With the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A all back in action for a new season, we figured it was a good time to bring you a review of the spherical object that players are kicking around the pitch! Introduced earlier this year, the Nike Merlin official match ball is without a doubt the most innovative ball released to date by the swoosh. It features a host of upgrades all intended to compliment attacking soccer on the pitch.
Here, we take an up-close look at and break down what you can expect from this seasons official English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A match ball.
Available from soccer.com.
All Conditions Control (ACC)
In recent years, one of the biggest advancements in ball construction was the move to thermo-bonded designs, where their are no seems for moisture to impact ball performance. Nike has stepped things up another notch by integrated All Conditions Control (ACC) into the Merlin, providing optimal touch and control in all weather and pitch conditions. To the touch, you can’t really tell there is a big difference in the actual feel. Obviously there is plenty of texturing across the surface, but there is nothing significant that would differentiate the feel from a prior Nike match ball.
The best way I could think of to test the technology was to dunk the ball. So, I held it deep in a pool of water for several minutes. Then, I let it dry in the sun. The before and after weight proved to be identical, at 440g both times. So, there is no noticeable water retention. Unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to test it for several months in wet conditions to get a more accurate take for this review. But I will continue to use it through the winter months and report anything important.
Although I wouldn’t rate this as the best Nike match ball in recent times, it does have a very distinct, eye-catching look about it. Nike use a combination of secondary and tertiary colors across the white casing to catch a player’s eye and help them to identify spin, speed and trajectory as quickly as possible. In particular, the neon yellow seen on the teal detailing looks like someone has taken a highlighter to the ball. Another note, when you look at the ball from an angle, the teal detailing actually resembles a city skyline.
In play, I have to say it is easy on the eye. The use of a darker Navy really contrasts with the lighter colors. When the game is being played at speed, it is difficult to differentiate the spin like Nike state, but with the ball at our feet I can see how you could use the design to your advantage.
Casing and Optimal Touch
Here lies some of the more innovative pieces of the Merlin ball. Nike has worked on creating a larger striking surface by reducing the traditional 12-panel construction to just four. According to Nike, less panels means the number of seams have been reduced by 40 percent, eliminating hard spots, opening up the ball and created a more pronounced “sweet spot”. If you are wondering what a panel looks like, it is basically the segmented white zone surrounded by the navy border. So, it covers a pretty large zone. It is difficult to tell how effective this style of design is. But, I can tell you it is a sweet ball to strike and offers a very natural movement through the air as you play long passes.
Something else interesting Nike has added is varying levels of texture across the casing. We are talking millimeters, in the form of debossed grooves in circular motions on each panel and 3D inks that are engineered to dry at elevated heights. This is all intended to further improve aerodynamics and the feel of the ball. As you rub your hands across the surface of the ball you can definitely pick out exactly where it is used. Again, we are talking millimeters off the surface, so it is not dramatic. But it offers enough for you to be able to feel the difference.
And to complete the striking feel of the ball, Nike use a latex bladder instead of a traditional rubber, that is then enveloped in proprietary materials to promote more consistent air pressure and keep its shape.
How Does It Feel To Strike?
The word I’d use most to describe the Merlin is “consistent.” I love the feel and weight of the ball as it pings of your foot. It is smooth and you definitely feel confident when putting power into strikes. The added texturing also helps as you look to get some spin on your shots, making it ideal for placing a finish. I’ve no doubt that anyone using it will thoroughly enjoy the performance on offer.
Since the ball is used in three different leagues – Premier League, La Liga and Serie A – you have three different styles to choose from. Each league features its own set of distinct colors.
Find the latest Merlin OMB, retailing for $159.99, at soccer.com.
For those interested in the takedown model, it is called the Nike Magia and it retails for $59.99. The Magia is different as it has a 12-panel design and machine stitched PU casing for durability.