Last week, Footy-Boots got the chance to head over to see our pals at Nike, and have a knockabout with the new Premier League Ball – the T90 Tracer.
As part of the presentation of the new ball, Nike also invited USMNT & Premier League goalkeepers Tim Howard & Marcus Hahnemann to the stage to have a quick chat about the ball and what they liked about it!
So people may say it’s just a ball, that every ball is the same, but this isn’t the case is it?
Tim Howard: From our experience you get different balls, different textures, different performance characteristics.
How does that affect things for you as a keeper?
TH: Well, as a goalkeeper you want the ball to just be as true and accurate as possible. I think that’s the most important thing. When you play with different balls around Europe in different leagues, you realise that some are lighter, some are heavier, some move a lot more and as a goalkeeper that’s very difficult.
Marcus you were talking earlier, saying that now you’re back in training with this ball, you’ve had to re-adjust after the summer and the ball you were using at the World Cup?
Marcus Hahnemann: Yeah we had a summer of not trying to catch the ball at all, to coming into training and balls coming as fast as possible and guys holding it, I couldn’t believe it! You know I had to re-train again so I could actually catch it.
Do you know from the first few minutes of a training session that you’re going to have to adjust your performance and your reaction times to that new ball?
MH: Yes, what’s so nice is that the ball does fly straight. When you kick it and want to place it somewhere, it goes where you want it to – that’s the benefit of it,
Tim you’ve played in the Premier League for a number of years and used a few of the Nike balls, how does this one compare with previous editions, with the new technology and graphics this year?
TH: Yeah I like the graphic, there’s a lot more white on the ball. It helps as every split second counts, for as quick as we can pick up the pace of the ball. When you play at this level, players are shooting with the ability to curl the ball from outrageous positions.
I think it’s probably better than years past, it keeps getting better and I think again the biggest thing for me is the accuracy.
It’s a catch 22, because that allows players to put it exactly where they want it to go, but at the same time we make a living out of trying to read shooters. I think the biggest hurdle we ran into over the summer, was that the shooters didn’t even know where the ball was gonna go.
It moved so much for them as well, strikers were telling us in training that they’re hitting it, but not certain where it’s gonna go. If we’re trying to read them and they’re not certain, then we’re in a lot of trouble!
One of the things I’ve heard goalkeeper coaches talk about is reaction time, if the balls have got faster, one of the issues you have as keepers is setting yourself that much quicker. As keepers you don’t have as much time after a player shoots to anticipate whats going to happen, did you find that as well?
MH: Yeah, I mean the balls are moving ten times faster than they used to. You know you have to be 100% set when that ball is struck, otherwise you’ve got no chance, it’ll be past you before you have a chance to move.
We talked about the graphic and the peripheral vision. I think when you were at United Tim, they had a visual scientist that you worked with. Is that something you pay a lot of attention to?
TH: There are some people that put more of an onus on it than others, but I think from a goalkeepers point that a split second, just a fraction, every little helps.
The quicker you can pick up the ball, in particular with the weather in the England, the better. Players are hitting the ball so much harder now then they ever have, so you get very little chance so you just try and get a little bit of an edge at times.
Talking about pre-season at your clubs, time to name names, who’s the player with the fastest and hardest shot?
MH: Doyle seems to be the one who scores the most past me. Fletcher I would of said, but today he had a beast in training he missed every shot, so he’s out of the loop!
TH: Definitely Saha. I’ve played with him for a number of years now and even at Manchester, right and left foot, he always hits it hard rarely does he take anything of it.
Obviously, some of the best strikers in the world are in the Premier League. Who are the players that you know you are going to be in with a tough ride, with the way they hit the ball in the game?
TH: It’s getting to the point now where it’s every week you know you’re coming up against top strikers. But your classic example is Jermain Defoe, he loves to shoot and is another player like Louis, certain players will look for angles and certain players will beat you at pace and he’s one of those guys.
Obviously Wayne Rooney has the ability that he’s got the power, but he’s also got the finesse and he keeps you guessing. They are the two obvious choices for me.
MH: Drogba always seems to pull off some ridiculous shot , just smash one from somewhere, he’s probably the one who comes to mind.
Just talking about the season to come, Wolves stayed up with a real margin of safety, what’s the thinking for this season?
MH: We’ve strengthened our squad and are looking to improve on last year, you know top fourteen. Just keep improving, we left ourselves room for improvement so hopefully we can reach our expectations this year, and be safe a little bit earlier than last year.
Your gaffer is an ex-player, does he have a pot-shot in training, can he still strike a ball?
MH: Actually today he commented when he got into the team picture wearing a suit [In a hilarious Mick McCarthy Yorkshire Accent] ”I’m 51 now, I’m not a player!”! He’s finally come to realise that, I’m still hanging on though!
Last season at Everton it was a tale of two seasons with the injuries, what’s the mood in the camp now is everyone fighting fit and ready to go?
TH: We’re fit, we’re ready, we’re excited. We’ve been sluggish the last couple of years with our start, but we obviously show our true colours as the season goes on. So there definitely has to be an emphasis on the way we start. I think if we can start really well, when it comes to those months when you have to grind out a result I think we do a really great job of that.
Just after Christmas and going into Spring, it’s really difficult for teams coming to Goodison, and we enjoy travelling so we just need to get the start right. We know that with our results we can keep going up and even finish higher than we did last year, which we should.
You mention you’re aware of a slowness at the start of the season, is there anything you’ve done differently in training, is there a focus on trying to combat that and fly out of the blocks?
TH: I think probably from the physio staff and coaching staff, they haven’t let us in on it but they’ve tweaked things a little bit. But as a player you just get out there and do what you’re told, and try and work above and beyond that level.
We understand that the managers brought a bunch of good players the last two or three seasons, that are strong players mentally and physically, big players. Johnny Heitinga is the latest, also Fellaini and Steven Pienaar, so we’ve got players that can not only perform at this level but at international level and are aware of how important that is.
Wolves are traditionally seen as a bit of a sleeping giant. Having consolidated one season in the Premier League they will want to kick on for the second season. Is there a feeling that a few seasons in the Premier League could really establish the club?
MH: Yeah, that’s what every team that comes up wants. Historically we’ve been that team that’s come up and gone straight back down. But if we can get a few seasons in there, yeah they’re talking about the stadium expansion, who knows, you bring that in and bring more money in the thing is we have a huge fanbase.
And the whole second season thing, this clich'© about the second season, are people aware of that at the club are they talking about it. Is it similar to Everton, that you need to make a start early and fly out of the blocks or just concentrate on what you do and take it bit by bit?
MH: I thought we played well in the beginning of the year, we were really unlucky. That might sound stupid, but you know we hit the post three times in the West Ham game and then we end up losing it.
Sometimes you just need that little bit of luck, to give you that belief to go on from there. We’d get punished for one mistake but that’s the Premier League, we’re playing against the best teams in the world and if you make that one mistake then you’re down.
In the Championship you can get away with it, that was the wake up call we needed. It took us a while to figure it out, but once we did we solidified everything and went on from there.
You hit the post every game, but obviously with the new ball they’ll just creep inside!
MH: Well maybe they can aim just inside, that should be alright!
Just coming back to the World Cup, overall what were your feelings, there seemed to be a lot more expectations from the US. How did everyone feel at the end of it on the flight home, were people reflecting ‘okay we did as well as we could’ or was there a sense of disappointment?
TH: I think a little bit of both, we haven’t got back together as everyone goes off in their own directions, but I think we did some good things we played at a very high level.
We played a Ghana team, and with no disrespect to them, it’s a game we should win but we didn’t and so there is disappointment there. As you know, at the highest level it’s not about whether you should or shouldn’t win, it’s about whether you win, and we didn’t do that so we felt like we left a little bit there. But overall we played at a good level, and that gives us something to build on.
A lot of players are going back to the States, Thierry has just joined the Red Bulls, what are your thoughts on the development of MLS? Do you think it will get to the level where you think, okay I want to go back and finish my career there?
MH: Well, that’s always been my thoughts, do I go back this year? But then Kasey [Keller, ex-Fulham stopper] went and pledged another year, so I’m not too sure about my plans going back to Seattle [Sounders]. But Portland and Vancouver have teams, and they’re only a few hours away from Seattle and I’m from the north west and that’s home for me.
It’d be nice to go back and play another year or two in the MLS, where I had two and a half good years with Colorado. It’s a good league, although I think the travelling would kill us, I’m getting used to a couple of hour journeys now. But it has always been my thoughts ending up there for a couple of years.
Make sure you check back over the next couple of days, as Footy-Boots goes one-on-one with the might Marcus Hahnemann, to talk Boots, Balls and improving for the coming season!