During the latter stages of the World Cup I was turning the pages of Barça: A People's Passion. Considering the fact that nearly half of the players on the field in the final were current or former Barcelona players and that the majority of the cup-winning Spanish team were Barcelona players playing in Barcelona's formation du jour, my choice of reading material seemed inspired. Heck, throw in the haunting specter of the ever-critical Cruyff that looms over both Holland and Barcelona, and it would have been harder to pick a more Barça-centric culmination to the tournament.
Which is not to say that this is entirely a "football" book. It's not. Of course, FC Barcelona sits in the starring role, but the actual games, championships, tactics, managers, and players take a back-seat to 20th century Spanish history, Catalan regionalism, cultural psychology, and politics, all bound up inextricably in the struggles of a football club. (Side note: It's hard not to regret what's been lost from a competitive standpoint when you read about the long dry spells between championships for both Real and Barça and see the number of clubs that used to vie for, and claim, titles.)
Those looking for an on-field history of the club might put this one down disappointed. To be sure, the highlights are there (FBF tip: if you're not familiar with some of the plays/games/events/players, or if you just need a refresher course, YouTube provides an invaluable assist), but they often feel too broadly painted from the misty-eyed fan's perspective and take a back seat to boardroom political struggles, the seamy chicanery of dealings in the transfer market, and various other off-field intrigues.
But that doesn't detract from what really emerges here: the story of the ties that bind the club to the dream of Catalan independence and nationalism, that bring into focus what its motto, més que un club ("more than a club"), really means to the people who make up that club. The likes of Maradona, Cruyff, and Ronaldo, amongst other stars of earlier ages, all play their parts in that story, but they do so from the wings. Instead, it is the evolution of the club itself and the people who lived and breathed its politics, culture, and history that take the limelight here.