INFTH Book Review: Calcio think that it is fair to say, a lot has happened in the history of Italian football. For the history of Italian football is not just the history of a game, but the history of Italy itself.

Legends, scandals, great games and great controversies, Italy has had it all; a mix of the brilliant and the surreal that has produced one of the most polarizing sporting leagues ever.

Everyone who thinks about Italian football tends to have a strong opinion. For years, the English derided the defensive aspects of the game, while more cosmopolitan footballing cultures appreciated it for its tactical and technical genius.

Until the publication of Calcio, the English speaking world – too often stubborn in their perspective of the Italian game – had no real resource with which to examine the fascinating history of Italian football. John Foot’s excellent book covers all angles though, looking at the players, managers, events and tactical trends that have made the Serie A and Italian national team what they are today.

Calcio is organized thematically rather than chronologically, an unorthodox scheme, one which turns the book into less of a narrative and more of an encyclopedia. Foot’s work doesn’t need to be read page for page, such is the thematic nature of the chapters, that it is easy to look up certain specific subjects. Even the chapters themselves are broken up into numerous sub categories – bold headings denoting sections dedicated to a single player/event/manager etc.

While the set-up limits the sort of flow provided by other footballing histories like David Goldblatt’s The Ball Is Round, Foot’s masterpiece is nonetheless logically ordered – moving in a sequence designed to enable flipping back and forth. The book starts, naturally, at the beginning, with the origin of Italian football in the early twentieth century. However, instead of moving directly into the Fascist glory days of the 1930s and Italy’s first two World Cup triumphs, Calcio is then organized into a series of sections describing cities, clubs, players and managers, before moving into tactics, scandals, fans and the media.

Each bold faced category is richly detailed with anecdotes, interviews and factual evidence used to explain Italy’s most important sporting concepts, as well as entertain the reader with stories varying from the saddening to the comedic.

From accounts of players’ on the pitch styles, to their tragic deaths and family lives, Foot successfully conveys a multi dimensional look at each footballer he describes, thoughtfully educating the reader in a simple and straight forward manner. Additionally, an in depth knowledge of the media workings in Italy allows Foot to provide interesting and thought provoking commentary on the Italian press’ perspective of each of his subjects. Really fascinating stuff.

Beyond the actual football, Foot’s book has plenty to inform the reader of – Calcio is equally descriptive in relaying accounts of the Superga tragedy, Berlusconi’s rise to power and Ultra culture as it is in evaluating refereeing decisions and Gianni Rivera’s passing range.

To the British reader, Foot’s analysis of the Serie A careers of men like Luther Blissett and Paul Gascoigne could be particularly interesting, as might his theories about the negative opinion most Italians have of English football fans. In vastly different ways, Brits in Serie A have risen to cult status – be it as an incompetent striker, later used as code word for Italian anarchists, or as a man who’s brilliance exalted him to the position of benchmark for all British players entering the league.

Comprehensive is the number one descriptor when thinking about Calcio, quite simply, it is the only English language book of its kind. There have been other fantastic books about Italian football, but none as thorough and detailed as this one. To understand Italian football, you must also understand Italy, and John Foot’s Calcio will help you understand both.

Buy Calcio on Amazon.


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