The bigwigs might be out of the race in this World Cup of upsets, but that does nothing to dim the excitement inherent in a tournament of this stature. To make sense of the madness of this quadrennial festival, you could turn to Bonnie Bader’s What is the World Cup? (2018, Penguin; appropriate for 8+), a handy reference to how the tournament came to be. The New York Times bestselling series offers a concise history of the game taking readers back to how the football bonanza began in Uruguay in 1930 after it was decided that owing to its lack of popularity in countries such as the USA it would be dropped from the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Uruguay, the host nation, which had won the trophy during the game’s 1924 and 1928 appearances in the Olympics, won the inaugural tournament, too. Bader talks of the colourful rivalries in the game, the role of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in popularising the sport, and, even some of the past and present controversies that it has been embroiled in. Add to it brief profiles of legends alongside photographs and sketches and you have a ready reckoner of the game in your hands. For more adrenaline-pumping details, National Geographic’s Absolute Expert: Soccer (2018, National Geographic, appropriate for 8+) could also prove to be useful. Put together by sports writer Eric Zweig and former referee Mark Geiger, the book is full of trivia that caters not just to regular followers of the game but also to the newly initiated.
There are few players who have mastered the sleight of feet better than Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo and even though Portugal’s run ended early at the ongoing World Cup, there’s no denying the talent and charisma of its leading forward player. Considered one of the sport’s best ever, Ronaldo’s rise from poverty to overcome tachyarrhythmia and then going on to represent the national team at 18 is a story of indomitable will that has been told many times over to adoring fans. Steve Herman runs through the motivational story for young enthusiasts in Ronaldo: A Boy Who Became a Star (2017, Createspace Independent Pub, appropriate for 8+), part of a series on contemporary football greats featuring Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr, highlighting the 33-year-old’s journey to being the most capped player of his country as well as the country’s highest goal scorer of all times.
Ever since the World Cup took off, park outings are dominated by conversations about whose playing style matches the present icons of the game. If there’s one player whose popularity chart is always at a peak, it has to be Argentina’s Lionel Messi, whose early departure from the tournament has caused great heartbreak among his young fans. In Tanya Preminger’s Sean Wants to be Messi (2015, self-published, appropriate for: 5+), young Sean is quite certain that he has no future in academics. He would rather concentrate on trying to become a soccer player like his idol. But sports isn’t all that easy either — there are bullies to overcome and competition to conquer — and it takes the same discipline and practice that his mother tells him will bring him success in academics, that he has to harness for soccer, too. Israeli author Preminger’s book is an entertaining lesson in the virtues of team sports and how these qualities can be harnessed to great advantage in other spheres, too. There are two other books in the series, all linked to soccer and the life skills it teaches Sean.
If there’s talk of football, can there be no mention of the greatest of them all — Edson Arantes do Nascimento — known to legions of dedicated fans around the world as Pele? The soccer player who played for Brazil between 1957 and 1971 and still holds the record for scoring the maximum goals for his country (77 goals in 92 matches) is the subject of Monica Brown’s bilingual (English/Spanish) biography, Pele: King of Soccer/ Pele: El Rey del Futbol (2009, Harper Collins, appropriate for 5+ years). Too poor to afford either a football or a pair of shoes, Pele and his friends would practise the game on the streets of Bauru in Sao Paolo with whatever they could lay their hands on, including a grapefruit. Rudy Gutierrez’s illustrations bring alive the essence of life on the streets of Brazil and Pele’s meteoric rise from his humble beginnings to the star of Brazil’s World Cup-winning teams in 1968, 1962 and 1970. Energetic and empathetic, Brown’s book is not just the biography of a great sports personality but also a window into the great tradition of the game that rewards grit and gumption with adulation and fame.