Top critical review
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Good but patchy
on 20 January 2014
Overall, this is an important contribution to the collection of books on the history of the tournament. He's clearly revisited the previous text and updated it where more information has come to light and the inclusion of the Olympics is an added bonus. There is a logical flow (he goes on a group by group basis unlike Brian Glanville who jumps back and forth between matches) and he adds a sceptical eye to some of the taller tales which dominate other works. However, it does have a number of weaknesses which are worth highlighting given the overwhelmingly positive previous reviews.
1. The format of the book is not well suited to the Kindle. This is effectively a work of reference as Freddi's staccato style makes it challenging to read in large volumes. When this was available in hard copy it was easy to jump around to specific matches and look up individual events, yet on the Kindle it is hard to navigate, meaning you have to return to the table of contents after each match to move on to another game.
2. The coverage is quite haphazard. Obviously some matches are more eventful than others but there is a massive discrepancy between the level of detail devoted to each game. In particular the coverage for France 98 onwards is very detailed regardless of the game, meanwhile earlier tournaments often get very little. As an example England's draw with West Germany in 1982 is covered in less than 50 words, in comparison when they faced Germany in 2010 (in both cases their fourth match of the tournament) there is coverage extending over 1,000 words. That means that a lot of important older matches are rather cursory in their coverage while inconsequential modern ties are discussed ad nauseam. In 1990 the final gets a fleeting mention because "the heart's not in it." That means that only the winning goal and the two sendings off even get a mention!
3. One of the most admired aspects of Freddi's work has always been his meticulous research. Beyond doubt that applies to the spellings of players names (his attention to umlauts and the like is beyond reproach). Yet in certain instances there is a suspicion that he hasn't (despite his claims in the preface) actually watched the footage. There are quite a few instances where there are errors in the descriptions of passages of play (who provided the goal, defenders who missed tackles etc). This is an improvement on some of the alternative offerings but is still a shame.
4. At times he veers dramatically to make political observations which bear almost no relation to what has gone before. For instance at the end of the report of the USA's loss to the Czech Republic, "For the first time, the referees in a World Cup tournament had to take a written test in English - while civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan were still being killed in industrial numbers by English-speaking troops. And Guantanamo was going to be around for a while." Similarly at the end of a discussion of a match between Mexico and Iran, an aside about protests against the presence of the Iranian vice-president is concluded: "Meanwhile Israel was killing its regular quota of unarmed Palestinian civilians: 14 in 9 days this time, including children on a beach during the first days of the finals, then topping up with another 22 in July. With the usual impunity, of course. Read Palestine international Mahmoud Sarsak on his 45 days of detention and torture." Not only does this disrupt the flow of the book, it is jarring in what is supposedly a history of the World Cup, rather than one about the author's personal views about international politics.
5. Freddi very rarely covers the events of a single match in chronological order. This makes it very difficult to work out what happened when. Goals are described out of sequence while other events are rattled through at breakneck speed, leaving you wondering quite how things played out. These are often followed by lengthy asides on unrelated subjects (like the political comments mentioned above) which have little or no relevance for the matches at hand.
Overall, this is one of the best books available on the subject but it remains some way off being the definitive article. The claims that this is the only World Cup book you'll ever need ring rather hollow.