DAVID GOLDBLATT doesn’t write small books, his doorstopper, The Ball is Round is arguably the great football tome of our times, a comprehensive, academic-yet-accessible tale of the great game. His latest, The Age of Football, brings the story up to date and highlights the precarious nature of the modern game.
But it is another excellent, hard-hitting and insightful book that leaves you wondering where football will go next. With politics, money and corporates now firmly embedded in the game, from the very top to the bottom, the journey from the people’s pastime to the oligarch’s plaything makes for a slightly depressing read.
Indeed, Goldblatt’s own persuasions may be laid before us, but nobody writes more objectively about football. As always, his chapters read like academic essays, brimming with detail and just a little cynicism. He says what he thinks, and he is a man who thinks a lot about the state of the game.
And it is in a bit of a state as political manipulation has influenced the growth of football across all continents. The rise of middle eastern interest, as evidenced in the investments made in clubs and the pursuit of the World Cup, is seen as a replacement for imperial ambitions. Similarly, leaders such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Turkey’s Erdoğan, Xi of China and Puskas fan Viktor Orbán have all seen the value of football in the political landscape. It is no longer a game, or the property of the masses, but the toy of politicians, wealthy individuals and broadcasters.
The villains are all revealed, from Sepp Blatter and the FIFA debacle to Vladimir Putin of Russia and his changing, strategic mood around the 2018 World Cup. In fact, Goldblatt concludes with the presentation of the 2018 World Cup in the torrential rain as Putin sheltered under the only available umbrella – “a tableau of allegorical power”.
This is a fine book by Goldblatt, one that captures the 21stcentury football world to perfection. If you read The Ball is Round, the natural next step is to read this – the most disappointing thing about the book is that the story has to end. You will wish you could start all over again.