One of the things I wanted to do when I started this website was to review books about soccer. I decided that I would only set one rule for myself as I wrote them: I would only write reviews of books that are easily acquired here in America. As you can imagine, countries like England, Italy and elsewhere have an enormous range of books on football for sale. Here in America that selection is much more limited. Yes, of course, books can be ordered from overseas, and it is especially easy with services like Amazon.co.uk. But these overseas books can be prohibitively expensive and also be hard to find. Thus I will only review books that can be had easily here in the states, which means that the book can be bought from your average Barnes and Noble or Borders or ordered through a company like our domestic Amazon.com. With that caveat, away we go. I will publish these reviews periodically, when I have the time to write a fuller blog entry than usual.
Ronaldo: The Journey of a Genius is the only English-language biography available here in the states of the great Brazilian and Real Madrid striker Ronaldo. It covers his life from birth to last year’s season with Real; it was published before the ’06 World Cup and this current season that Ronaldo is “enjoying” with his Madrid employers.
Ronaldo is the first book ever written by James Mosley, and, for the most part, it reads like it. Mosley is virtually star-struck as he writes about his idol, and works hard to explain away every miscue and bad decision made by his Brazilian hero. For instance, Ronaldo demonstrates a pattern throughout his career of constantly leaving his current team whenever there was a chance he could make more money elsewhere. This was true at Barcelona and Inter, even though both teams paid him very handsomely and also paid world-record fees for him. It would be easy to characterize Ronaldo as a sleazy money-grubber with no discernable loyalty, but Mosley simply describes him as “savvy.” Each time Ronaldo does some stupid, like publicly insults the employers who are paying him massive wages, Mosley explains it away by citing Ronaldo’s “frank and open personality.” The author even goes so far as to explain away Ronaldo’s propensity for weight gain by essentially explaining that he is “big boned.” Geez, he sounds like my mother.
When Mosley excoriates the Madrid fans for having the gall to boo Ronaldo during one of his down patches, the reader is quite certain he is not reading a balanced account of the striker’s life.
So this book is by no means a shining example of the biographer’s art. However, it does have some value. Because of the lack of good football books here in America, it is one of the few places where readers can get information about things like Brazilian soccer and the sleazy underside of world football, the transfer business. Although in this book Ronaldo always comes out smelling like a rose, the author leaves no doubt that the transfer business is bad for poor countries, good for rich ones, and in general leaves everyone involved covered in a certain stench.
The book also has its charms: although the author’s nativity is shocking as he explains away every Ronaldo action, Mosley’s admiration of his hero is more appealing than much of the negativity and cynicism that accompanies many modern sports biographies. If I am not convinced by Mosley’s book that Ronaldo is a saint, I don’t particularly believe he is a great sinner either. Ronaldo is in fact, to no reasonable man’s surprise, somewhere in the middle: a remarkably great footballer (perhaps one of the ten best who ever played) who was often driven by money and fame as guiding principles. Ronaldo was certainly a genius on the field, less so off it, but overall a decent man who enjoyed life and the pleasures that came with his fame and fortune. For fans of Ronaldo, and I count myself among them, we shall wait with anticipation to see what fate next brings to the big Brazilian.
As for the book, it is, as I said, not a very strong example of the power of good biography, but it is also not without its charms, and draws its greatest strength from the fact that here in the United States, there are just not many other competitors to give it any trouble.