’s legendary in the timeline of sport itself.
4. Nike Total 90 Aerow
Between 2004 and 2007, everything that Nike touched turned to gold. Circles around the numbers on shirts? Sure, why not. TV ads of Thierry Henry pirouetting through an expensive apartment – only to find the Manchester United team in his spare room? Makes sense. Putting a massive “90” on the instep of boots? It looked great.
The Total 90 Aerow adhered to this strange aesthetic of the American manufacturer doing everything minimal yet big, bold and in your face. Gone was the elegant Geo patterned ball in the Premier League, replaced by a pure, white pill – and it had a massive blue ring around it. When we ticked through to the winter, Nike delivered the same ball but in luminous yellow.
It became an instant classic. It’s still the most iconic football ever produced by the company – so much so that Prem standards since have been based on it.
3. Mitre Ultimax
Mitre is interwoven into the very fabric of football. The first football to ever travel at 100mph was the Ultimax, a typically V-covered beauty with glorious blue and gold patterns all over. This was Alan Shearer’s best friend, Paulo Di Canio’s partner in crime. It couldn’t be more 90s if it played Wonderwall when you caught it.
The Ultimax is still the longest-serving Premier League ball and the template that Mitre has looked to evolve from for over 25 years. Last year, the manufacturer re-released the Ultimax to the squealing glee of Prem nerds everywhere – and rightly so. It holds so many memories of Blackburn Rovers lifting silverware, Arsene Wenger’s early years and Fergie’s boys forming into superstars of the game.
It’s perhaps the only piece of footballing folklore from 1995 that’s still as beautiful as the day it debuted. It would look just as cool if the likes of Salah and Sterling played with it.
2. Adidas Tango
After the blocky Telstar design got outings in ‘70 and ‘74, Adidas renovated its flagship ball look in Argentina in 1978. It would take took something pretty special to shift the Telstar from its perch but what dropped into stadiums informed the following six tournaments of football fashion – perhaps not even total football was that influential.
You've seen some of the evolutions of this ball across this list – but the original Tango is still the best. One of the nicest examples of negative space design in the history of football, with the cute and curvy triangular shapes forming a net around the ball, leaving white circles on which Adidas plastered their logo. Whether it went Aztec for Mexico ‘86, full-Rome for Italia 90 starry-eyed for USA ‘94, it's this design that profits as the first to look this good: eventually, the last Tango of Paris signed off the design with the aforementioned Tricolore of France ‘98.
It’s hard to know what made the Tango so enduring, other than its simplicity. It played in more World Cups than any player, though: it’s an icon of the game and will forever be associated with the World Cup.
1. Adidas Finale 1
It was 2001 when Zinedine Zidane swung a left peg at Roberto Carlos’s looping cross, to smash the Adidas Finale into the top bin of the Bayer Leverkusen net. The Frenchman didn’t just justify £45m of outlay: he ensured the Champions League ball would go down in history.
This ball is almost holding back the tides of the European Super League: it doesn’t bear thinking about a top competition without starting with this masterpiece placed on the centre-spot. The starball stands for prestige; for glory under the lights. This is the football that they printed on a huge round sheet of silver fabric and gave to kids to waggle around on the centre circle while the operatic anthem played. This is the ball used for the most important game in the sport: and it more than fits the criteria.
The Adidas Finale has almost ripened over the years, from a Telstar-inspired piece into a chameleon that reflects its host city each season. You might not know which competitions the Tango was used in; the Geo Merlin or Aerow 90 were used in a few tournaments, too. But you know where you were when you first saw the Finale. It is elite branding. It is timeless.
And that first Finale, eh? Siver and white, just like the competition, those stars, stretching over the pentagonal panels, to join hands ready for that anthem. Like dog years, its 20-year lifetime is a long time in the modern-day: trends are fleeting now, written in pencil, not pen, as kits and boots are updated and renovated annually. Through it all, the Finale remains.
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