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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book Review: "Fear and Loathing in La Liga" by Sid Lowe

Image credit: Nation Books.

Acclaimed football journalist and historian, Sid Lowe, has compiled a comprehensive historical guide to the heated football, cultural and social rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF.

Discussion Items:

1. Organized Format
2. Writing Style
3. A Translation Masterclass
4. Pictures
5. A Few Notable Quotes
6. Conclusion
7. About the Author

"No other match will ever have its meaning: the biggest and richest clubs on earth facing each other, two cities, some would say two countries; two identities yet much that is shared, including an obsession with each other and the need to be the best on the planet."

--- Sid Lowe, "Fear and Loathing in La Liga," page 418, published by Nation Books in 2014 with a list price of $17.99.

F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F are two of the biggest clubs and brands in world football. An estimated 400 million global viewers will watch Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and a few of their talented friends in the el Clasico this weekend. This book is a painstakingly detailed analysis covering the rich history of these two fabled Spanish clubs.

Let's take a look at the comprehensive contents of this book.

1. Organized Format

There are 19 chapters along with a very detailed bibliography and index. Since this is an historical text, the eighteen-page index no doubt will be the most referenced chapter in this book. It was truly excellent in detail with ease of use in mind to find anything, and I stress, virtually anything, you would ever want to know about El Clasico. For example, Cruyff, Johan: swearing and referees, 249.

2. Writing Style

El Clasico
Photo credit: AndhikaMPPP. 

If I had sum up Sid Lowe's writing style in two word they would have to be: Comprehensively entertaining. This book is historic in scope and the author makes it eminently readable. The level of detail is encyclopedic with anecdotes from Abidal to Zubizarreta about this historic rivalry both from a footballing perspective along with a societal and cultural one.

3. A Translation Masterclass

A famous "manita" (five goals) orchestrated by Johan Cruyff.

Although the author did not credit himself, you will witness the fruits of a significant amount of time that was spent to translate Spanish and Catalan to English texts. Several lesser-known anecdotes, first-person interviews and valuable language learning lessons are provided to lend even more credibility to what is already a comprehensively detailed research project.

A few prime examples:

"Quien calla, otorga as they say in Spain. He who opts to say nothing, reveals something; silence is a tacit confession." (Page 53)

"... Athletic Club Bilbao became Atletico, for example, --- and even the language of soccer, which had been adapted from English, was nationalized: arbitro was to be used rather than referi, fuera de juego rather than offside or orsay, saque de esquina rather than corner. Despite the absence of a monarchy, Madrid recovered their "Real" title but were also forced to Castilianize their name by placing "Club de Futbol" after Real Madrid and they were not exactly victors." (Page 65)

"Santiago Bernabeu later claimed he didn't sign Cruyff because he didn't like his jeta --- his cheek, his attitude." (Page 226)

"Lifting the European Cup, (Josep) Guardiola offered the trophy to the fans below, choosing his words carefully. The association was immediate: 'Ciutadans de Catalunya,' he announced, 'ja la tenim aqui!' Citizens of Catalonia, now we have it here!" (Page 287)

"Figo and I have spoken since but that deal was carried out with nocturnidad y alevosidad, traitorously and under cover of darkness. He left because of a deal his agent, whom he later ditched, signed with Perez." Joan Gaspart quoted on page 356.

"In this (press) room, he is the puto jefe, the puto amo --- the fucking boss, the fucking master. I don't want to compete with him for a moment (for that title). I just want to recall that we were together for four years. I know him and he knows me. And that's what I hold on to." Josep "Pep" Guardiola discussing Jose' Mourinho quoted on page 402.

4. Pictures

Super Cristiano Ronaldo
Photo credit: AndhikaMPPP. 

There was a generous selection of photographs from various playing eras. My two favorites were Don Alfredo Di Stefano sitting modestly surrounded by his five European Cups and Johan Cruyff elegantly scoring during the 0-5 el Clasico of 1973-1974.

5. A Few Notable Quotes

Sergio Ramos2
Photo credit: AndhikaMPPP. 

"Every single winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year for eighteen years has played for Madrid or Barcelona at some stage of his career." (Page 8)

"The slogan mes que un club is famous now and it is everywhere: more than a club. "It is not just a slogan, it is declaration of principles," says (Joan) Laporta. Barcelona's identity is explicitly about something other than the soccer alone and in their version of history, so is Madrid's." (Page 9)

"Bernabeu's arrival in the presidency of Real Madrid was the beginning of a new era and he came to define the club. Imposing his personality upon the institution, creating a new structure, building a new stadium that would eventually carry his name, Bernabeu was Real Madrid, Vicente del Bosque referring to him as the "moral and spiritual leader." As Alfredo Di Stefano says: "Bernabeu loved the club like mad --- and he know football. He had been everything there." (Page 83)

"Soccer can be divided into "Before Alfredo Di Stefano" and "After Alfredo Di Stefano." Nothing," says Paco Gento, the only player to have won six European Cups, "would have never been the same without him." (Page 114)

"Our mission was to win --- and we had to win... If you didn't win here, you were nothing... We would do tours, lots of them: Rio, Buenos Aires, Alaska ... we went everywhere, literally around the world." Don Alfredo Di Stefano quoted on pages 118 and 119.

"They were always thinking about inferiority: they had madriditis, they had 'yes, but," Cruyff recalls. "We were always thinking we were the victim but in my way of thinking there was no victim. I said: 'let's look at ourselves, let's think about how we can be better. Let the rest do whatever they want; we know what we want.' "

"Cruyff was a sensational player," says (Juan) Asensi. "He was also a winner. The change in mentality was brutal. Suddenly, from always losing we saw that we could win, it was as if we had been drowning and now we were pulled out of the water. We could swim." Page 230 for both quotes.

"Barcelona is nowhere near as important a club as everybody here thinks it is. You have not won much. I won more in six years at Ajax than Barcelona have won in one hundred." Louis Van Gaal quoted on page 326.

"If you wrote a list of Raul's qualities, it would be a list of the values of Real Madrid. He is the Di Stefano of our time. He is the people, the incarnation of Madridismo," Jorge Valdano quoted on page 332.

"I must be one of the very few sportsmen to have had to perform with 120,000 people against me --- and focused on me, not the team." Luis Figo quoted on page 349.

"Titles can be won again, cups can be lifted again. But I don't think we'll ever see six goals in the Bernabeu again. I'll be able to tell my grandchildren that I experienced the best clasico in the history of football." Andres Iniesta quoted on page 392.

6. Conclusion

"Hundreds of pieces of paper and thousands of words strewn about. My office floor has become a cutting-room floor. This book has evolved and changed since I began writing it. It has also dramatically shortened from first draft to last...

This book does not claim to be the definitive history of the two clubs --- the definitive history of just one of them would require countless volumes and, despite substantial editing, this is a long book already." --- Sid Lowe, pages ix and x.

I believe that the author was being too modest in his self-analysis. In my opinion, this book will become one of the definitive histories in the English language of this celebrated rivalry. "Fear and Loathing in La Liga" by Sid Lowe is a superb analysis of the fascinating, complicated and intense history between Real Madrid and Barcelona. This literary golazo will make an excellent addition to your sporting and Spanish history library.

Please Note

I have received a complimentary review copy from a representative of the publisher, Nation Books. I was not financially compensated by a representative of the author, publisher or any other party who would benefit from a positive review.

7. About the Author

Sid Lowe is a historian and expert on Spanish soccer and history. He has written for the Guardian since 2001 and regularly appears on the Guardian’s soccer podcast, Football Weekly. He writes for World SoccerFourFourTwo, and ESPN, and is a commentator and panelist on UK, Spanish, and Asian television and radio. Follow him on Twitter @sidlowe.

The author's biography text was courtesy of Nation Books.

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and The Soccer Translator since 2008. 

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