The World Cup is almost here. Get your head in the game with these 5 books

by | Nov 17, 2022 | Top Stories

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Argentinian forward Diego Maradona scored the “Goal of the Century” in a 1986 World Cup quarterfinal match against England in Mexico City. Maradona is seen here moving past English defender Terry Butcher (left) on his way to the goal and a 2-1 victory.

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Sports seduces us with excitement and fantasy – not just the what-if moments, but also those in which some players seem to rewrite the laws of probability and physics. Every four years, the World Cup lifts such moments to dizzying heights, pitting elite athletes against each other in a winner-take-all tournament that defines careers and sends millions of people into delirium or agony. With the tournament kicking off in Qatar on Nov. 20, we asked two authorities on soccer to recommend their favorite books about the World Cup and the beautiful game, with all its glory and humanity. Here’s a list of titles – five books, plus a podcast and a magazine article – to whet your appetite for a full month of soccer. Books God is Round by Juan Villoro, translated by Thomas Bunstead Mexico’s acclaimed author and journalist deftly frames transcendent events in sports through a human lens. “In this beautiful collection of essays, Villoro marvels over moments in a way that makes you as a reader marvel too,” says Gwendolyn Oxenham, who played collegiate soccer at Duke University and professionally in Brazil. She has a new book out this month on the U.S. women’s national team.

Villoro latches onto rare moments, like the time Germany’s Miroslav Klose talked a referee out of awarding him a penalty kick Klose didn’t think he deserved. Then there’s the crowd’s shared euphoria over a goal: “People punching the air and howling – it’s hard to think of other circumstances in which the soberest of doctors suddenly unleashes a howl,” Villoro writes. “There’s no way to read this book and not fall for the game,” Oxenham adds.

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A combination of images shows (left to right) Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazil’s Neymar in 2017, as they vied for the Best FIFA Men’s Player Award. The three hope to help their national teams win at this year’s World Cup.

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The Age of Football: The Global Game in the 21st Century by David Goldblatt If soccer needs an official historian, David Goldblatt could make a strong a claim. The author’s acclaimed work The Ball is Round told the story of the sport’s beginnings. In this book first published in 2019, Goldblatt examines how the game fits into world politics, culture and society. The result is “a comprehensive overview of the history of the game from its foundation and amateur era to today’s zillion-dollar extravaganza,” says Keir Radnedge, author of the official FIFA guide to the 2022 World Cup and a former editor of World Soccer magazine. “Football is first,” Goldblatt writes, adding that the sport has risen to the scale of a world religion — and is more intertwined with money and political power than ever before. His book depicts the enormous span of local stories the World Cup generates, from hourly workers getting up in the middle of the night to see their national team to watch parties that are targeted by extremists.
The Barcelona Complex by Simon Kuper FC Barcelona rose from a regional club to become a sporting and economic powerhouse, built by generational stars from Johan Cruyff to Lionel Messi. But the organization has also been famously secretive – a mystique that author Simon Kuper helps to penetrate. “Kuper writes with awe and insight about one of the world’s most fabled teams,” Oxenham says. That includes looking past the team’s outlandish successes, she adds, and into “a neighborhood team composed of boyhood friends who love to play and love their club.” Soccer Revolution by Willy Meisl Anyone looking for the roots of the fluid, pass-driven approach to soccer that transfixes today’s fans could start with this book that was first published in the 1 …

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