Interview With Joshua Nadel, Author Of Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters In Latin America • Latino Sports


Interview With Joshua Nadel, Author Of Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters In Latin America



Image: University Press of Florida

Image: University Press of Florida

New York, NY – One the best things about a World Cup year are the books. The games are fantastic but it’s the books that best illuminate the both the social, political, economic, spiritual and military history and journey leading up to the the beautiful game’s most coveted tournament.

Whether you’re the player who’s representing your country or the fan who will witness the tournament live in person, at a pub or at home, you’ll be written about.

Whether you’re the hero or the goat for your national team, your actions will be immortalized via the eyes, words and technology who were present that day.

It’s during this period when we learn more about the fan and the player. But what about the writers who are there in person covering the moments as they unfold? If there’s a good story behind every fan or national team, then the writers themselves must have an amazing story.

One author, I had the privilege of talking too was University Press of Florida’s own, Joshua Nadel. In my opinion, his book, Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America is a must read for any soccer fans who ever ever wanted to learn more Latin America’s approach to the beautiful game.

What was your motivation behind writing your book?

As a historian, and particularly a cultural historian, I’m interested in questions about what in people’s daily lives speaks to their sense of who they are and what helps to get them through the day. In other words, how the seemingly mundane sheds light onto the issues of deeper meaning, both personally and societally.

And I think that sport is one of these seemingly mundane things. It reflects social norms and can also help to change those norms; it also has a very powerful narrative force because so many people relate to it precisely because it seems unconnected to social, political, or economic realities. And as a Latin American historian, the sport to study is soccer (with a few obvious exceptions, where baseball performs much the same role as soccer).

How long did it take to complete your book?

The book took over four years to research and write. I wrote the proposal in 2008, began working on background research that year, and really got going into it in 2009, when I went on a couple of research trips–to Argentina and Switzerland (to the FIFA archives).

I turned the manuscript in to the press in the fall of 2012, and then revised/edited, etc. until June 2013, and copy-edited. But in essence, since I teach at a university and have a heavy teaching load, the bulk of the writing got done over summer and winter breaks.

What was more challenging, the research or the interviews?

In general, I think of interviews as a part of the research, but I would say that the hardest part was the research. While I’m fine researching in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, the latter takes a long time for me to read closely. Also, for some topics and countries research was very difficult: little is written about Honduran soccer, for example, or women’s soccer.

How difficult is it to juggle your personal and professional lives when writing a book?

Without a doubt the hardest part of the book was juggling the different parts of my life. During the semester it was very difficult to teach four classes, come home and parent, and then work on the book again after my kids went to sleep. Professionally, there were a couple things that made it a little easier.

I taught a double section of one class: instead of two classes of 45, I taught one class of 90 that counted as two classes. This saved me three hours per week, which may not seem like a lot, but was very important. I also made sure to have sections of my day free. So my classes all met between 9-2, leaving me a few afternoon hours on my teaching days.

On non-teaching days, I made sure not to have meetings or any other activities, so that i could focus on research. The worst part of the juggling came during winter and summer breaks. Then I would wake up, make breakfast for my children, and then head to the library (or my office or a coffee shop) for the rest of the day. I usually missed bedtimes as well.

On weekends, the same. I would wake up and go directly to work, often seeing my wife and kids only a couple of hours a day, if that. In fact, I don’t think that I could have finished the book had it not been for a fellowship that I had at Duke in 2012-2013. During that year I had only 1 class all year, so my attention was much more directed at the book. I still missed out on a lot of family things, though.

What were some the high & low points behind writing your book?

The highs: For me the best part of writing is finally seeing the ideas that have been swimming in my head take concrete shape. I’m not talking about the finished product (although seeing that was pretty cool), but rather the first version of a coherent chapter.

The lows: I had some pretty long periods of writers block; days on days of not being able to get things onto paper. It was also really hard to switch from teaching mode to research mode.

How important is it for a Latin American National Team to win the 2014 World Cup?

I’m not sure that it is that important for a Latin American team to win the Cup, though I certainly want one to. The curse of a team never winning the World Cup in another continent was broken in 2002 by Brazil and again in 2010 by Spain. That said, no European team has ever won in the Americas and no American team has ever won in Europe.

Also European teams have won 10 World Cups and Latin American teams 9, so I’d like to see that even out. In terms of what the World Cup means, of course soccer is a major part of culture and society in Latin America, and winning the Cup brings an immense amount of national pride. For Latin American teams it used to be a way to show Europeans that they were not superior, and it was a way to highlight national development (a good soccer team meant a developed nation).

What do you is the biggest difference between Latin American players and European?

Like my previous answer, I think that the difference between Latin American and European players is diminishing. There is still some difference: Latin American players tend to learn the sport in a less structured setting — more informal pick up games, less coaching. As a result, they develop a set of improvisational skills at an earlier age.

But the best European players have those one v. one ball skills as well. Another factor in the shrinking difference is that as more and more Latin American players play in Europe, a much more hybridized style develops. So for example, Argentina has been influenced by Messi spending his entire career at Barcelona.

Finally, increasingly in Latin America formal soccer training is beginning much earlier, which may give more structure to the Latin American game.

While men’s soccer is popular, where does women’s soccer stand in Latin America?

Depending on how you look at it, women’s soccer is either doing well or not-so-well in Latin America. If you want to be optimistic, there is growth in acceptance and opportunity for the women’s game in many countries. Mexico, Chile, and Colombia all have pretty good–and consistent–women’s programs that start at the grassroots and go up to the national level.

The number of women who play soccer (as a percentage of the total number of players) in many Latin American countries approaches that of Scandinavia and the United States. All of this is great. On the flip side, many countries don’t have active women’s divisions within the national federations, have no support for women’s amateur leagues, and only call together a national team when it is time for a qualifier or a tournament.

There are still social stigmas against women’s soccer in certain countries. And Brazil seems to have taken major steps back with regards to the women’s team.

Is fútbol is the best approach to raise social, political, economic, spiritual, and military awareness in Latin America?

Soccer is a great way to raise awareness in Latin America about all sorts of issues. Soccer matches and soccer leagues can help bring people from different social classes, political backgrounds, and racial groups together in powerful ways.

More, It also helps raise the level of understanding about society, politics, race, gender, etc. because it offers this seemingly innocuous place from which to examine these topics. It may not be the best way, but it’s among the best ways to understand Latin American realities on many different levels.

Where can readers read your work?

The book can be found at Amazon or any online bookseller. You can also find it at Barnes & Noble, or you can go to a local independent bookshop and ask them to order it for you.


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