Andreas Campomar

Why Juan Villoro is the best football writer you’ve never heard of

Juan Villoro, Mexico’s foremost man of letters, captures the beautiful game to perfection

Football, unlike cricket, has for the most part been ill served by its writers. For every Brian Glanville and Ian Hamilton (the latter having employed his critical authority to become a first-rate reader of the game), the purveyors of hackneyed analysis are legion. In recent years there has been a propensity to celebrate tactics and formation (i.e. pedantry) over poetry. Latin Americans, however, have always fared slightly better with their writers — as they do with their players — who tend not to make the distinction between literature and sports writing. Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, both Nobel laureates, took to writing about the game early on in their careers.

Juan Villoro is one of Mexico’s foremost men of letters. A renowned novelist, short-story writer and translator into Spanish of authors as diverse as Graham Greene, Goethe and Truman Capote, Villoro has shown — in his excellent book of literary essays, De eso se trata (That’s the Point) — his Borgesian range of being as at home with D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats as he is with the Hispanic canon. Unlike Borges, who loathed the game, Villoro is also one of the best writers on football in the world.

Early on in this remarkable collection of essays, Villoro sets out his stall as a writer of sport:

Writing about football means recreating, in another form, that which supporters already know. If it’s possible to be present at the stadium, who wants a match recounted? This isn’t what the words are for. The essence of Pelé or Chicharito ‘Little Pea’ Hernández won’t be revealed in any book. It’s already there in the minds of the supporters. The rare mystery of words is to put a value and an emotion on what we already knew.

Villoro is as adept on the vagaries of the game as he is in his psychoanalysis of its players.

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