Read for Cannonball Read Bingo: place I want to visit.
It’s tough to know where to begin describing this book because it is a wild 528-page ride. John Foot is a competent writer and a quality historian but he’s been tasked with a subject that’s overwhelming: the story of soccer in Italy.
Foot does a great job at covering the history of Italy as a backdrop to its nation’s favorite sport and I learned a lot. I had no idea how young of a nation Italy is and how its still fractured by regional loyalties. Large swathes of people didn’t even speak the same language for many decades. This is the second book I’ve read this summer on a sport and its national past (Ajax, The Dutch, The War) and both did a great job respectively on Holland and Italy.
As far as the football is concerned, Foot goes subject-by-subject to help the reader understand the basics and importance (leagues, teams, players, strategies, etc.). At times, this felt like a firehose of information as he eschews a basic narrative but it’s not difficult to keep up with, though it can be redundant at times. Still, you get a good idea of the great teams and how they came to be, along with the big names and what forged them.
When it comes to writing, Foot plays the role of a straight man. Nothing wrong with this but it would have been entertaining for him to have had some fun with the multitude of Italian soccer scandals. Many were so ridiculous that a simple retelling often left me laughing out loud. Italy definitely plays with the mentality of “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying to win.” The book concludes in a perfect way with the calcioppoli scandal of 2006 that occurred during the World Cup (which Italy won and which many attribute to victory as it took the pressure off the players) in which Juventus, the New York Yankees of Italian soccer, were ignominiously relegated to the lower league Serie B. In so many ways, the simultaneous scandal and Cup victory were the perfect encapsulation of soccer in Italy.
Reading this book is a monumental task if you don’t have any interest in its subject but if you do, it’s imperative you pick it up. I feel like an Italian soccer expert. Foot leaves no stone unturned and while I wish he would have handled the narrative in a different way, I enjoyed this book immensely.