Former New York Times sports columnist George Vescey made a career of covering people and places off the beaten path. As national correspondent for the New York Times, he spent weeks in Appalachia in the 1970s talking with coal miners and their families. As a religion reporter, he interviewed the Dalai Lama. And when he first started covering the World Cup, beginning at the 1982 tournament in Spain (at which Italy took down Germany in the final match), it was still out of the ordinary for an American sports writer to take interest in the international game.
World Cup soccer brought him some unforgettable experiences: "When you see lightly clad Brazilian women dancing down the Rambla in Barcelona to a Samba beat, you tend to remember," Vescey says. Now, as he turns 75 just before this year's knock-out stage begins, his book Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer, traces his timeline through the sport, beginning as a teenager in Queens through the Klinsmann era with the U.S. national team.
On a Saturday morning phone call from his home office in New York, Vescey listed off 10 great soccer books anyone who finds themselves falling in love with the Beautiful Game should investigate. So if you're off to the beach between matches, away from radio, TV, or cell service, bring along Fever Pitch, Among the Thugs, or Soccer in Sun and Shadow, or any of the others on this list to maintain your soccer high.
Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
Nate Silver would appreciate this duo's cold, calculated, but plenty readable examination of the myths surrounding soccer. For example, they debunk a pair of ideas that have plagued soccer for decades: the best soccer players in the world come from hard-drinking, blue collar backgrounds, and must give up traditional school in order to join a pro team's academy system as teenagers. Soccernomics also gets deep into an examination of a Billy Beane-style "Moneyball" strategy that appeared in English soccer 30 years ahead of its debut in Major League Baseball via the way the famed management team of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor bought, groomed and sold players starting in the mid 1960s.