Not just a soccer book


Review by Bob Koep

There are oodles and oodles of soccer books in the stores. They could fill an entire shelve and keep you reading for years. But the recently released FUTEBOL NATION by English writer David Goldblatt is something rather unique and should be on top of your list.

The author of the soccer bible “The Ball Is Round” here tells the story of the creation of a nation, the struggle of Brazil to get where it is today mainly as a by product of football (we call it soccer but for Brazilians and many others it is football, or Futebol)

Brazil has not many other outstanding subjects to brag about, it has coffee and soya beans. That’s dull. But nobody ever has won an important international award and no major corporation has ever left a major mark. Without football Brazil would hardly be on the map.

Thus the story of Brazil is that of futebol, and as you keep reading this amazingly fascinating book, you are wondering whether you read the history of the country intertwined with football or the history of football intertwined with the history of the country.

The game itself moved from the “British Game” in the 1800s to the Brazilian “spectacle” and eventually developed into the dancing, samba, tricky, romantic style that began in the mid-fifties.

Football is the only thing that matters in Brazil, when the national team (the SELECAO) plays the streets are empty.  Major other events are cancelled (like theatre performances). In other words, if you want to know what is important in the nation, all you need is to follow the SELECAO. Or read this book.

The nadir of the story reached its low point with the World Cup final 1950, Brazil losing to Uruguay at Maracana, a devastating event that shook Brazil for years until the arrival of Pele brought a little light back to the hearts of  Brazilians. It was followed by five World Cup wins from 1958 to 2002 and all seemed well.

The Selecao grew into one of the county’s biggest export item and the team commands a bigger appearance fee than any other in the world.

And with the arrival of Brazilian Joao Havelange as FIFA president in 1974 the entire world football scene changed to what it is today.

He brought to FIFA “ the imprimatur of the Brazilian ruling elite, imperious cordiality, ruthless politics and self-serving blurring of public and private realms”

That is still the FIFA trade mark today.  In fact, Havenlange “revolutionized FIFA from “ a small time amateurish federation into the world’s most powerful organization.”

There are numerous little side stories that gives the reader in insight of the ups and downs, the jubilations and despair that go along with the Selecao, and the various governments, mostly dictatorships in the mid-1900s.

And if the author had waited a few weeks with the release of this book it could have caused him to finish it with a massive eulogy after Brazil hit its darkest hour giving up ten goals and scoring just one in its last two games of the recent World Cup in its home country. No bigger disaster ever hit this country.

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