Ebury Press, London, 2006
By Tony Edwards
USSoccerPlayers (January 1, 2007) — Is it a coincidence that many of the best writers on soccer are newspaper columnists? Simon Kuper, Sid Lowe, and Paddy Agnew all fit the bill. Along with Simon Kuper’s fine books, Paddy Agnew joins the short list with his work, Forza Italia.
Nothing like beginning a review with a cliché, but Paddy Agnew really is some one you wouldn’t mind sitting next to on the train or on the plane.
Want to talk about soccer? He’s been covering the game for years. Politics? He’s lived in and written about Italy and Italian politics for years. Religion? He’s been the Irish Times’ Vatican correspondent.
It’s also a cliché to say that as a reviewer, particularly in a World Cup year, I’ve been sent a lot of ‘history of the World Cup’ books. I’m your man if you have questions about who scored in the first World Cup or the name of the manager who led Italy to success in 1934 and 1938. But, when a book as well reviewed and interesting as Agnew’s comes along, it’s a pleasure.
Forza Italia is an eminently readable, yet appropriately serious, overview of life, soccer, and politics in Italy. Appropriately serious because Agnew isn’t afraid to detail, for instance, the Juventus drug scandal (which is still shocking in the disregard for the players’ long-term health, the sheer amount of drugs present in the Juve training center, and the plausible deniability enacted by the club’s then-leadership), or to examine Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power on the back of his AC Milan’s success. Even these matters, though, have Agnew’s deft touch.
Agnew demonstrates the newspaper reporter/columnist’s ability to present the information and allow the facts to speak for themselves, without overtly injecting himself into those stories. Another way of saying that might be that Agnew treats his readers like adults.
What about the eminently readable part? As every review of this book has noted, it’s not all soccer. Some of the book is dedicated to Agnew’s story of his life in Italy, with all the joys and all the difficulties. This is no Peter Mayle making Provence seem like the most perfect place on Earth.
Agnew’s approach places soccer in its place in the framework of life in Italy. Agnew weaves his book with that knowledge, not divorcing sport from business from religion from life.
As Forza Italia is an overview, there are aspects that are going to disappoint. Would more on, say, Inter and a little less on Napoli and Maradona have hurt? Maybe, but I still found Agnew’s experiences with the Maradona phenomenon and disgrace fascinating. The blind eye everyone turned to Maradona’s ‘lifestyle and friends’ brings no credit to anyone, in the end.
If you’re looking for exhaustive review of Serie A, go someplace else. If you want to have a better idea of what soccer and life in Italy are like, start here.
Tony Edwards is the editor of BioMechanics Magazine, based in San Francisco, and a former writer for Round Not Oval. He can be reached at: email@example.com