Book Review: How Soccer Explains The World

How SoccerExpains The WorldAllrighty, I am a soccer (rather: football) aficionado. So the “National Bestseller” How Soccer Explains The World by Franklin Foer came across my desk. First of all: The title is misleading. This is not a book on globalization, the economy or the likes. The author quotes Mr. Friedman twice but that’s about it. This book tells 10 independent stories. Each chapter describes the social climate and setting of a certain club, town or even an entire country.

Some of the clubs highlighted are:
Red Star Belgrade, Celtic and Rangers of Glasgow, Hakoah of Vienna, Arsenal and Tottenham, Ajax Amsterdam, Lviv Karpaty in the Ukraine and AC Milan.

The book also deals with soccer in Brazil and Iran. The more exotic chapters were the most interesting ones to me.

The book is entertaining and provides a lot of insider information that even I wasn’t aware about (I follow the soccer world every day for over 30 years). The problem I have is that the facts in the book seem to be insufficiently researched. I would not feel comfortable passing these “facts” on and signing off with it with my name. The author admits in his acknowledgements that he got a lot of this information form other books. Mr. Foer admits that he is a big fan of FC (or CF?) Barcelona. But he doesn’t seem to be embedded enough to make a serious statement. I know from my time in Europe that you need to spend some serious time talking to a lot of different people to understand all the dynamics around a club and how it is embedded in its environment. A few interviews here or there won’t cut it.

I give the author credit for meeting with some pretty shady characters. He could easily have been roughened up a little here or there.

The book tries to accomplish too much. It covers too much ground on its 260 pages. For that reason it doesn’t go deep enough. It is enjoyable reading but I would take the information provided with a grain of salt. And don’t expect to become a globalization expert by reading it.

If you are into soccer you might consider this book supplemental reading. If you are trying to understand more about the whole phenomenon of soccer (to warm yourself up for the World Cup?) I would much rather start with Fever Pitch from Nick Hornby.


1. No chapter about German Soccer here. Apparently they are too insignificant on the map. Three World Cup wins don’t cut it?
2. Reading the newspaper review extracts on the back of the book I wonder: What have these guys been smoking? Some professional journalists argue that bloggers can’t be trusted…

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