With the domestic football season complete, now is the perfect time to begin preparations for the World Cup – and we have a great selection of books to get you started.
While the World Cup is without doubt the single biggest event in the football calendar, each tournament does not exist in isolation from the wider game. So, begin your reading with The Ball is Round (David Goldblatt), a comprehensive overview of football history and its legendary teams, players and managers. Next, try Inverting the Pyramid (Jonathan Wilson) – a surprisingly gripping look at the development of tactics over the last 150-years; from the early W-M formation through catenaccio, Total Football, 4-2-3-1, false no.9s and the rest.
By now, you’ll be keen to learn more about the World Cup itself. The Story of the World Cup by Brian Glanville is the standard work, but supplement his narrative with the superb photographs and detail in Terry Crouch’s World Cup: The Complete History. For more facts and figures, see Motson’s World Cup Extravaganza (John Motson) or The World Cup 1930-1990: Sixty Glorious Years (Jack Rollins). How to Win the World Cup (Graham McColl) is an illuminating look at the stories behind the winners (and losers) of each tournament. Those more interested in the machinations that dictate where each World Cup is held will appreciate Foul!: The Secret World of FIFA (Andrew Jennings) – essential reading ahead of the tournaments to be held in Qatar and Russia.
No country is more synonymous with the World Cup than Brazil – who will be hosting the tournament for the second time this summer (1950 being the first). To gain a deeper understanding of the unique relationship between Brazilians and their football, read Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (Alex Bellos) and the recently-published Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil (David Goldblatt). Or read God is a Brazilian: The Man Who Brought Football to Brazil (Josh Lacey) and impress your friends with the tale of Charles Miller – the British man who, in 1894, took two footballs and a set of FA rules to a country that would go on to win the World Cup five times.
Other tournament favourites are featured in some excellent books. Spain’s 2010 victory is covered in Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble (Graham Hunter), while Jimmy Burn’s La Roja: A Journey Through Spanish Football places that victory into the wider context of Spanish footballing history. Italy are almost-always formidable opponents at the World Cup; more can be learnt about the development of the Italian game in Calcio: A History of Italian Football (John Foot).
Two of the global superstars on show in Brazil have their biographies, too. Guillem Balague’s Messi is (for now) the definitive story behind the Argentinean’s rise; his eternal rival – Cristiano Ronaldo – is covered in Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection (Luca Caioli).
As for England, Don’t Mention the Score: A Masochists’ History of the England Football Team (Simon Briggs) lives up-to its title by detailing the (mainly) failures of “our brave boys” since their World Cup debut in 1950. After winning the competition in 1966, England’s best tournament was undoubtedly the charge to the Semi-Finals during Italia ’90. Relive every moment of that drama through All Played Out: The Full Story of Italia ’90 (Pete Davies) – one of the best football books ever written. Alternatively, prepare for the inevitable penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of Germany by reading Best of Enemies: England vs. Germany, A Century of Football Rivalry (David Downing).