Calcio: A History of Italian Football by John Foot
A comprehensive look at football in Italy by an English academic. In this dense look at football culture, Foot looks at how the game has been influenced by but also helped shape Italian society over time. And for those less inclined to the Italian football tradition, this book is so abundantly rich in storytelling that it reads almost like a novel at times.
What enriches Foot’s book the most is the excellent profiles of many of Italy’s most famous personalities, including Helenio Herrera, Giuseppe Meazza, Gigi Meroni and others. It also has a chapter on virtually every aspect of football down to match-fixing, doping and refereeing. It is one of my favourite non-fiction books.
When Beckham Went to Spain: Power, Stardom, and Real Madrid by Jimmy Burns
An excellent look at the history of Real Madrid written interestingly enough by an Barcelona fan. Burns tracks the evolution of the club as a global brand, using the 2003 transfer of David Beckham as a defining moment in the it’s history. At the same time it still is a profile of the English superstar, although his name does go unmentioned for long periods.
Burns’ book attempts to decipher exactly what Beckham’s move to Spain meant for the club and the country. At the time, Beckham’s move was largely seen as less a footballing decision than a commercial one. Although we have the benefit of hindsight, Beckham’s arrival meant a lot for the stature of Spain, La Liga and Real Madrid at the time.
La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World by Jimmy Burns
Another book by Anglo-Spanish journalist Jimmy Burns. ‘La Roja’ is a conventional history of football in Spain. Burns takes us from the first organized matches by English industrialists in Rio Tinto to Andrés Iniesta’s winning goal at the 2010 World Cup.
The book does an excellent job of highlighting the importance of football to Spain’s society in the 20th century. The less documented stories like the Athletic Bilbao squads of the 1930s is what makes this book fascinating. But of course, there is some rich detail about the origins of the Real Madrid and FC Barcelona rivalry that still dominates the narrative of La Liga today.
Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson
An interesting book about the evolution of formations and tactics in the game of football. The book is sometimes complicated, so it is not recommended for those who have only a modest interest in tactics. For those that love to discuss the merits of 4-3-3 over 4-4-2 this book is essential reading.
Wilson discusses in great detail the evolving game of football, from the frustrating but effective Italian Catenaccio, to the Total Football of the 1970s, and good old fashion counter-attack. The book even considers the more controversial subjects including the natural playmaker and the sweeper. It also has some great information about some of the tactical geniuses in history like Helenio Herrera, Rinus Michels and Nereo Rocco.
Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner
One of the most original books written on the subject of football. Ironically it has less to do with the global game and more to do with how Holland’s cultural and history has influenced the Dutch style of football, particularly the Total football era of the 1970s.
The distinct Dutch style of shifting positions on the field has everything to do with finding and exploiting space. Is this not also the primary obsession of the nation of Holland that has fought to reclaim land from the sea for almost its entire modern history. Winner illuminates his theory with brilliant examples from architecture, literature and society to create an absorbing book.
Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey–and Even Iraq–Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport
by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
Does for football what Michael Lewis’ Moneyball did for baseball. This book tries to understand the global game using hard statistics. Although some of their findings will cause some to scratch their heads, the point of the book is to get people to look at football a different way. And it succeeds admirably.
In one particularly fascinating section, the authors look at why exactly the vast majority of footballers come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In another, it considers whether hosting football tournaments like the World Cup actually generates real benefits to taxpayers. In its final chapter, Soccernomics looks at penalties in a purely statistical way.
Jogo Bonito: Pele, Neymar and Brazil’s Beautiful Game by Henrik Brandão Jönsson
Jönsson tells eight different stories. The sections on the Maracanazo, Garrincha and Corinthian Democracy are the most illuminating. The author explains how football has become such an integral part of the socio-political fabric of modern Brazil. And the consequences of all that.
This book is not the definitive history of football in Brazil. Those interested in a more comprehensive history of football in the South American giant should read David Goldblatt’s Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer and/or Alex Bellos’ Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life.
I am Zlatan by Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic chronicles his journey from a troubled childhood to his days at AC Milan in his own words. What makes the Swedish striker’s autobiography worth reading over players like Pele and Maradona, is that he cares little about what people think of him.
It is full of interesting stories, humour and a surprising amount of heart. His experiences under some of the game’s biggest personalities like Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello and especially Pep Guardiola is well worth reading. It is an thoroughly absorbing read.
Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World’s Greatest Sports Rivalry by Sid Lowe
Fans of both clubs and football in general will be drawn to the unique way these two giants have been connected over the years. Lowe tells the story in an impartial, detailed and interesting way.
He is also not afraid to break down many of the myths surrounding the rivalry, including the perception that Real Madrid was Franco’s team and that Barcelona was persecuted because of it. It also captures how the rivalry reflects many of the deep divisions in Spanish society today.