It's 2018, the year of the World Cup, and soccer has changed from the game it was originally. It's faster and more physical, more technical and more commercialized. But its fans are just as passionate as ever, and increasingly savvy thanks to the internet, the amount of data now available on every game in every league, and easy access to games from around the world. Personally, as I sat preparing to write this, we watched FC Koln succumb to Bayern Munich 1-3 in the Bundesliga.
There is no better time than now to prepare for the coming deluge of games, and Masters of Modern Soccer is an excellent place to start. Grant Wahl knows soccer, as our most prominent soccer journalist, and he spoke to some of the finest players from around the world to take a deep dive into each position on the pitch.
He starts in Germany, talking to Borussia Dortmund's Christian Pulisic. Born in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Pulisic has made a name for himself pretty much everywhere he's played in his career. Only 19, he brings a youthful energy and a thoughtful precision to his position as attacking midfielder. In contrast, defending midfielder Xabi Alonso depended on his emotional understanding of the field during his 17-year career, not caring so much for data but depending on on old school risk management by controlling the small choices he made on the field.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, power forward and all-time leading goal scorer for the Mexican men's national team ("El Tri"), depends on his hyperactive energy to figure out where the ball is and find a way to be in that same place. While the team manager Juan Carlos Osorio spends his time coming up with synchronized designs for plays, Chicharito understands that there is also a lot of kinetic intelligence and intuition to be in the right place at the right time.
Manchester City center back Vincent Kompany shares his secrets for being a defender. And he knows a lot of secrets--he's been studying the game since he was 6. Although he's struggled with injuries, he understands what it means to be the Master of the Castle, always defending the fort. He knows how to suffocate players, to induce their exhaustion so that they make mistakes. And he knows how to win the battle for headers (hint: it's not about jumping higher, it's about being in the spot where the ball lands. That way the ball is yours even if you don't leave the ground).
Innovative goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is an intimidating force for strikers. Tall and imposing, his presence just lets players know that they can't score against him. And add to that his habit of coming our of the box, mixing traditional goal keeping with that job of a sweeper, and you've got the new sweeper keeper model that is making its way onto soccer pitches across the world. It's risky, but Neuer has the athleticism to back it up, as well as an understanding of trigonometry to understand the angles and spacing of the pitch.
Masters of Modern Soccer also includes chapters on manager of the Belgium national team Roberto Martinez and his ability to adapt to the players and situations before him and Borussia Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc, who is tasked with finding the most valuable players for their budget, so they can compete with teams who have larger budgets. From the players through the top of the organization, it's all about control, intelligence, and instinct.
As soccer continues to grow in popularity and the data scientists change the way we think about the game, it's more interesting than ever to get to peek in the backdoor and meet some of its more exciting players. Grant Wahl's Masters of Modern Soccer offers us access to a deeper understanding of the players and the sport so we can grow to love it even more. Masters of Modern Soccer is packed with information and personality, guiding us to see soccer in a fascinating new way.
Galleys for Masters of Modern Soccer were provided by Crown Archetype through Penguin Random House's First To Read program, with many thanks.