Publisher: Backpage Press
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The first announcement of this book was greeted with much excitement and anticipation by many football fans, irrespective of their football affiliations. Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona had already become stuff of legend even when the book was conceived. The first English language book on the enigmatic squad that gave us breathtaking football, yet not enough was known of it away from the glare of the floodlights. The book had the makings of a great work of sports writing, coming from a man who has covered the team for various publications since before Guardiola took over as manager.
As it turns out, it is a good ‘football’ book and the author clearly knows what he is talking about. His ultimate challenge was to keep the reader interested because there is no mystery, no grand revelation waiting at the end. Everyone knows how the story unfolded. It is an excellent book for those looking to know the inside story of the phenomena that this team evolved into over manager Guardiola’s years in-charge. Hunter works through the analysis of various events that have contributed to the different aspects of this team- club history, politics, the famed cantera, the technical staff, and most importantly, the evolution of Pep Guardiola and his key players. It would be a must for Barҫa 101. And that is what the disappointment stems from. For a culé (the Catalan term for an FC Barcelona fan), it does not offer too much. There are chapters that are illuminating, especially the political aspect to which fans of the club may not be privy in the detail that Hunter, the journalist, was; the rivalry between the former and the current presidents Joan Laporta and Sandro Rosell. Hunter also dwells in detail upon the role of club legend Johan Cruyff in the evolution of the teams at the club. He tackles this issue in detail, especially Cruyff’s status among the club’s Catalan supporters. Some tactically inclined readers rue the lack of more ‘football talk’ in terms of tactics and statistics. After all Guardiola made the world sit up and take notice with his unique take on every aspect of the game. The rest of the book is more an exercise in evoking nostalgia, a giddy revisiting of the incredible highs of the last four years. It is still extremely fun just because it allows one to do that. But, as a rabid culé, yours truly just kept waiting for the book to kick start till the end.
The writing is light and conversational. The cover is ordinary and unimaginative but the art at the beginning of each chapter is well done. The first chapter starts off at a fast clip and then the rest of the book slows down. This kind of up-and-down inconsistency also adds to the general impression of the book being a mixed bag. The editing leaves a little to be desired. At times, paragraphs just feel like assimilations of quotes from various interviews put together (quite a few of which culés will find they have read already), some ideas are repetitive and certain words or phrases have been used one time too many.
At the end of the book one is left unsure as to what it was exactly that one had been expecting from it but it definitely does not leave one in the throes of exultation. Somewhere the feeling remains that Hunter, with his privilege of having watched this enigma unfold from such close quarters, could have created a more powerful tribute with such an awe-some muse.