The full scorecard
The Football Book
David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton
It’s the World Cup and as any self-respecting couch potato planning to watch all the matches over the next one month will tell you, you will need two things nearby: a non-stop supply of beer and this one-stop repository of football facts in the form of a book. The authoritative title, The Football Book, goes well with the detailed, fun-facts and basic-facts-filled book. Apart from chapters on various leagues, club teams, tactics and laws, this gorgeously produced book (the cover with its tactile feel of a football down to its seams is almost begging to be kicked around when excitement levels hit the stratosphere) also has factsheets on the World Cup finalists this year.
For patriotic-types, there’s a page on India, highlighting Baichung Bhutia — with one glaring typo though showing the Indian having played in East Bengal, JCT, Mohun Bagan and a strange sounding club called ‘Ohun Bagan’. But then, it makes up very much for this snafu by carrying detailed and lavish profiles of the big guys — both of this World Cup and of those down the years who’ve trodden the sacred turf. This isn’t just a book about World Cup football. It’s about the game and drama of football itself, thus making its shelf life much, much beyond the one being unrolled over the next month in South Africa. With its neat and wonderfully designed layout, it’s not only easy on the eyes, but great to pick up facts and figures and bandy them about when cheering on the team of choice.
You’ll want to keep this book at hand while you watch the magic. In a way, it’s a guidebook for entering the domain.
The Story of the World Cup
We usually entangle our memories of past World Cups with memories from our lives. One of the doyens of football writing, Brian Glanville, goes one better — his remembrance of World Cups past is written with a glorious combination of honed skill and free style. So while many of us have already forgotten what happened beyond the scorelines four years ago in Germany, Glanville gives the story, the backstory and lays out brilliant observations like, “On his return to Paris, Zidane was eulogised [after being sent off in the final match against Italy for headbutting Materazzi], all sins forgiven, by a now lame-duck President, Jacques Chirac. The duck quacked, Zizou bent his head towards him, and for one hallucinatory moment, it seemed as if Chirac might suffer the fate of Materazzi. But the moment passed.”
Glanville chronicles the highs and the lows, the flats and sidelights from the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 through, England 1966, Argentina 1978, Mexico 1986, right up to Germany 2006.
What makes this book specially delightful is that Glanville takes us through many encounters now largely forgotten — West Germany vs Holland, 1978; Belgium vs Soviet Union, 1986; Cameroon vs Argentina, 1990, Iran vs USA, 1998 — and tells a continuing narrative of men and nations going to ‘war by other means’. Even if you’re not a footie-junkie, The Story of the World Cup is a revealing portrait of how groups of men down the years have behaved when made to chase a ball.
As for on which side the wise Glanville’s money is on this time? Spain (“splendidly inventive midfield” and Brazil (“less dour under Dunga”).
Messi: The Inside Story of the Boy Who Became A Legend
Every World Cup, there’s that one player we all have our eyes on. In South Africa, it’s Argentina-Barcelona wunderkid Lionel ‘The Flea’ Messi. His tag of ‘The New Maradona’ has been gaining glue since he was plucked from Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario and plonked into the arclights of Barcelona FC. But the 22-year-old is shy, from a middle-class background and unchanged by fame. But once on the pitch, the 5 ft 7 inch winger is mesmerising.
Italian sports writer Luca Caioli writes about his origins, his incredible journey and the unfolding genius of the 2009 Fifa Player of the Year. Even with the clunky narrative — with interviews of coaches, his mum and the man himself — Messi could be the ‘I told you so’ book in the pile.
El Diablo, El Diego
Maradona: The Hand of God
If you can buy only one book to enhance your emotions for the next 30 days of World Cup-viewing pleasure, stop eating and save up to buy this exhilarating book. First published in 1996 and updated this year, Jimmy Burns brings the legend of Diego Maradona in all his gloriously bloated contradictions.
Burns, a half-Spanish-half-British journalist, has entwined his admiration for the Argentine icon — and “the greatest footballer of the modern age” — with the bitter truths about him. As he puts it, “This is the story of a natural-born football talent who grew up to believe he was God and suffered as a result.” The narrative is superlative. El Diego comes across as a modern-day Faust, trading his brilliance on the field with a pact with the devil. Burns himself is a character, bouncing off his anti-hero (who hates the author because of this book).
This is a Greek mythology-meets-Scarface classic that if it wasn’t a biography, it would have been a seering novel. If nothing else, in the spirit of the Argentinian concept of viveza (literally ‘liveliness’ but used to mean ‘craftiness’ or ‘trickery’), steal it.