Soccer is the most internationally recognized and certainly the most popular sport on the planet. The beautiful game is responsible for some of the most memorable moments ever documented but none of that would have been possible if not for one thing: the soccer ball.
Sure, you could field teams of 11 players, fill stadiums with fans and have them cheer on when their favorites take the pitch. You could place as many bets as you want and even use the best parlay calculators at your disposal. However, the match referee isn’t blowing that whistle without a ball being placed in the middle of it all.
Not all soccer balls are created equal, though. Some of them have stood the test of time in terms of popularity and will forever be heralded as one of the best to ever be kicked about a soccer pitch.
The list below ranks seven of the best soccer balls to ever grace the grass.
1. Adidas Tango (1982)
The Adidas Tango was unveiled for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina but did not rise to fame until four years later when the event reached the shores of Spain. The 1982 World Cup, won by Italy, put the likes of Zico, Socrates, Michel Platini, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and Paolo Rossi on display. The Tango, however, starred in every match and if you managed to get your hands on one by the time the tournament ended, you’d have likely been the envy of your peers.
The Tango was the last genuine leather World Cup ball but the first to employ water-resistant properties. Despite that, it was often replaced during matches as it was quite delicately made. A genuine one would have set you back around a cool $70, which is why a number of imitations were made. You could probably still get one if you’re keen on it but it’s likely going to have you part ways with at least $350. In 2017, Adidas partnered with Palace Skateboards to release a limited-edition Tango match ball.
2. Mitre Delta 1000 (1986)
The Mitre Delta, released by Mitre in 1986, was the ball of choice back when the Premier League was England’s Division One. The ball’s design was pretty straightforward, with black and white the only colors on there, and it dominated things in Britain across the 80s and 90s, ahead of the top flight getting rebranded.
English football was very different back then. The Premier League is considered to be the most competitive tier in world football but is now as aesthetically pleasing as it is tough. The Mitre days were way tougher than they were beautiful.
3. Azteca (1986)
This soccer ball was the first to have its designs inspired by the host nation. Launched for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, the Azteca was also the first synthetic match ball, as well as the first to have a waterproof polyurethane coating.
The Azteca boasted a beautiful mural design that both stood out and paid homage to the proud country of Mexico.
What was your favourite WC and which is your favourite ball ? pic.twitter.com/TRlvYAcJwy— TheBeautifulGame (@BeautifulGame_1) December 5, 2020
4. Adidas Telstar (1970)
The Adidas Telstar was the first official World Cup ball and remains a fond memory for Brazilians as the country celebrated its third capture of the coveted FIFA World Cup trophy.
The ball had 32 stitched panels, 12 of which were black pentagons and the others all white hexagons. The ball was pretty easy to see on black on white televisions, which is why it was dubbed the Telstar (television star). The Adidas ball was also the roundest ball of its time and was so popular, it was brought back in 1974.
5. Mitre Ultimax (1998)
Another Mitre product, this soccer ball was the first recorded to hit speeds of over 100mph and was described by the manufacturer as the “world’s fastest and most accurate football” and players would have done well to stay out of its way. The Mitre Ultimax, the original microfiber ball, was a favorite among England’s Sunday leaguers but was also the ball of choice for the Premier League in the late 90s.
6. Jabulani (2010)
The only ball on this list past the year 2000, the Jabulani was produced for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and, to be fair, wasn’t very enjoyable for keepers. The Jabulani was great to look at and boasted “grip and groove” technology as well as high-tech 3-D panels to promote perfect roundness. Former England keeper David James said it was “dreadful” while Spain’s Iker Casillas called it a “poor ball.” Spain did end up winning the tournament, their first and only to date, so his stance has probably changed.
7. Super Duplo T (1950)
The Super Duplo T was considered to be revolutionary at the time it was manufactured and is part of the American Soccer Museum’s collection. The ball was the first to have a valve for inflation and introduced the beginning of a new soccer ball era on another front as it was also the first ball to shelve the old lacing method.
It likely isn’t a favorite among Brazilians as it was the one that breached their goal line to give Uruguay a 2-1 win in the 1950 World Cup finals on Brazil’s home turf.