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Six Degrees: Soccer Books

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

I like soccer. I also like books. So, clearly, I like soccer books. You, too? Awesome. Let’s tell each other about some cool soccer books we can read. I’ll go first.

1) Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski – Goodreads page here

You might like this if: you like soccer and numbers and soccer numbers.

This book’s utterly fascinating. Does spending more money lead to more wins? Do coaches matter? Why are some countries so bad at soccer? Who should you bet on to win the World Cup 50 years from now? This book answers all these questions and more, but not with opinion, with actual numbers from the actual world. If you liked the book Freakonomics, you’ll like this, too.

2) When the Dream Became Reality by Bobby Warshaw – Goodreads page here

You might like this if: you want to get inside the head of a professional athlete.

My favorite thing about this book is how deep Warshaw lets us look inside his head and his heart. He’s brutally honest about the thoughts, feelings, hopes, and doubts he went through, making his way from a kid with a dream to a professional athlete, and then, to an ex-professional athlete trying to figure out what to do next.

It’s easy to think of professional athletes as just what we see on the field or in the interviews. Warshaw gives us a glimpse of what they’re going through on the inside.

3) A Home On the Field by Paul Cuadros – Goodreads page here

You might like this if: you’re interested in both soccer and immigration.

This non-fiction book is set in a rural North Carolina county that houses a chicken processing plant and, as a result, a whole lot of recent immigrants who work there. The author tells us a bit about the lives of those immigrant workers, but mostly it’s about the high school soccer team he coaches that’s made up almost entirely of their children. It reads a bit like the TV show Friday Night Lights only the players are poorer, scrappier, and at risk of being deported. Very compelling stuff, both socially and athletically.

4) Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson – Goodreads page here

You might like this if: you like names and dates.

I’m telling you about this book because everyone else in the world seems to love it, but the truth is, I wasn’t all that crazy about it – and that may be entirely my fault. I went into it hoping to learn about soccer formations. What is the 4-4-2 good for? What formation is a good counter for it? What’s a good counter for that? Why use wingbacks instead of fullbacks? If your opponent uses wingbacks, how do you stop them? And so on and so on. Basically, I wanted to learn the rock, paper, scissors of soccer.

Inverting the Pyramid didn’t really give me that. It told me when the 4-4-2 was invented, who invented it, and how successful it was. Then the next formation, then the next one. It’s basically a history book.

But I want to be clear, people fucking love this book. In fact, I bet a whole bunch of you will tell me exactly that down in the comments. And go for it, I say. Just because I didn’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Tell me why it’s awesome down in the comments.

(And by the way, I still want that rock, paper, scissors book. And I want’s Matt Doyle to write it. It wouldn’t even be hard for him. I mean, the dude sneezes and 20,000 words come out. He could write this book over a long weekend, then sit back and watch us buy the shit out of it. Give the people what they want, Doyle!)

5) Hooper’s Revolution by Dennie Wendt – Goodreads page here

You might like this if: you like funny stories from the early days of American professional soccer.

We’ll close with a couple novels. This one isn’t actually about 1970s NASL, except that it totally is. Instead of the NY Cosmos, we get the Giganticos. Instead of Pele, we get the Pearl of Brazil. And instead of the Portland Timbers, we get the Rose City Revolution and their brand new English center back, Danny Hooper. There’s a sub-plot involving Soviet spies and assassination plots, but to be honest, those aren’t the best parts of this novel. The best parts are the hilariously over-the-top stories about the Wild West days of professional soccer in 1970s America. How many of the stories are true? Probably none of them. They’re still awesome. Good writing, good fun.

6) 11v11 by C.I. DeMann – Goodreads page here

You might like this if: you like high school soccer, or have a teenager who does.

Yeah, this one’s mine. I write novels on the side, a couple of them good enough to be published. This one’s about two high school girls soccer teams going through a season for the ages. It’s a light, easy, fun story, written in the style of an oral history. And since you’re all #RCTID, you’ll enjoy spotting a few events and characters I pulled straight from the Timbers and Thorns. (A reader DM’d me with the question, “Does _____ know you turned him into a teenage girl named Clementine?”)

So there you go. Six soccer books you might like. Got some I didn’t mention here? Tell us about them down below.