Soccer is much more than just the most popular game in the world. It is a matter of life and death for millions around the world, an international lingua franca. Simon Kuper traveled to twenty-two countries to discover the sometimes bizarre effect soccer can have on politics and culture. At the same time he tried to discover what makes different countries play a simple game so differently. Kuper meets a remarkable variety of fans along the way, from the East Berliner persecuted by the Stasi for supporting his local team, to the Argentine general with his own views on tactics. He also illuminates the frightening intersection between soccer and politics, particularly in the wake of the attacks of 9-11, where soccer is obsessed over by the likes of Osama bin Laden. The result is one of the world's most acclaimed books on the game, and an astonishing study of soccer and its place in the world.
Kuper, a reporter for the Financial Times, delves deeply into the ways that soccer has become intertwined with the politics, philosophies and worldview of most of the planet's population. Originally published in the U.K. in 1994; this updated version includes chapters that refer to more recent events such as 9/11 and the U S. foray into Iraq. Sketching relations between Holland and Germany or Croatia and Serbia, Kuper describes a transglobal culture of fans, managers, players and political leaders engaged not only on the pitch but in the arenas of money, power and influence. Toward the end of this often slang-laden book, Kuper makes some useful observations: "the main allure of soccer to terrorists is the game's global reach." Indeed, Kuper quotes Osama bin Laden's biographer Yossef Bodansky stating that the deadly 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were the direct result of a foiled plan to disrupt the World Cup competition earlier that year. Arresting stuff, but as a whole the appeal will be limited by the microscopic focus on the particulars of a sport whose professional teams haven't yet found mass appeal in the U.S.