- Encyclopedia of the FIFA World Cup by Tom Dunmore and Andrew Donaldson
The cover of the Encyclopedia of the FIFA World Cup, seemingly unremarkable, is quite telling. In a tightly framed photograph, the German national team raises the World Cup [End Page 343] Trophy following the 2014 final in Brazil. Confetti rains down on the players; joy is written on their faces. Behind them are blurred forms of spectators in the famed Maracanã’s priciest seats; these lurkers are visually anonymous to us, but certainly well connected to the multibillion-dollar apparatus of FIFA. We know how that machine has been constructed and oiled: bribes, the exploitation of migrant workers to build Qatar’s stadiums for the 2022 finals, and the crippling economic demands put on nations hoping to host the spectacle. Pleasure and pain are inextricably bound in FIFA’s empire. We get little sense of this in the Encyclopedia, a book so focused on game play that it seems a text out of place and time.
The Encyclopedia kicks off with a World Cup chronology through a series of one-paragraph tournament snapshots. A compelling narrative history follows, covering the advent of FIFA and tournament development over the years. Another tournament-by-tournament accounting comes next, with fuller descriptions than the initial section, along with game results in tables. The alphabetized encyclopedia entries proceed from there. The book concludes with appendices of individual award winners, a brief bibliography, an index, and short author biographies.
There are nearly three hundred pages of encyclopedia entries. Most cover individual players, coaches, and national teams; there are also accounts of stadiums, referees, and a few pieces on, for example, attendance, qualifying, and the third-place game. Navigating these topics, I often wondered why someone like Omar Oreste Corbatta, an Argentinian who played in just three World Cup games, made the cut over Cameroonian icon and three-Cup veteran Roger Milla. Marc Overmars gets a page- and-a-half, while Lothar Matthäus is pinched to three sentences. Johan Cruyff and Michel Platini do not merit their own entries, but José Della Torre, an Argentinian apparently noteworthy for scuffling with an American at the inaugural tournament in 1930, does. The English national team luxuriates in nearly ten pages, Japan gets five, the Italians are pressed into just over three, and Mexico—the first nation to host twice and a participant in fourteen World Cups—gets a mere page.
I do not envy the task of choosing who and what is worthy of selection or left on the bench. Dunmore knows the challenge well; he opened his Historical Dictionary of Soccer (2011) by acknowledging the difficulty of doing justice to the “global game” in a single text, yet he succinctly explained his approach in that book. While Dunmore and Donaldson no doubt struggled with similar questions here, the text does not clarify its logic of selection. What results is both a narrow and imbalanced portrait.
This is a shame, as the “Introduction” suggests something different. Here is the best writing and thinking—a readable synthesis of the World Cup that straddles the walls of the stadium, looking onto the field and outside it to the world shaping the games. But in the encyclopedia proper, there is virtually nothing on FIFA officials like Sepp Blatter and his predecessor, João Havelange—colossi who have turned FIFA into a multibillion-dollar enterprise and the tournament into the spectacle it is. More invisible than the blazered sport-o-crats making the rules are women. I noticed a single mention of the women’s game, via an aside in the Rose Bowl entry.
There should be space for whimsy and adventure in an encyclopedia about the “beautiful game.” Indeed, there are some hidden pleasures. I delighted in moments when figures I know today as managers were reborn as players—a Felix Magath, for instance, popping up to assist a German goal against Algeria in 1982. More interesting still were the national...