At times it is difficult here to provide a fair and accurate review. I have owned numerous editions of this over the years and it is important to separate out this updated text from those that went before.
Brian Glanville is arguably the greatest writer on football in the English language. For over 60 years he has been covering the game at the highest level and his credentials as an observer of the World Cup are unrivalled.
In a paradoxical way that is part of the problem with this book. Glanville, it seems, is too highly regarded by those he works with. They automatically assume that he is without fault and so do not subject him to the type of review that any other author would receive. The man is now 82 and in recent years his World Soccer columns have been increasingly strewn with minor factual errors, the sort that any decent sub-editor should easily pick up. In a short piece these can be brushed over but here they undermine the book as a whole.
A case in point is his coverage of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. In the opening pages of the chapter he makes a series of errors (claiming that France played Spain the quarter-finals rather than the second round, referring to Romario as Mario, claiming that Miroslav Klose had scored four goals against Saudi Arabia in 2002 when in fact it was three, referring to Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Zlatko) that make this appear amateurish. Surely someone at Faber & Faber read this book before allowing it to go to print and then reissued it for 2014? These are such basic mistakes that anyone who had any knowledge of the tournaments (or had read the previous chapters) would have picked up on.
Later on in the chapter he devotes a large portion of his coverage to the debacle around the replacement of Sven-Goran Eriksson. Then a few pages later he covers the same thing again, including the same references to the latter days of Steve McLaren at Middlesbrough. At first I thought I had somehow skipped back a few pages but then I realised that here Glanville had clearly become confused, re-written a series of passages and then submitted it without reading it through himself. Clearly his publishers didn't bother to read it either.
This is symptomatic of a general attitude towards this book, that it can be rolled out as a cash-cow every four years with a new cover and an extra chapter tacked on. No amendments seem to have been made to any of the previous chapters and while this gives a contemporary feel to the book it means that much of the text feels outdated. Domingos da Guia, the famous Brazilian defender of the 1930s, is referred to as "coloured" while Luis Pereira is described as "a tall, strong, mobile Negro." In 1982 after the first penalty shoot-out in World Cup history Glanville concludes that he hopes it will be the last. Surely it doesn't take much to go through this and tidy thing like that up?
The other key problem here is the general structure of the book. While it is at least divided into chapters there is a haphazard approach in terms of the individual tournaments. In the earlier editions Glanville generally went chronologically, dealing with each round in turn. By the latter tournaments he simply jumps from one theme to another, seemingly in no comprehensible order. A block of text is set out of thousands of words and he proceeds, bouncing from one match to another earlier one, until at the end a token statistical section is included, giving the line-ups for the final but not much else.
That makes it extremely difficult to follow in places and you can be left feeling slightly dazed by the scattergun approach, trying to work out what match he is referring to, which team is which and what the result of the game was. This isn't helped by the uneven coverage of games with some getting large and in depth reviews while at times whole groups (six games in some instances) are swept over in a single paragraph.
Overall that shouldn't entirely detract from what was, for a long time, the premier book on the World Cup. In passages this is a joyous book, full of wonderful, flowing prose. Glanville's descriptions of certain games are truly memorable and if you are happy to let it all sweep over you then it is a football book which can be read in large tracts. Probably only Hugh McIlvanney is capable of such magnificently descriptive writing on football and this is a book which is packed full of great lines. What it needs is an editor, prepared to be brutal in places and willing to provide the discipline that is sorely lacking in this text. As a general football book it ranks up there with the very best, as a history of the World Cup, suitable for the modern day, it leaves something to be desired. If you already own an earlier copy I wouldn't recommend buying this for the later chapters.