A football is an incredibly simple object, but the aggressive nature of modern sports marketing has inevitably ensured that the humble leather sphere has become something of a target for some increasingly outlandish advertising spiel. At the start of every major competition we are, without fail, presented with a “revolutionary” new ball, one that is supposedly lighter, faster, more rounded and more aerodynamic than any that has gone before.To get an idea of the sheer levels of hype which surround the launch of new products in such an intensive and competitive market, watch this clip of Adidas unveiling the ‘Jo’bulani’ – the ball that was used in this summer’s World Cup final:
Now turn the clock back to 1978, an altogether more simpler time when footballs were footballs and didn’t get ideas above their station. That summer saw Adidas unfussily release the ‘Tango’, the ball which was used at the World Cup in Argentina that very same year and has since become something of a cult classic.
Set against the harsh political backdrop created by the Argentine military junta of the time, the ’78 tournament may have been the most controversial to have ever been staged, but it provided some truly dramatic and spectacular football. The final, played in Buenos Aires’ ferocious Estadio Monumental, pitted the hosts against a Dutch side which was still playing some beautiful football despite having lost Johan Cruyff to international retirement a year earlier.
Dick Nanninga’s late equaliser set the game up for an extra-time climax, La Albiceleste eventually winning 3-1 in controversial circumstances thanks to goals from Mario Kempes, Daniel Bertoni and, as some have claimed, a helping hand from the authorities. Born into a climate of political intrigue and vibrantly attractive football, the Tango was well on its way to achieving legendary status.
New balls may be unveiled ahead of every World Cup these days, but FIFA and Adidas persevered with the Tango in various guises (it was essentially the same ball by different names until the introduction of the Ferenova in 2002) for the next twenty years. It became as much a part of football’s biggest showpiece as the players and the trophy itself, an integral part of the World Cup landscape.
With its beautifully simplistic design, the Tango is now the ball we associate with the elation of Marco Tardelli in ‘82, the brilliance of Diego Maradona in ‘86 and Baggio’s desolation in ’94 – not to mention many childhood afternoons spent poring over the Subbuteo table.
The iconic moments with which it is linked, in combination with its apparent lack of availability in the shops, gave the Tango a near-mythic status amongst young football fans – I remember being absolutely desperate to get my hands on the Tricolore ahead of the 1998 World Cup, an ultimately unsuccessful endeavour.
The Tango was aesthetically perfect and almost wholly without illusions of grandeur being projected onto it by overzealous advertisers; it was an intrinsic part of football culture in its time and remains the most iconic ball there has ever been.