By Clemente Lisi – BROOKLYN, NY (Dec 14, 2011) US Soccer Players — There have been very few Christmas presents I received as a child that I can recall now as an adult.  Growing up in the 1980's, I do remember the many Star Wars action figures and Atari videogame cartridges that were stuffed into my stocking 鈥?the sort of toys that nowadays would be on display at the Smithsonian.

The gift I do remember fondly, above all, was a soccer ball 鈥?the 鈥渁didas Tango Espa帽a鈥?鈥?that I got from Santa Claus in 1982. I was almost 8. My memory is a bit fuzzy about that day, but I do recall leaping out of bed Christmas morning and seeing the gift-wrapped box sitting at the foot of our artificial tree with silver tinsel drooping from it.  I ripped open the wrapping paper and there was the start of a love affair with a game that remains with me to this day.  Although I didn鈥檛 know it at the time, that ball would be my best friend.

I had sort of forgotten about that particular ball until recently when adidas released the Tango 12, the official ball of the 2012 European Championship. When I came across that ball last week while looking for presents on an online catalogue 鈥?鈥淭ango 12鈥?emblazoned across the side 鈥?it transported me back to my childhood, that Christmas and the 1982 World Cup, the first soccer tournament I can remember watching as a fan on television.

The original Tango was special.  After all, the Tango I played with as a child was the same model ball that Italy鈥檚 diminutive striker Paolo Rossi had used to score a hat trick against Brazil at the World Cup just six months prior to that Christmas. Indeed, it was the same ball that the bearded Brazilian star Socrates, who died recently, fired past goalkeeper Dino Zoff with an unstoppable diagonal shot in that same epic match. More importantly, for me, it was the ball that I used to emulate the heroes I鈥檇 seen after spending the summer at my grandmother鈥檚 house in Italy when my entire family and I (and an entire nation) were glued to the TV.

The original Tango was first introduced by adidas for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. At the time, the ball sold for nearly $80, making it the most expensive ball ever to hit the market.  I鈥檓 sure the one I owned was a much-cheaper version because it was a replica and the Tango鈥檚 second incarnation.  I loved that ball.  Its simple design was elegant and different from the typical black-and-white patches that had made every previous ball look the same.

It didn鈥檛 take long for my shiny new ball to quickly show signs of wear and tear. Despite the grass stains, black streaks and tiny deposit of dirt, the ball always kept its fresh leathery smell. To this day, the smell of leather reminds me of that ball.

Unfortunately, my beloved ball with that now-iconic design met its untimely demise when it was run over by a bus year later after an errant kick landed it in the middle of busy New York City traffic. In the years after that incident, I have owned other soccer balls.  None were as good as the Tango. In all honesty, the last few years have not been great when it comes to the names and designs of new balls. Just ask any World Cup goalkeeper who has had to deal with the extremes of design. 

The Tango 12 is meant to be a throwback in a way, linking those technical innovations that haven't necessarily received the warmest of welcomes from professional players with a history that's all about welcome memories.

In a December 2nd blog post on adidas鈥檚 website, Matthias Mecking, who heads the company's testing on balls, shoes, gloves and other equipment, wrote: 鈥淎ll in all, the Tango 12 is the most and best tested ball in the history of adidas鈥? I am very proud of the results we achieved and the way we enhanced the ball鈥檚 balance. Now I am looking forward to seeing it officially on the field, kicked by athletes such as Lionel Messi and Bastian Schweinsteiger as well as by Sunday league players around the globe.鈥?/p>

Now, 19 years after that Christmas I am considering getting my daughter the Tango 12. She鈥檚 just 3 and a little young to play the game (even though she has kicked around a ball at our local park), but it may make for a memorable Christmas gift, anyway.  If not a great gift for her, maybe a good one for me.

Clemente Lisi is a New York-based writer. Contact him at: Follow him on Twitter at:

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