Roger Kittleson and Joshua Nadel
The Country of Football
Soccer and the Making of Modern Brazil
University of California Press 2014
Passion. Flair. Instinct. Improvisation. As the World Cup advances to the knockout stage, you’ll hear these terms associated with the football styles of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico rather than those of Belgium and Germany. As historians Roger Kittleson and Joshua Nadel explain, the soccer cultures of Brazil and other countries of Latin America have long been bound in such stereotypes. Their new books–Kittleson’s The Country of Football: Soccer and the Making of Modern Brazil (University of California Press, 2014) and Nadel’s Futbol! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America (University Press of Florida, 2014)–take these narratives apart, revealing that they often run counter to evidence from the past. Take, for instance, this matter of a Latin American playing style. As the sport gained popularity across the region in the early 20th century, so-called national styles were a matter of heated debate among journalists, coaches, and even academics. Rarely were national sides as purely “Latin” in style as is typically believed. Indeed, Brazil’s first World Cup victory in 1958 was more the product of rigorous training and advanced research in sports science than some improvisational style of play.
Roger and Josh do give plenty of attention to what happened on the field in the last century of Latin American football. The classic matches, the legendary teams, and the great players are all featured. But they are more interested in what football reveals about the region’s history, a story marked as much by booming development and far-sighted leadership as military rule and lagging economies. This special joint interview touches on only a few of the topics they discuss in their books. As you’ll hear, their work is complementary. Both books–well-researched, wide-ranging, and engagingly written–deserve a spot on the fan’s shelf.