Calcio: A History of Italian Football by John Foot
English academic John Foot looks at the unique football history of Italy. Full of contradictions but an undeniably beauty and success like the country itself. 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, Helenio Herrera, Giuseppe Meazza, Gigi Meroni among them. It also has a chapter on virtually every aspect of football down to match-fixing, doping and refereeing.
When Beckham Went to Spain: Power, Stardom, and Real Madrid by Jimmy Burns
An absorbing look at the history and allure of Real Madrid written ironically 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 its history. Burns’ book attempts to decipher exactly what Beckham’s move to Spain meant for the club and the country.
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 plenty of detail about the origins of the Real Madrid and FC Barcelona rivalry that still dominates the narrative of La Liga today.
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. 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 illustrates his theory with often brilliant and surprising examples from architecture, literature and society to create an absorbing read.
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 statistics. Although some of their findings will leave you unconvinced, the point of the book is to get people to look at football a different way and not necessarily to provide conclusions. In one section, the authors look at why 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 in which the chapters on the Maracanazo, Garrincha and Corinthian Democracy are the most interesting. 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 in rich detail. This book is not the definitive history of football in Brazil but it is full of excellent storytelling. Those interested in a more comprehensive history of football in the South American giant Alex Bellos’ Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life is well worth your time as well.
I am Zlatan by Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Why should you read the autobiography of the Swedish striker and not Pele or Maradona? It is simple. Zlatan is honest and cares little about his own image. What you have is a thoroughly enjoyable read. He chronicles his journey from a troubled childhood to his days at AC Milan. It is full of good 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 as well.
Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World’s Greatest Sports Rivalry by Sid Lowe
Real Madrid versus Barcelona. Is there a more intense rivalry in football? Certainly, not in the last decade. Guardian journalist and Spanish historian Sid Lowe looks at the way the two great footballing institutions have been connected over the years. He breaks down many of the myths surrounding the rivalry. He also captures how the rivalry reflects many of the deep divisions in Spanish society, even today.
Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson
The definitive book about formations and tactics in the game of football. At times it is highly technical and therefore not recommended for those who have only a passing interest in tactics. 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.
Angels with Dirty Faces: The Footballing History of Argentina by Jonathan Wilson
A dense overview of the history of football in Argentina by one of England’s best sports writers. Like John Foot’s Calcio, Wilson’s book is concerned with the unique way football is embedded in the society, culture and politics of the nation in question. Wilson tells the story of Argentinian football chronologically, beginning with British industrialists and ending at the 2014 World Cup final. And it has a wide scope, touching on the domestic game as well as Argentinians in Europe and the national team.