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Your Reading List for the 2018 Football World Cup
Books on the ball

Those who want to be part of the conversation rather than just spectators are well advised to read a few books about the Football World Cup in Russia. While some of them deal with the tradition of the game, the latest technology or the language around the pill, there are also “spoilsport books” that are sure to ruin your enjoyment of the game.

By Holger Moos

Matchplan © Kiepenheuer & Witsch After the departure of the German national team in the preliminary round you certainly do not need to worry about a seat at public viewing events. Maybe the sofa in front of the flat screen will even stay empty. Nevertheless, there is certainly going to be a next Football World Cup. And then it is easy to have a say when you have read these books.

Soccer knowledge for nerds

If you are curious what the “expected goal value” or the “pass value” are or what big data and algorithms have to do with football, you could do worse than choosing Matchplan. Die neue Fußballmatrix (Match Plan. The New Football Matrix) by sports journalist Christoph Biermann (editor at soccer magazine 11 Freunde (11 Friends)). Jens Uthoff from the taz newspaper calls Biermann’s book “nerd material well worth reading”, and Dirk von Gehlen from the SZ is thrilled by Biermann’s explanations about how new technologies are changing the sport. He adds: “Incidentally, this is one of the best books about digital change in general.”

Michael Horeni offers a Gebrauchsanweisung für die Fußball-Nationalmannschaft (Manual for the National Football Team). Along with a number of classics, the book has made it onto public broadcaster SWR’s list of Top Soccer Books (SWR-Fußball-Bestenliste): “A tutorial in soccer enthusiasm and expertise, rich in the most up-to-date background information – for an enhanced sense of connection with the national team no matter what happens,” as their website explains.

The language and poetry of football

Football has developed its own language over time. And while you may not be a fan of every phrase or metaphor, you’ll have to admire the diversity on display. The ball itself, for example, isn’t always just a football: Formally speaking, it is play equipment, colloquially the pill or the cherry. And players don’t just kick, they sometimes bang, hammer or fire the ball or pull the trigger. In German, the ball isn’t only kept low on the soccer field; the term is also used as a metaphor for keeping your feet firmly on the ground during an argument – ideally, at least. And strictly speaking, you need to stay on the ball all your life – both on and off the field. Arts and culture make an appearance as well, like when the midfield impresario conducts his defensive wall. However, you can’t play grass chess with standing violinists. Christoph Marx has written an entertaining book about the language of football: Der springende Punkt ist der Ball: Die wundersame Sprache des Fußballs (The Salient Point is the Ball: The Wondrous Language of Football).

Die Poesie des Fußballs. Von Abwehrschlachten, Schönspielern und Tikitaka (The Poetry of Football. On Defensive Battles, Beautiful Players and Tiki-Taka) is an anthology full of humour and juicy details. 30 writers and sports journalists explain the provenance, circumstances and origins of Germany’s most well-known soccer poetry terms. Who knew, for example, that the term witch’s cauldron dates back to the World Cup semi-final between Germany and hosts Sweden in 1958?

Lob des Fußballs (In Praise of Football) by FAZ editor Jürgen Kaube explains why we put up with the excessive commercialism and ubiquitous corruption of the football business yet will always love “King Football”. “Kaube seems to have [...] retained great trust in the magic of what can frequently happen on the field. His slim volume – easily read in two times 45 minutes – searches for the essence of this sport that seems impossible to destroy,” Ulrich Rüdenauer writes on mdr.de.

Spoilsport books

Those who like their reading material more challenging and critical are well served by some of Suhrkamp’s publications. In Ersatzspielfelder - Zum Verhältnis von Fußball und Macht (Surrogate Playing Fields – On the Relationship of Football and Power), political scientist Timm Beichelt describes “how sports officials secure their influence with little care for basic democratic principles,” as Bodo Morshäuser explains in Deutschlandfunk Kultur.
For writer Daniel Kehlmann, Das wunde Leder - Wie Kommerz und Korruption den Fußball kaputt machen (The Wounded Leather – How Commercialism and Corruption are Destroying Football) by Stefan Gmünder and Klaus Zeyringer is “a spoilsport book that succinctly summarises on 120 short pages just how bad things are [...], and its effect is, it can’t be put any other way, devastating” (ZEIT). The book calls for a boycott of the television coverage of World Cup games from Russia. Readers “will no longer find themselves capable of watching games at major FIFA events without deep concern,” Kehlmann states.

For the small talk

With Russkij Futbol, Martin Brand, Stephan Felsberg and Tim Köhler have published a reader about the culture and tradition of Russian football that makes it easy to acquire any amount of small talk knowledge. “Renowned writers highlight specific aspects in individual stories and offer an insight into the Russian football soul,” Karin Plötz explains on boersenblatt.net.

The website of German news magazine Der Spiegel offers further book recommendations.
Cherry Picker

Biermann, Christoph: Matchplan
Köln: Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2018. 288 pages.
ISBN: 978-3-462-05100-1

Horeni, Michael: Gebrauchsanweisung für die Fußball-Nationalmannschaft
München: Piper Verlag GmbH, 2018. 224 pages.
ISBN 978-3-492-27712-9

You can also find this title in our Onleihe
Marx, Christoph: Der springende Punkt ist der Ball: Die wundersame Sprache des Fußballs
Berlin: Dudenverlag 2018. 208 pages.
ISBN: 978-3-411-73394-1

Krankenhagen, Stefan/Rothenpieler, Heiko (Hg.)/Hennemann, Julian (Illustrator): Die Poesie des Fußballs. Von Abwehrschlachten, Schönspielern und Tikitaka
Berlin: Blumenbar, 2018. 240 pages.
ISBN: 978-3-351-05047-4
You can also find this title in our Onleihe
Kaube, Jürgen: Lob des Fußballs
München: C.H. Beck, 2018. 126 pages.
ISBN: 978-3-406-70050-7
You can also find this title in our Onleihe
Beichelt, Timm: Ersatzspielfelder – Zum Verhältnis von Fußball und Macht
Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2018. 360 pages.
ISBN: 978-3-518-12723-0
You can also find this title in our Onleihe
Gmünder, Stefan/Zeyringer, Klaus: Das wunde Leder - Wie Kommerz und Korruption den Fußball kaputt machen
Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2018. 128 pages.
ISBN: 978-3-518-07359-9
You can also find this title in our Onleihe
Felsberg, Stephan/Köhler, Tim (Hg.)/Brand, Martin (Autor): Russkij Futbol
Göttingen: Verlag Die Werkstatt, 2018. 224 pages.
ISBN: 978-3-7307-0395-3