When you have a book entitled, “How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization,” the expectations arising from the title are quite high. A nerd like me will most probably expect a theoretical framework of the game and how it is applied as a lens in which certain cultures and phenomena are analyzed, ultimately unearthing several factors that point to a world that is more integrated as a result of a common love for the game.
Instead, all I found were 10 highly interesting vignettes, which included: supporters of a Serbian football club doubling as paramilitary in support of hyper-nationalism; a look into pre-war Jewish football players; English hooliganism; Scottish football and its roots in the divide among Catholics and Protestants; ownership structures and politics in Brazilian football; the dynamics between Italy’s ruling powers and their football clubs; racism against black players in Ukraine; U.S. soccer and it’s role in perpetuating an American counter-culture; and (ugh) FC Barcelona and the romanticism of football, among others.
Perhaps a more appropriate title would be: “How the World Explains Soccer”.
Don’t get me wrong, Franklin Foer is an incredibly talented writer with a strong voice and a gift for brevity. Each vignette masterfully mixed information with human interest, if not sheer entertainment.
Perhaps that’s where my slight dissatisfaction with the book lies. Each vignette does not transcend to anything more than its story—which is essentially a look at the nuances of certain cultures and the politics behind (and on top of) their football. There is no unifying thread or insight to make the world’s most popular sport a “theory of globalization”.
Perhaps this is merely my nerdy self talking, but I honestly think that the title held a grandiose premise that was most likely not even going to be adequately addressed. If you’re looking to be entertained, have a go at this one. If you’re looking for academic discourse on football, this might be a bit of a downer.