Golazo, by Andreas Campomar

IMG_20140523_234356The eyes of the soccer world, from August to May, are on the northern hemisphere. Europe, the birthplace of the game, is home to the world’s best leagues, and it is there the best players ply their trade. But in the summer, and come the World Cup, South America is every bit Europe’s equal. This summer, soccer’s showcase returns to Latin America for the first time in nearly three decades, and the continent is favorite to win, be it Brazil or Argentina. Golazo: The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup, by Andreas Campomar, tells the story of how that came to be. There’s a lot of violence.

Campomar sets out to tell the hundred-year history of soccer in Latin America. This is muy difícil , and at times I couldn’t help but feel that it was too much for Campomar. The structure here doesn’t serve him well. Each chapter loosely corresponds to a decade of the twentieth century. But is that arbitrary amount of time the best way to break up this history? I don’t think so. Wagnerin and Lowe both chose to structure their book around stories, and I think that would have suited Campomar well. There would have necessarily been more chapters, but they would have been more focused.

Again, this is an incredibly broad subject, not least because politics and futbol are often intertwined in Latin America. Campomar seems insistent on getting all of it, and to some extent that is admirable. Obviously there is more to Latin American soccer than the World Cup glories we’re all familiar with. The club game, being more present and consistent, receives a lot of Campomar’s attention, and he is determined to bring in every country, not just the successful ones. But this, combined with his dedication to chronology, creates a chapter where the grand narrative arc of Diego Armando Maradona is frustratingly interrupted by the goings on of Chile. From one paragraph to another, you can be taken from Peru to Paraguay with little warning.

There is a lot of good stuff in this book, but it too often reads like a patchwork quilt instead of a woven tapestry. The bits and pieces aren’t strung together long enough to impart theme and significance. This is all the more disappointing because the opening of the book is a personally essay, where Campomar briefly describes hold soccer has on him, his father, and his homeland of Uruguay. Campomar can tell a story, but I would have liked to see more of it.

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