David Goldblatt has done it again. His 2007 masterpiece The Ball is Round is the most definitive and analytical global history of soccer ever written. That work looked at every corner of the globe the development of the sport, the institutions of soccer and the political and societal issues around the game’s history in each region.
With a writing style that can turn a historical sports narrative into a page-turning journey through a nation, Goldblatt’s new book Futebol Nation is a stroke of genius. For a nation of its size and stature, Brazil has been an underachiever in everything Goldblatt argues with one exception – soccer.
The narrative paints a picture of Brazil rife with political corruption, a seedy underworld, decaying industry and a lack of national purpose. But one thing holds the nation together and that is the sport Brazil is known for, soccer.
Brazil has also been known for its historic racism and this is not a topic Goldblatt shies away from. Black players were often excluded from the national side or scapegoated for poor performances.
At times, the book can be very depressing. Goldblatt discusses at length how the sport through the years was so popular it proved to be a forum for politicians to manipulate the electorate, businessmen to exploit workers and a place for gross misconduct by those charged with running game.
Brazilian football was rife with players who were alcoholics or were womanizers playing for owners who were schemers or quick buck con artists. Goldblatt describes the difficulty smaller clubs have in the league as the institutional structures of the game and tolerance of corruption favor big clubs in big cities.
The 2014 World Cup has led to an increased exploitation and misuse of public money by Brazilian Government and soccer officials. Goldblatt tells the story of the misappropriation of funds, the cost overruns, the unbuilt or unfinished stadiums and the decaying infrastructure around the stadiums.
As a backdrop to this summer’s World Cup, the book is a must read for anyone who truly wants to understand Brazil’s obsession with soccer, but seedy side of the country and the sport. This book is not for those with weak stomachs or simply looking for a history of competitions and players in Brazil. This book is instead a masterful socio-economic, political and sporting history.
Futebol Nation is available via Amazon and all other fine booksellers.