Customer Reviews: La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World
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VINE VOICEon July 12, 2012
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.

Of course it happened. "La Roja" was released on the occasion of a repeat European Cup championship for the team of the same nickname. An unprecedented kind of success for such a national outfit.

Although his lead-up to the latest and most glorious chapter in Spanish soccer is first-rate, this reviewer did not find Burns very clear on why the ultimate transformation occurred.

Was it a special generation of players who learned how to transcend the rivalries carried over from the club level? Ditching Raul? Was it David Beckham's impact as a media and celebrity item on future Spanish stars? The Argentines?

Maybe it's in there, but in any case, "La Roja" remains an always engaging look at a sudden dynasty. Its author understands soccer as culture and an expression of collective identities without forgetting that it is still sport.
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VINE VOICEon June 15, 2012
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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on January 25, 2015
A slow read initially. Some of the initial history was tough to go through, the pace only started to pick up after around chapter 10. But we do get some good insights into how different parts of Spain were introduced to Football and how they came to interpret it, playing their own distinctive styles to eventually form one whole team with a clear identity. At times, the book felt like fiction, being so descriptive of even the minutest of details. But i guess thats the beauty of the book.
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on December 22, 2013
This book catalogues the growth of the sport from England to small mining towns in Spain where Brits created their own teams and clubs. It jumps across the pond the the ports of Brazil, Argentina and Chile and explains the exponential growth there.

It's such a great book showing how football has come to be a global game and it traces back the roots for it so we can know exactly why that's the case.
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on August 20, 2012
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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on August 24, 2013
The author does a very nice job of addressing the major elements of the history and evolution of soccer (futbol) in Spain, especially in the first 225 or so pages which covers the period through the early 1980s. In the last 100 pages or so, however, although the key points are addressed, the pace accelerates tremendously and the quality and depth of the story decreases. The story jumps around in several places, losing continuity, and it seemed like the author needed to finish writing the book to meet a deadline. It's very well worth reading, especially for setting the background to understanding today's La Liga and national squad, but lacks depth on fully capturing the story of the more recent success. As background, I have played and followed soccer since my teenage years living in Argentina in the early 1970s and have been visiting Spain and relatives (mostly soccer fans, of course) since the mid-1990s.
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on August 9, 2012
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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on August 18, 2015
I became a fan and true follower of the game following the 2010 World Cup. In 2011 I went to Spain and visited Madrid and Barcelona, and toured their stadiums the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu. I was infatuated the history of those clubs- how divided they can be politically- yet how the national team was able to rise out of that and win the sport's grandest prize.
This book creates a beautiful narrative from when the English migrants brought the game to the Basque country, all the way to the moment of Iniesta's goal in South Africa.
If you want a detailed, rigid book about all of the facts of Spanish soccer and of all of the teams- this isn't for you. If you want a brief history of the Sport in Spain, trickled with some politics, relinquished memories of certain players in the history of La Liga- this book is perfect.
It was a blast to read.
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on May 10, 2013
The book itself is amazing and interesting. Great for Spanish futbol enthusiasts, or even Spanish history buffs. The book was shipped quickly and even though the price was suspiciously lower than most of the other booksellers' prices, nothing was wrong with it. Paper is done and I no longer need the book, but, I will keep it and reread it. Great buy!
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on June 15, 2012
Really enjoyed Jimmy Burns' Barca book so I was keen to read La Roja as well. Similar to Barca the author is deft at knowing when to provide us with his own insights - and knowing when to let the fans, managers and players speak. The Spanish have the English to thank originally for giving them the game, but once embedded in the culture the History of Spanish Football has a story uniquely tied to its own politics and spirit. La Roja is a story involving a civil war and proud and fractious regions (whether it be the Basque Country or Catalonia) - but the ending hints at the harmony that Spain has achieved through no small help from football.
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