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Angels With Dirty Faces The Footballing History of Argentina By Jonathan Wilson

Release date: 14th August, 2016
Publisher: Orion

List Price: Ł20.00
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“No country loves [football’s] theories and myths more than Argentina,” writes Jonathan Wilson in his comprehensive, but immensely readable and wonderfully-researched history of a nation and its long-term love for the beautiful game. It’s a love frequently evident on the international stage: Argentina has won two World Cups and lost in the final three times, and won the Copa Américas on 14 occasions, six more than Brazil. Not bad for a nation with a population of just 25 million.

Wilson, who lived in Buenos Aires, doesn’t try to divorce football from other aspects of Argentine society and write about the sport in isolation. Indeed, because football permeates just about every aspect of Argentina’s culture, this would have been impossible for him to do. Instead, the sweep of this enormous book, which runs to over 500 pages, covers everything from the peace of civilian rule up until 1930 and the constant upheavals that followed between 1930-76 when a total of 13 different governments came to power either in the wake of a military coup or were of an overtly military persuasion.

Despite this, Argentina has produced a number of exceptional footballers, from Sivori to Rattin, Bilardo to Kempes, Maradona to Messi – not forgetting di Stéfano.

Football took root in Argentina thanks to a large concentration of expatriate Brits. It was never part of the Empire, but it often felt like it and, as the expatriates created a miniature version of home, so football was introduced in 1867. The British developed banks, railways, trade, schools, hospitals and churches as they did across the globe, but it was a Scot from the Gorbals, Alexander Watson Hutton, who Wilson describes as Argentina’s “greatest football evangelist”.

Offered a job as a teacher in Buenos Aires, Hutton sailed from Liverpool in 1881 and would immediately put football at the core of his new school’s curriculum. A corresponding influx of Brits in the late nineteenth century resulted in the creation of the first football league outside of Britain – a forerunner to the AFL established in 1903.

Argentina’s nickname, the Carasucias, (angels with dirty faces) was first used after the country beat Brazil in the South American championship in 1957, when a legendary forward line, including Sivori (described as having “a less than rigorous attitude to training”), played with a flair and style commensurate with Argentina’s philosophy. Perhaps the next time we saw this was in 1978 when Mario Kempes, all hair and attitude, powered the home nation to World Cup glory. After reading this excellent history, you’ll be as convinced as Argentina’s football-loving population that it won’t be long before the Carasucias add to their two World Cup titles.

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