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La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World Paperback – May 29, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Barcelona Soccer Institute (blog)
“[An] absorbing book….this book is a must read. It will make you appreciate the game even more than you do.”

The Soccer Room (blog)
“Combining keen observations, informative research, and groundbreaking interviews with everyone from del Bosque to Kubala, Burns brings the dynamic history of Spanish soccer to life. La Roja is the inspiring journey of the circumstances and individuals who have shaped, nurtured, and created the superpower that the rest of the soccer world envies today.”

Wall Street Journal

La Roja shows in colorful detail how the traditions and loyalties of one country ended up by giving us the finest clubs and national team of the present moment.”

The Independent“Those who like to sneer that the world’s most popular sport is a grossly exaggerated and often meaningless metaphor for the battle of real life should get hold of this splendid book.” Financial Times“[A] vivid survey of Spanish football” Guillem Balague, Sky TV correspondent“There is so much people don’t know about Spain and Spanish football, and that is not a bad thing for as long as a complete writer like Jimmy Burns has a look at it and bring his unique vision of it. La Roja fills a hole in the knowledge of both Spain and Spanish football, as it goes beyond the football to explain a country, a society and its transformation through, thanks and despite the beautiful game.” John Foot, author, Winning At All Costs: A Scandalous History of Italian Soccer“Spain is a place where football, politics, history and regional identity are impossible to separate. La Roja is a fascinating and path-breaking study of the role this game has player in Spanish society right from its origins until the present day. Much of this history took place in the shadow of fascism, and Franco is an ever-present figure for a large part of this book. But Burns also studies the role football played in the transition to democracy, and the rise of one of the greatest teams the world has ever seen: Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, as well as Spain’s recent triumphs in international football. A must read for all fans of sophisticated football writing.”
Simon Kuper

“Steeped in Spanish soccer and Spanish history all his life, Burns is the perfect person to write this book.”
Washington Post Book World“Burns takes readers on a journey from the sport’s turn-of-the-century introduction by British miners in Spain’s southern region to the 2010 World Cup triumph in Johannesburg. This is not, however, a book just about soccer. It’s also about culture, politics and religion….Burns’s work is as graceful and entertaining as Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, La Roja’s modern-day geniuses.” Zeenews.com (India)“[La Roja] takes us on a journey through some of the extraordinary characters, games, and moments that have defined Spanish football from the early days.” ESPN SoccernetLa Roja succeeds because it is a history lesson focused on more than names and dates….Without a doubt, La Roja is an essential contribution to the historiography of Spanish football.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review“[Burns has] a fine eye for tragedy and irony both political and on the pitch. Spain’s dominance is remarkable, especially because of the long odds that the country’s history forced its players to overcome, and Burns rises to the challenge of telling this intertwined saga.” The Volunteer“[A]n informative and entertaining history of Spanish soccer….Burns knows the Spanish soccer scene like the back of his hand.” 101 Great Goals“[A] fantastic read.” International Soccer NetworkLa Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World by Jimmy Burns is the single, most comprehensive resource on the history of Spanish soccer….[Burns’s] passion and enthusiasm shines through the retelling of history, great games and players, important coaches and administrators, the highs and lows of the Spanish game. Burns unearths some great history: players, teams, and matches that would have been forgotten without this book….If you want to truly know Spanish soccer, you have to buy this title. You will come to appreciate the Spanish game so much more after reading this….It is an incredible story told by one of the world’s best experts on Spanish soccer. Simply put, La Roja is a must read!” Library Journal Xpress Reviews, starred“Burns gives us a book that rivals the best in recent soccer writing….Highly recommended as among the best soccer books of 2012.” The Sunday Indian (India)“Jimmy Burns’ definitive account of Spanish football both on and off the field...comes as a whiff of fresh air….The level of research undertaken by the author is simply breathtaking.” Can-India (Canada)“The timing of this book is almost as perfect as the lethal pass from Xavi to Jordi Alba that led to the astounding second Spanish goal in the Euro 2012 final against Italy.” Roanoke Times“If the soccer team La Roja is a successful Don Quixote fighting for the glory of Spain, then it is fortunate to have a Jimmy Burns to tell the story. His narrative style is as much a credit to Spanish culture as is that of Saavedra Cervantes.” Scotsman (Scotland)“Ambitious and highly enjoyable….Burns tackles his subject with care and enthusiasm.” Globe and Mail (Canada)“Jimmy Burns…provides a fascinating look at the growing role of the game in Spain.” Irish Times“[La Roja] is a wonderfully enjoyable read….It has indeed been quite a journey, and Burns is a most entertaining guide.” Goal, the New York Times Soccer blog“[A] comprehensive, entertaining and informative book about the history of Spanish soccer.” Barcelona Football BlogLa Roja shows itself to be well-researched and solidly put together….this is a very good book….This is not a book about Barcelona and it is not a book for the sycophantic looking to hear of their team praised on high. It is history: sometimes dry, often fascinating, and always looking to explain modern misconceptions.” The Independent (UK)“[A] masterly exploration of Spanish football….a fascinating account….The richness of Spanish football’s myth and history is at least the equal of Britain’s, and Burns has done a tremendous job of setting it in the context of the country’s wider history. If, on 1 July, Spain become the first team to retain the European Championship, there would be no better tribute to them than this fine book.” The Tablet (UK)“This richly textured book is a potted history of Spanish nationalism through football, and Burns was the perfect person to write it.” The Economist“Burns shows that there is far more to tell about Spanish football than today’s success on the field.”
Belfast Telegraph (UK)
 “[A] splendid book….La Roja is indeed much more than a journey through Spanish football. It is a story of pain, humiliation and ferocious regional rivalry.” Shelf Awareness“Burns relates nearly 150 years of Spanish soccer history, capturing its roots, the regionalism, the racism, the politics, the bullfighting connections and even a cultural reminiscence of Don Quixote. He portrays personalities, rivalries, strong emotions—including his own—and moments of shining success for a much-beset nation….La Roja is a window into Spain and its component cultures, regions and histories as well as a celebration of soccer and its most recent champions.” Simply Futbol (blog)“Jimmy Burns is amongst one of the best writers out there and in his latest book, La Roja, he leaves no doubt as well as no stone unturned….La Roja is not just a tremendous book to read. Jimmy Burns’ latest book is an educational tool for fans of Spanish football and fans of the game in general. The information as well as the passion reflect how they live and breathe the Beautiful Game in that country.”
Carlos Briceno, Barcelona Soccer Institute (blog)
“[An] absorbing book… this book is a must read. It will make you appreciate the game even more than you do…. I imagine one of the ambitious tasks Burns set for himself when he started writing this book was to capture the soul of a nation, as seen through the prism of soccer. He has done that in an authoritative and entertaining way in this marvelous book. And for that we owe Burns a loud and enthusiastic ‘Olé!’”

Total Footblog
“[Burns] pours his heart into the subject matter, providing an academic overview with poetic zeal – and we are better for the experience of it….La Roja is an essential and easily readable chronicle of the history of the professional game in Spain.”

Forbes (online)“Burns’ deep historical understanding of Spanish society and the Spanish game, along with it’s intersections with the English, South American, and Dutch styles of play, leaves a reader with a deeper understanding of not only the Spanish game but of the country’s conflicted twentieth century history as well…. In a wide swath of books about today’s most dominant nation in club and international soccer, Burns’ book comes highly recommended if you desire a more complete understanding of the evolution of the Spanish game within a wider cultural context.” Total Footblog
“[Burns] pours his heart into the subject matter, providing an academic overview with poetic zeal – and we are better for the experience of it….La Roja is an essential and easily readable chronicle of the history of the professional game in Spain.”

About the Author

Jimmy Burns was born in Madrid in 1953 of Anglo-Spanish parentage. His mother Mabel is the daughter of the doctor and writer Gregorio Maranon and his father Tom Burns, who died in 1994, was a publisher, journalist and diplomat. A senior writer for The Financial Times, he has also contributed to many other media organizations around the world over the years including the BBC, CNN, National Public Radio, and Fox News. Winner of newspaper awards as an investigative reporter, he has also won the prestigious Somerset Maughan prize for non-fiction with his first book. His previous books are When Beckham Went to Spain: Power, Stardom and Real Madrid (Penguin), The Hand of God: The Life of Diego Maradona (Bloomsbury), Barca: A People’s Passion (Bloomsbury), Spain: A Literary Companion (John Murray) and Papa Spy (Quercus). He lives in Spain and London.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781568587172
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568587172
  • ASIN: 1568587171
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Delving, as it does, into Spain, "La Roja," has as much to do with politics as with that country's world champion national soccer team.

Jimmy Burns has written an amenable yet substantive story about how Spain went from a bullfighting nation to kings of international football.

He goes way back to the 1880s and an English-owned mine in Huelva where the first games of football were played exclusively by Brits. The journalistic knitting continues as Basque teams assert primacy and then Argentines come to enliven the game with a quick passing style.

"La Roja" is about the places where such trends were born and the people who sowed them on Spanish soil.

Burns's chronicling of Barcelona F.C's role as an expression of Catalan culture and its rivalry with Real Madrid is deftly woven into discussion of the defeated Republic, the Monarchy, the Falange and, poignantly, the names of soccer players killed during the Spanish Civil War.

Noteworthy, too, is Burns's analysis of the Franco dictatorship's aggressive engagement with football as a tool to soothe tensions on the Iberian peninsula, as a propaganda weapon, and as diplomatic entry to worlds otherwise closed to the regime.

Burns suggests Franco made the Spanish national team a projection of homegrown fascism. A group possessing the "racial" qualities of true and pure Spaniards, and which brought to the playing field a particular "Spanish Fury." A sobriquet that stuck.

Like many people in Spain who had little time for the national selection over the years, Burns believes that the "The Spanish Fury" amounted to a whole lot of nothing, and that success in world-class tournaments would be elusive until a more modern and technical conception of Spanish soccer could be born.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a fitting backdrop to the Euro 2012 and the exciting European soccer being played. Whether it is Fernando Torres breaking out of his drought or the multi ethnic composition of the Spanish team, the knowledgeable Jimmy Burns provides an entertaining balance to "La Furia" of Spain's legendary soccer history. He is even-handed in his descriptions of the often insurmountable social and political forces at work in the country and its effect on its soccer successes and failures. His British Castilian dual lineage coupled with an agile pen gives the reader entertaining and in depth portraits of the royalty of Spanish soccer; Di Stefano, Clemente, Aragones, del Bosque and others. His concluding chapters on the present state of Real Madrid and Barcelona are informative especially his cameo of the admirable Pep Guardiola as "an almost mystical figure - a perfect model for one of El Greco's religious paintings." The one of a kind Spanish 2010 World Cup winner's commanding performance is "an intricate choreography rather than a north-to-south battlefield." I particularly enjoyed his description of La Masia, Barcelona's soccer school. Copyrighted in 2012, the book is current and contains significant material on the present competition in La Liga and the Spanish national team.
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Format: Paperback
Based on the title I assumed this would be a look at the current 2008-12 Spain squad and La Liga over that time. It isn't. It's a very simplistic look at the history of Spanish soccer, especially of you've read Morbo by Phil Ball.

This author, Jimmy Burns, wrote one terrific book on the history of Barcelona FC called Barca: A People's Passion. I was expecting the same level of research and writing. It's not there in this one. I just found the whole thing read like a Reader's Digest guide to Spanish soccer with far too much emphasis on any British connection. Look, we get it, the British invented soccer and spread it around the world. What they did in Spain was no more special than in any other nation. Can we just move on and get to what Spanish soccer is all about in this century?

Sorry, but fans of Spanish soccer history go get the Phil Ball book. Fans of recent La Liga history would be better off snagging White Angels by John Carlin on the galacticos era of Real Madrid. As far as Barcelona goes during the Pep Guardiola era, I've yet to read the Graham Hunter book Barca: The Making Of the Greatest Team in the World but Hunter is a terrific writer so I'm sure that's the one to fill in the gaps where Burns missed the boat.
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Format: Hardcover
I became a La Roja fan after watching the Euro 2008 final (between Germany and Spain). Tiki-Taka, which is the current icon of the Spain national team style is unmatched anywhere on continental europe, if not the rest of the world- it is better than even computer animation or digital games. Previously I had heard of the Spanish civil war (in tiny bits and pieces), but was not aware of the details of its historical and cultural background. This book is a fantastic introduction to the geography, the language, the people and the game of Spain. There are many names, legendary figures, etc., who are set against a background of shifting continental political ideals. It gives me even deeper appreciation of what Spain has accomplished for itself. Thumbs up to La Roja. Thumbs up to the author and his vision for the book.
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