Adidas director of soccer innovation Antonio Zea
explains why replacing the controversial Jabulani in 2014, even after years of testing and testimonials from Lionel Messi and other stars, is still the ballsiest move in sports.
"The official match balls are not an easy product," says Antonio Zea, Adidas' director of soccer innovation.
became director of soccer innovation, a friend asked, "How do you do that-innovate in soccer?
After all, it appears to be the most bare bones of the major sports in terms of equipment.
How much can you improve on a round ball?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Any change to the basic components-the inner bladder that holds air, the carcass that surrounds it, the foam layer on top of that, and the surface layer--can alter how the ball rebounds off a foot, head or the grass, flies through the air, curving, spinning, or knuckling.
"The Brazuca is the most tested ball we've created," Zea
tells Fast Company
from Adidas headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany.
team spent two and a half years developing it, not just to meet the specs of FIFA, the sport's governing body but its own standards, such as no added weight when wet.
Without disclosing their specific criticism, Zea
says their feedback led to Adidas
tweaking the micro-texture-a tiny pebble-like grain--added to the ball's surface to improve the feel, no matter the weather, and its aerodynamics.
"We absolutely wanted to make sure it had player acceptance," Zea
Acceptance-or respect, another word he
mentions--is the minimum.
aiming higher, knowing how connected players can feel toward the ball.
"We think about how can we make the players to love it," he
"The ball is a big deal to fans," says Zea
"In 1982, my dad bought me the Adidas Tango ball from the World Cup, held in Spain.
was Spanish, and I remember going to the park with him and playing with that ball and understanding what the World Cup meant to him.
That's how we talk about the ball today, as a symbol of the event."
On the whiteboard of his
office is the mantra, "Make cool stuff.
is about to find out if he
have met that goal or not.