Angels With Dirty Faces: The Footballing History of Argentina – Jonathan Wilson

2018 is a World Cup year and fittingly I have read another book about football, in this case a history of a country through its footballing history. Wilson combines interviews, footballing statistics, and socio-political commentary to form an exquisite overview of Argentina. Argentina has been a country mired in turmoil throughout the 20th century, however it has always had football as a source of joy and entertainment.

Angels With Dirty Faces- The Footballing History of ArgentinaAngels With Dirty Faces starts with Wilson discussing the impact of English football on Argentine society and how English-founded teams were the original teams in the country; fairly ironic considering the later animosity between the two nations. When English founded teams became less successful this coincided with the lessening of English influence on Argentine society. This book also looks at the development of an Argentine style of football; it is a nation renowned for talented footballers but also for many tough players. The author looks at the tactics of Argentine teams, especially the manner in which they developed, often distanced from European teams due to Perón’s withdrawal of the national team from 2 World Cups in 1950 and ’54.

As he progresses through the 20th century Wilson explores the relationships between politics and football – did you know that one President bought the television rights so that every Argentine could watch football for free? He also looks at the influence of the various dictatorships and military governments on the way football has been run in the country as a way to influence the population. Wilson later discusses how the economy of Argentina has influenced football, Argentine players are now synonymous with great European teams; Villa, Ardiles, Maradona, Veron, Tevez, Riquelme – all having to leave Argentina to earn money, and keep their teams in Argentina afloat. In the 21st century, Argentina is merely a supermarket for European, and to a lesser extent, Brazilian, clubs to buy young talent because without these sales Argentina’s top clubs would no longer exist.

Wilson considers many aspects of Argentine history to give an all-encompassing overview of Argentine football.  Due to its short sharp sentences it is an easy book to pick up and put down, perfect for me to read during the World Cup, Wilson explains small factors in the history of La Albaceleste (the white and sky-blues) and the Argentine league, and answers many questions, but the most impressive thing is that he shows his own passion for football. Whether you love Argentine football and footballers or not, this book is essential for any football lover.

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