Footballers want full control over every little nuance of the game, especially the ball. To that end, Nike is launching the Ordem 4, a ball designed to fly from the inner bladder to the 3D paint on the outside, in time for the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.
“We have to build a ball that keeps pace with the game,” Rafael Ortega, Nike’s global product manager, soccer equipment, told SI.com.
Starting with the inside, Nike eliminated the sewn-in bladder, creating a wrapped version instead. “When you have a seam, you have a little bump,” Ortega says. “You might not be able to see it, but it does make the flight a little offbeat, maybe. The feeling is just a little behind for the elite level.
The new constant surface creates roundness inside, wrapped in geometric synthetic leather 12-panel fusion-welded. “With the bladder, these two work together,” he says. “They don’t cover your contact. He’s very responsive and does exactly what you ask him to do in a very sensitive way.
As soccer balls have moved away from the hand-sewn 32-panel-less-panel variety, the air still needs something to grab onto so the ball doesn’t float like a ping-ball. pong. Nike uses Aerotrack grooves for its flight control system. “We are in control of the aerodynamics now,” says Oretga. “When you take it in a hand-sewn ball, we now control what the aerodynamics will look like. “
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To further facilitate flight and touch, Nike applies 3D printed ink to decorate the ball. They layer the ink on top of each other, then use a machine to bake it and “rise like a cake for the necessary grip.” Ink blown onto the ball makes it easier to make foot contact with the ball, especially when the surface is wet.
Golf balls have several sizes of dimples, each one interacting with the air to form different rotational speeds. Between the 3D ink texture and the two different sized grooves on the Aerotrack system, the Ordem 4 has three different ways of interacting with the air so that the bullet spins consistently no matter how she is struck.
Once the movement design was established, Nike moved on to visual science to design ink patterns. “If you can see the ball faster and make a (faster) decision on how you can play that ball, that makes a difference,” says Ortega.
The eye first captures movement, then processes brightness and contrast. Using a black cage on a largely light background, the Ordem 4 manages the contrast. Brightness comes in a variation of colors specific to the three leagues, giving each a distinct visual and technical control focused on brightness.
Tim Newcomb covers athletic aesthetics (from stadiums to sneakers) and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.