Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power Paperback – 6 Apr 2010
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In some ways, SATE a more interesting read - you can really feel that the author knows soccer much more intimately than Foer (HSETW author) does. And the writing is a little less 'clinical' than the other book, and the extra chapter is nice. But while this book is a series of anecdotes that are entertaining, I thought Foer does a better job making the point implicit in the title.
And the clumsy translation is ridiculous - it's as if the publishers just performed a "search and replace" for "football" and "soccer" - to the point where it's at times confusing: sections about "American soccer" where clearly he meant American Football (=gridiron). I know it's not Shakespeare, but I'd rather read the "real thing".
The style a national soccer team brings to the game is also widely thought to be an expression of national character. As Kuper writes, "Soccer is never just soccer. In debating soccer, the Brazilians also debate the kind of country Brazil should be." Presumably, much the same holds true for South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, and most of the other countries whose soccer scene Kuper profiled -- despite the fact that playing styles may change from year to year and manager to manager and that any given country at any particular time may employ a "Brazilian" style while the Brazilians themselves have adopted an entirely different approach.
A handful of dictators surface in the pages of Soccer Against the Enemy, and Kuper treats us to the colorful tales told about their meddling ways. Perhaps one or two of them actually stayed in power for a year or two longer as a result, but their citizens' passion for soccer may just as easily have been a factor in their undoing. It's an exaggeration to claim, as the book's subtitle does so brazenly, that the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power.
Soccer Against the Enemy was originally written in 1992-93, when Kuper traveled the world to investigate the relationship between soccer and politics. Starting out as a 22-year-old fresh out of Oxford, he backpacked his way from one continent to the next, often traveling on buses and second-class trains, staying in cheap hotels and hostels, wearing worn and often torn clothing, and yet somehow managing to secure interviews with many of the soccer world's biggest-name managers, owners, and players.
Kuper successfully illustrates the interrelationship between big-time competitive soccer and the politics of many of the countries where it's taken most seriously. He recognizes, though, that the impact of the sport is limited. "The game is a good way of studying what is going on in repressed societies, but it rarely changes these societies." (So much for that misleading subtitle!)
Kuper clearly wrote the book for readers who were familiar with the leading soccer figures of the day, since Soccer Against the Enemy repeatedly refers, often using nicknames only, to players and managers whose names have long since been forgotten. The Americanized Kindle Edition I read routinely substituted the word "soccer" for the English "football" and included an extra chapter written in 2005 and an afterword along the lines of "Where are they now?" Little else was changed since the early 1990s.
(From Mal Warwick's Blog on Books)
Along with these rough parts, the full title; Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power, is somewhat misleading. The majority of this book is not focused on this specific statement. Rather, the author spends time examining why soccer culture is the way it is in different countries. He spends time within some chapters addressing dictators and revolutions, notably the section on African soccer, and spends time on it in the Argentina chapter, but for many others, he seemingly ignores politics, or at least politics as we think of them in the traditional sense.
With that said, Kuper does very well in his examination of why soccer is played the way it is. His look into African soccer really gives an insight into what life is like there. He shows the absolute dictatorial rule that many people suffer under, and how soccer can become the one true expression of how people feel. This startling insight can catch the reader off guard.
Kuper looks at all sorts of aspects in the world of soccer. His journey spans five continents and over twenty countries. He talks to politicians, generals, coaches, and players to get a full view of everyones perspective on the game. This perspective is added to by the breadth of teams which he involves himself with. From Barcelona, to Dynamo Kiev, to the United States National Team, Kuper goes everywhere and talks to so many players that the reader really gets a full view of what soccer is throughout the world. The only thing that eclipses Kuper's breadth of teams, is the variety of countries he visits, including but not limited to, Russia, Croatia, South Africa, Cameroon, and Argentina. Kuper's goal is to give perspective from throughout the world, and he succeeds in this.
Kuper's segment on the Celtic v. Rangers rivalry is among the best in the book. It really shows the intensity and history behind the rivalry. This section alone defines the passion that soccer fans around the world have. However, the best section of the book was the add on chapter for the American version. This chapter, entitled Global Game, Global Jihad, details the impact that the game of soccer has on developing Middle Eastern countries in conjunction with radical Islam. It isn't a controversial chapter, just a statement of facts that helps details how soccer has turned so political in that part of the world.
When reading this book it is sometimes slightly confusing as to where exactly the author is trying to go. There are times where the big picture gets lost in the details, but once finished with the chapter everything tends to fall into place. I would suggest this book for a soccer fan of every level. It really gives a good look into why things are the way that they are in certain countries. The look at mafia ties in Eastern Europe, religious convictions, geographical and ethnic divisions, and the plight of third world countries to be noticed reveal stories that are usually kept under wraps in the soccer world. Kuper does a great job explaining these stories, and provides great information that can only come from first hand accounts like his.