Mad Men Playing Football
By Simon Kuper
Nation Books, $16.99, 336 pages
One need not be a football fan to enjoy Simon Kuper’s book. It helps, though, to have a degree of recognition of key names and events, as an interested background gives these stories a sense of importance to the reader. But the sport, as this book lovingly portrays, is so full of characters, flashpoints of crisis and passionate insanity that even non-partisans may enjoy the read.
Kuper is careful not to tell his stories with too much of an inside-out perspective. He treats the players he describes with studied neutrality. Like an anthropologist finding a lost tribe, his depictions have the tincture of awe (he, too, is a manic fan of the sport) mixed with the patience of a scientist. Whether we are learning about how early life shapes the character of a player (like French star Zinedine Zidane) or how current life determines another’s success (as with Argentine star Lionel Messi), Kuper provides obsessive knowledge and begrudging humor with a jeweler’s eye for sharp detail.
Soccer Men tells of only the most well known of football’s characters. A quick read, this book encourages a desire to know more.
Reviewed by Neil Liss