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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Book Review: "How Soccer Explains the World"

Of the first American generation to play soccer at the expense of Little League baseball, Franklin Foer is a soccer fan and at the time the book was written, the editor of The New Republic (I don't know whether he still is). His good, short work attempts to relate soccer with the politics of various countries, including many in which intra-country rivalries are intense -- England, Scotland, Spain and Italy -- and he succeeds. What ensues is an outstanding, well-written work that touches upon themes of ethnicity, nationalism, globalization, prejudice and corruption. As I wrote in an earlier post, if you live in the United States and ever question the decisions of the officials, be thankful that you don't live in Italy or Brazil, where corruption can run rampant, referees can make frequent questionable decisions, and where the deck can be stacked against your favorite time.

So, before you think that the Italian team Juventus is a dynasty built on outstanding play in key matches a la epic games between the Yankees and the Red Sox, you might think again (according to Foer, calls and no-calls in favor of the team from Turin, toy of the all-powerfull Agnelli family, contributed to many of the championship wins of Juventus). Brazilian soccer -- not the business of spawning great players but of keeping them in Brazil and having good teams there -- is a mess. Rooting for domestic Iranian soccer teams is a peaceful way for the citizenry to protest against the mullahs. Barcelona, the team now of Thierry Henry, the great French striker, seems to be the fairest of them all, and the Tottenham team, a perennial also-ran in the English Premiership has fans who think they identify with persecuted Jews (according to a legend) only to appear, through their cheers, as rabid anti-Semites. Foer also touches upon the blue-gray type rivarly of the Scottish teams Celtic and Rangers, the former supported by Catholics and the latter Protestants, where both teams foster the hatred of the other in order to enhance their revenues. So, while soccer may be the most popular game in the world, that popularity seems to come at a steep price.

Read the whole book and see what you think. Franlin Foer is thought-provoking in his prose, and you'll be glad that you spent the time to read it.

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