The most comprehensive history of soccer in the part of the world in which it may well mean the most.
Campomar, publishing director of Constable & Robinson in the U.K., provides a thorough, engaging history of the development of fútbol and its place in Latin American society. The author focuses mostly on the 20th century, when the game went from being an English import geared primarily toward British expatriates and elites to being the domain of the masses, who worshipped their heroes, condemned their goats, and filled the terraces for their club and national teams. Campomar also illustrates the way soccer reflected and sometimes fueled political developments across the region. He covers a large geographic swath including Mexico and Central America but gives the bulk of his attention to the countries of South America, where he interweaves the story of the local club game into that of the national teams, which have allowed the region to take its place, even if only for 90 or so minutes at a time, with the Europeans. Clearly timed for the summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the book illustrates how the Río de la Plata nations of Uruguay and Argentina represented the continent’s pre-eminent powers through the first half of the 20th century, with the Brazilians rising to dominance only in the 1950s. Campomar effectively brings out the color and passion for the game, its evocative language, its artistic power and its sometimes-martial ugliness. While the author occasionally tries to do too much, he accomplishes his task with verve.
Brazil will be under enormous pressure to win this summer, and Uruguay and Argentina will be in the running. That will provide opportunities for the updated paperback edition of this fine, scintillating history.