Love & Blood: At the World Cup With The Footballers, Fans, and Freaks
By Jamie Trecker
A Harvest Original/Harcourt ($14.00)
If there is one book that should be required reading for the new American fan to the world’s game it’s this one. Jamie Trecker gives us not only a view of the World Cup from a reporters perspective but a lesson in the tactics of the game, a bit of German World War 2 history (mostly on target I should point out, since I am very well read on the subject of WW2 I only caught one flaw in his historical perspective), player profiles, a history of the game of football in the US and the world.
Several lessons are learned by the reader along the way, such as why the American fan can feel free to call the game soccer, why and how the WC to the surprise of many American’s is The World Event, and what “Total Football” means and what is the “offside trap”. It’s a tall order to cover so much ground but he does it well and in a relatively short time.
The author, the well known soccer analyst and writer, does a mostly outstanding job of covering several different topics in his personal memoir of last year’s World Cup in Germany. He uses his assignment to cover the World Cup as a reason to give the American fan, who he well knows is mostly a late comer to the world’s game, an overview or an introduction of what is an obsession for most of the globe. He does this by breaking off from his description of a specific game to educate the reader on the tactics of the game, or the history of a particular national team, or a personality profile of key players. While he covers the event from an American point of view, the English, French, German, and other readers will find the book of great interest. Having been a fan of the English League and the USA team over the years, I will now appreciate greatly what countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Australia are doing with their national teams and leagues from Trecker’s insights into those nations and their players. Once or twice, the breakaways from the main flow of the Cup coverage to cover a related topic were an annoyance, but this is a minor flaw.
I was especially moved by the player profiles that are mixed into the storyline. Trecker explains Wayne Rooney to the American audience in terms that most Americans can readily understand and makes his impact on the English game understandable to some Yanks (myself included) who just were not able to understand Rooney’s impact.
Let’s just say that Rooney is an English version of the NFL’s Brett Farve. I must admit I have been critical of America’s own Clint Dempsey in the past when he seemingly misses an open shot. After hearing his story, never again will I be critical of him, but realize his mere presence on the pitch is a testament to his character. The author tries to gets us in the head of Zinedine Zidane (pun intended) but falls short. This maybe more of an issue with Zidane himself rather than a failing of the author. It may not be possible for any writer to unravel the mystery that Zidane is, but the story clearly requires that he at least tries and it was a good effort.
For the American reader, who the book is clearly geared for, this work is a throwback to the days when America was not a major part of the world. In the soccer/football world the Americans are at a pre-WW2 stage. We are not a major player. The field is dominated by Europe and South America and the Yanks are still eager newcomers with a lot to learn to be on top. Trecker tries to explain to the average American what this all means in our own terms and accomplishes the goal. When necessary he relates things in terms the American sports fan can understand, making comparisons to Michael Jordan or various MLB teams is the best way to get an American reader to understand a point he is making about a player or a certain team. Also, I must admit that as a fellow Chicago resident Trecker made a reference or two that you may only appreciate if you’re from the Windy City.
All of the above should not take away from Trecker’s own personal story. The great efforts he made to follow soccer growing up in America. The struggle it was in Germany as well as South Korea and Japan in 2002 to cover the event from a reporter’s point of view, and last but not least his own personal health battles. I especially admire him writing about his health issues since it gives the readers` an even better insight of what it took to produce this book. I know there are those out there who find the author an unnecessary critic of the MLS or US Soccer, your views on his opinions should not deter you from buying this book. MLS and the US Soccer Federation have no reason to fear this story. In fact just having to deal with the train loads of drunken fans of various national origins is an act of courage.
I look forward to his next book and hope he will find the time and good health to write a longer piece on any one of the various subjects he touched on in this World Cup saga. Highly recommended.
Reviewer Lou Bruno, now in his 50’s, resides outside of Chicago, Illinois, and became a soccer fan later in life.