Soccer in Sun and Shadow


By Eduardo Galeano

Introduction by Rory Smith

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One of the greatest, magical, and most lyrical accounts of the beautiful game

In this witty and rebellious history of world soccer, award-winning writer Eduardo Galeano searches for the styles of play, players, and goals that express the unique personality of certain times and places. In Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Galeano takes us to ancient China, where engravings from the Ming period show a ball that could have been designed by Adidas to Victorian England, where gentlemen codified the rules that we still play by today and to Latin America, where the “crazy English” spread the game only to find it creolized by the locals.

All the greats—Pelé, Di Stéfano, Cruyff, Eusébio, Puskás, Gullit, Baggio, Beckenbauer— have joyous cameos in this book. yet soccer, Galeano cautions, “is a pleasure that hurts.” Thus there is also heartbreak and madness. Galeano tells of the suicide of Uruguayan player Abdón Porte, who shot himself in the center circle of the Nacional's stadium; of the Argentine manager who wouldn't let his team eat chicken because it would bring bad luck; and of scandal-riven Diego Maradona whose real crime, Galeano suggests, was always “the sin of being the best.”

Soccer is a game that bureaucrats try to dull and the powerful try to manipulate, but it retains its magic because it remains a bewitching game—“a feast for the eyes … and a joy for the body that plays it”—exquisitely rendered in the magical stories of Soccer in Sun and Shadow.


The pages that follow

are dedicated to the children

who once upon a time, years ago,

crossed my path on Calella de la Costa.

They had been playing soccer and were singing:

We lost, we won,

either way we had fun.

Author's Confession

Like all Uruguayan children, I wanted to be a soccer player. And I played quite well. In fact I was terrific, but only at night when I was asleep. During the day I was the worst wooden leg ever to set foot on the little soccer fields of my country.

As a fan I also left a lot to be desired. Juan Alberto Schiaffino and Julio César Abbadie played for Peñarol, the enemy team. I was a loyal Nacional fan and I did everything I could to hate them. But with his masterful passes "El Pepe" Schiaffino orchestrated the team's plays as if he were watching from the highest tower of the stadium, and "El Pardo" Abbadie, running in his seven-league boots, would slide the ball all the way down the white touchline, swaying back and forth without ever grazing the ball or his opponents. I couldn't help admiring them, and I even felt like cheering.

Years have gone by and I've finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: "A pretty move, for the love of God."

And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don't give a damn which team or country performs it.

The Player

Panting, he runs up the wing. On one side awaits heaven's glory; on the other, ruin's abyss.

He is the envy of the neighborhood: the professional athlete who escaped the factory or the office and gets paid to have fun. He won the lottery. And even if he has to sweat buckets, with no right to failure or fatigue, he gets into the papers and on TV. His name is on the radio, women swoon over him and children yearn to be like him. But he started out playing for pleasure in the dirt streets of the slums, and now plays out of duty in stadiums where he has no choice but to win or to win.

Businessmen buy him, sell him, lend him, and he lets it all happen in return for the promise of more fame and more money. The more successful he is and the more money he makes, the more of a prisoner he becomes. Forced to live by military discipline, he suffers the punishing daily round of training and the bombardments of painkillers and cortisone that hide his aches and fool his body. And on the eve of big matches, they lock him up in a concentration camp where he does forced labor, eats tasteless food, gets drunk on water, and sleeps alone.

In other human trades, decline comes with old age, but a soccer player can be old at thirty. Muscles tire early: "That guy couldn't score if the field were on a slope."

"Him? Not even if they tied the keeper's hands."

Or before thirty if the ball knocks him out, or bad luck tears a muscle, or a kick breaks a bone and it can't be fixed. And one rotten day the player discovers he has bet his life on a single card and his money is gone and so is his fame. Fame, that fleeting lady, did not even leave him a Dear John letter.

The Goalkeeper

They also call him doorman, keeper, goalie, bouncer, or net-minder, but he could just as well be called martyr, pay-all, penitent, or punching bag. They say where he walks the grass never grows.

He is alone, condemned to watch the match from afar. Never leaving the goal, his only company the two posts and the crossbar, he awaits his own execution by firing squad. He used to dress in black, like the referee. Now the referee doesn't have to dress like a crow and the goalkeeper can console himself in his solitude with colorful gear.

He does not score goals; he is there to keep them from being scored. The goal is soccer's fiesta: the striker sparks delight and the goalkeeper, a wet blanket, snuffs it out.

He wears the number one on his back. The first to be paid? No, the first to pay. It is always the keeper's fault. And when it isn't, he still gets blamed. Whenever a player commits a foul, the keeper is the one who gets punished: they abandon him there in the immensity of the empty net to face his executioner alone. And when the team has a bad afternoon, he is the one who pays the bill, expiating the sins of others under a rain of flying balls.

The rest of the players can blow it once in a while, or often, and then redeem themselves with a spectacular dribble, a masterful pass, a well-placed volley. Not him. The crowd never forgives the goalkeeper. Was he drawn out by a fake? Left looking ridiculous? Did the ball skid? Did his fingers of steel turn to putty? With a single slip-up the goalie can ruin a match or lose a championship, and the fans suddenly forget all his feats and condemn him to eternal disgrace. Damnation will follow him to the end of his days.

The Language of Soccer Doctors

Let's sum up our point of view, formulating a first approximation of the tactical, technical, and physical problems of the contest waged this afternoon on the field of the Unidos Venceremos Soccer Club without turning to simplifications incompatible with this topic, which undoubtedly demands a more profound and detailed analysis, and without resorting to ambiguities which have been, are, and always will be alien to our lifelong dedication to serving the sporting public.

It would be easy for us to evade our responsibility and attribute the home team's setback to the restrained performance of its players, but the excessive sluggishness they undeniably demonstrated in today's match each time they received the ball in no way justifies, understand me well ladies and gentlemen, in no way justifies such a generalized and therefore unfair critique. No, no, and no. Conformity is not our style, as those of you who have followed us during the long years of our career well know, not only in our beloved country but also on the stage of international and even worldwide sport, wherever we have been called upon to fulfill our humble duty. So, as is our habit, we are going to pronounce all the syllables of every word: the organic potential of the game plan pursued by this struggling team has not been crowned with success simply and plainly because the team continues to be incapable of adequately channeling its expectations for greater offensive projection in the direction of the enemy goal. We said as much only this past Sunday and we affirm it today, with our head held high and without any hairs on our tongue, because we have always called a spade a spade and we will continue speaking the truth, though it hurts, fall who may, and no matter the cost.

The Language of War

Utilizing a competent tactical variant of their planned strategy, our squad leaped to the charge, surprising the enemy unprepared. It was a brutal attack. When the home troops invaded enemy territory, our battering ram opened a breach in the most vulnerable flank of the defensive wall and infiltrated the danger zone. The artilleryman received the projectile and with a skillful maneuver he got into shooting position, reared back for the kill, and brought the offensive to culmination with a cannonball that annihilated the guard. Then the defeated sentry, custodian of the seemingly unassailable bastion, fell to his knees with his face in his hands, while the executioner who shot him raised his arms to the cheering crowd.

The enemy did not retreat, but its stampedes never managed to sow panic in the home trenches, and time and again they crashed against our well-armored rear guard. Their men were shooting with wet powder, reduced to impotence by the gallantry of our gladiators, who battled like lions. When two of ours were knocked out of the fight, the crowd called in vain for the maximum sentence, but such atrocities fit for war and disrespectful of the gentlemanly rules of the noble sport of soccer continued with impunity.

At last, when the deaf and blind referee called an end to the contest, a well-deserved whistle discharged the defeated squad. Then the victorious throngs invaded the redoubt to hoist on their shoulders the eleven heroes of this epic gest, this grand feat, this great exploit that cost so much blood, sweat, and tears. And our captain, wrapped in the standard of our fatherland that will never again be soiled by defeat, raised up the trophy and kissed the great silver cup. It was the kiss of glory!

The Stadium

Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try it. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than stands bereft of spectators.

At Wembley shouts from the 1966 World Cup, which England won, still resound, and if you listen very closely you can hear groans from 1953, when England fell to the Hungarians. Montevideo's Centenario Stadium sighs with nostalgia for the glory days of Uruguayan soccer. Maracanã is still crying over Brazil's 1950 World Cup defeat. At Bombonera in Buenos Aires, drums boom from half a century ago. From the depths of Azteca Stadium, you can hear the ceremonial chants of the ancient Mexican ball game. The concrete terraces of Camp Nou in Barcelona speak Catalan, and the stands of San Mamés in Bilbao talk in Basque. In Milan, the ghost of Giuseppe Meazza scores goals that shake the stadium bearing his name. The final match of the 1974 World Cup, won by Germany, is played day after day and night after night at Munich's Olympic Stadium. King Fahd Stadium in Saudi Arabia has marble and gold boxes and carpeted stands, but it has no memory or much of anything to say.


In 1916 in the first South American championship, Uruguay creamed Chile 4–0. The next day, the Chilean delegation insisted the match be disallowed "because Uruguay had two Africans in the lineup." They were Isabelino Gradín and Juan Delgado. Gradín had scored two of the four goals.

Gradín was born in Montevideo, the great-grandson of slaves. He was a man who lifted people out of their seats when he erupted with astonishing speed, dominating the ball as easily as if he were walking. He would drive past the adversaries without a pause and score on the fly. He had a face like the holy host and was one of those guys no one believes when they pretend to be bad.

Juan Delgado, also a great-grandson of slaves, was born in the town of Florida, in the Uruguayan countryside. Delgado liked to show off by dancing with a broom at Carnival and with the ball on the field. He talked while he played, and he liked to tease his opponents: "Pick me that bunch of grapes," he'd say as he sent the ball high. And as he shot he'd say to the keeper, "Jump for it, the sand is soft."

Back then Uruguay was the only country in the world with black players on its national team.

Death on the Field

Abdón Porte, who wore the shirt of the Uruguayan club Nacional for more than two hundred matches over four years, always drew applause and sometimes cheers, until his lucky star fell.

They took him out of the starting lineup. He waited, asked to return, and did. But it was no use; the slump continued, the crowd whistled. On defense even tortoises got past him, on the attack he could not score a single goal.

At the end of the summer of 1918, in the Nacional stadium, Abdón Porte took his own life. He shot himself at midnight at the center of the field where he had been loved. All the lights were out. No one heard the gunshot.

They found him at dawn. In one hand he held a revolver, in the other a letter.


They called the successive figure eights Uruguayan players drew on the field moñas, ringlets. French journalists wanted the secret of that witchcraft that cast the rival players in stone. Through an interpreter, José Leandro Andrade revealed the formula: the players trained by chasing chickens that fled making S's on the ground. Journalists believed it and published the story.

Decades later, good ringlets were still cheered as loudly as goals in South American soccer. My childhood memory is filled with them. I close my eyes and I see, for example, Walter Gómez, that dizzying bushwhacker who would dive into the swamp of enemy legs with ringlet after ringlet and leave a wake of fallen bodies. The stands would confess:

We'd all rather fast

than miss a Walter Gómez pass.

He liked to knead the ball, retain it and caress it, and if it got away from him, he would feel insulted. No coach would dare tell him, as they say now: "If you want to knead, go work in a bakery."

The ringlet was not just a bit of tolerated mischief, it was a joy the crowd demanded. Today such works of art are outlawed, or at least viewed with grave suspicion, and are considered selfish exhibitionism, a betrayal of team spirit, and utterly useless against the iron defensive systems of modern soccer.

The Olympic Goal

When the Uruguayan team returned from the 1924 Olympics, the Argentines challenged them to a friendly. The match was played in Buenos Aires. Uruguay lost by one goal.

Left wing Cesáreo Onzari was the author of the winning goal. He took a corner and the ball went directly into the net without anyone else touching it. He was the first in soccer history to score a goal that way. The Uruguayans were left speechless. When they found their tongues, they protested. They claimed the goalkeeper, Mazali, was pushed when the ball was in the air. The referee wouldn't listen. Then they howled that Onzari hadn't intended to shoot at the net and that the goal had been scored by the wind.

In homage or in irony, that rarity became known in South America as the "Olympic goal." It is still called that, on the rare occasions it occurs. Onzari spent the rest of his life swearing it wasn't by chance. And though years have gone by, the mistrust continues: every time a corner kick shakes the net without intermediaries, the crowd celebrates the goal with an ovation, but doesn't quite believe it.


Forty years before the Brazilians Pelé and Coutinho, the Uruguayans Scarone and Cea rolled over the rivals' defense with passes from the thigh and zigzags that sent the ball back and forth from one to the other all the way to the goal, yours and mine, close and right to the foot, question and answer, call and response. The ball rebounded without a moment's pause, as if off a wall. That's what they called the River Plate style of attack back in those days: "The Wall."

Héctor Scarone served up passes like offerings and scored goals with a marksmanship he sharpened during practice sessions by knocking over bottles at thirty meters. And though he was rather short, when it came to jumping he was up long before the rest. Scarone knew how to float in the air, violating the law of gravity. He would leap for the ball, break free of his adversaries, and spin around to face the goal. Then, still aloft, he would head it in.

They called him "The Magician," because he pulled goals out of a hat, and they also called him "The Gardel of Soccer," because while he played he sang like no one else.

Goal by Nolo

It was 1929. Argentina was playing Paraguay.

Nolo Ferreira brought the ball up from right at the back. He broke open a path, leaving a string of fallen bodies, until he suddenly found himself face-to-face with the entire defense lined up in a wall. Then Nolo stopped. He stood there passing the ball from one foot to the other, from one instep to the other, not letting it touch the ground. His adversaries tilted their heads from left to right and right to left, in unison, hypnotized, their gaze fixed on that pendulum of a ball. The back-and-forth went on for centuries, until Nolo found a hole and shot without warning: the ball pierced the wall and shook the net.

The mounted police got off their horses to congratulate him. Twenty thousand people were on the field, but every Argentine will swear he was there.


In 1930 Albert Camus was Saint Peter guarding the gate for the University of Algiers soccer team. He had been playing goalkeeper since childhood, because in that position your shoes don't wear out as fast. Son of a poor home, Camus could not afford the luxury of running the fields; every night, his grandmother examined the soles of his shoes and gave him a beating if she found them worn.

During his years in the net, Camus learned many things: "I learned that the ball never comes where you expect it to. That helped me a lot in life, especially in large cities where people don't tend to be what they claim."

He also learned to win without feeling like God and to lose without feeling like rubbish, skills not easily acquired, and he learned to unravel several mysteries of the human soul, whose labyrinths he explored later on in a dangerous journey on the page.

Turning Pro

Even though recent scandals ("clean hands, clean feet") have put the bosses of Italy's biggest clubs on the spot, soccer is still among the country's ten most important industries, and it remains a magnet for South American players.

Italy was already a Mecca way back in the time of Mussolini. Nowhere else in the world did they pay so well. Players would threaten the owners with "I'm going to Italy," and those magic words would loosen the purse strings. Some really did go, traveling by ship from Buenos Aires, Montevideo, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, and if they didn't have Italian parents or grandparents somebody in Rome would invent a family on the spot for immediate citizenship.

The exodus of players was one factor that led to the birth of professional soccer in our countries. In 1931 Argentina turned pro, and Uruguay followed suit the next year. In Brazil a professional league was launched in 1934. That was when they legalized payments previously made under the table, and the player became a worker. The contract tied him to the club full-time and for life, and he could not change his workplace unless the team sold him. Like a factory worker, the player traded his labor for a wage and became as much a prisoner on the field as a serf on a manor. But in the early days the demands of professional soccer weren't great: only two hours a week of obligatory training. In Argentina anyone missing a practice session without a doctor's note paid a five-peso fine.


During the Chaco War, while the peasants of Bolivia and Paraguay were marching to the slaughter, Paraguay's soccer players were in other countries playing to raise money for the many who fell helplessly wounded in a desert where no birds sang and people left no footprints. That's how Arsenio Erico came to Buenos Aires, and in Buenos Aires he stayed. Argentina's leading scorer of all time was Paraguayan. Erico scored over forty goals a season.


  • Named one of the 'Top 100 Sports Books of All Time' by Sports Illustrated
  • "Soccer in Sun and Shadow is the most lyrical sports book ever written... In soccer, Galeano finds both a reflection and extension of everything he loves and finds maddening about the part of the world that has been the central focus of his writing for decades"
    Dave Zirin
  • "Between poetic descriptions of scores by famous players, Galeano provides political context and commentary... over all, the book is a winning celebration of the beautiful game."

    New York Times Book Review
  • "A poetic history [of soccer] that sets the book apart from others. Galeano's Catholic upbringing, socialist politics, and the injustice he's seen as a journalist seeps into his commentary, and gives his narrative a refreshing perspective that captures soccer's spiritual roots, corruption by greed, and role as a global equalizer that puts royals and dictators at the mercy of minorities and slum kids."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "This updated edition serves as a reminder that this is not just a classic sports book. On virtually every page, Galeano uses a phrase or sentence that will leave readers in awe of his gifts. A welcome update of a classic. Galeano's gift to the game he loves."
    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • "Since its first publication in 1995 (as Football in Sun and Shadow), this book has been relentlessly quoted, and for good reason. The author who pleads, 'A pretty move, for the love of God' has an eye for beauty, a feel for the game, a sense of proportion-and a gift for putting it all into words. Those seeking a history of soccer or a fan's memoir won't find it here... Above all, he reminds us of 'a simple truth that tends to escape the scientists of the ball: soccer is a game, and those who really play it feel happy and make us happy too.' An indispensible addition to soccer collections"
    Booklist, (starred review)
  • "It's all here. Everything you should know about soccer, the world's game"
    Los Angeles Times
  • "Stands out like Pele; on a field of second-stringers."

    New Yorker
  • "[A] beautiful ode to the beautiful game."

    Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated
  • "The Pele of [soccer] writing....a marvelous book."
    Richard Williams, The Guardian

On Sale
Oct 18, 2022
Page Count
320 pages
Bold Type Books

Eduardo Galeano

About the Author

Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) was one of Latin America’s most distinguished writers. A Uruguayan journalist, writer, and novelist, he was considered, among other things, “a literary giant of the Latin American left” and “global soccer’s preeminent man of letters.” He is the author of the three-volume Memory of Fire, Open Veins of Latin America, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, The Book of Embraces, Walking Words, Upside Down, and Voices in Time. Born in Montevideo in 1940, he lived in exile in Argentina and Spain for years before returning to Uruguay.

His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. He is the recipient of many international prizes, including the first Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, the Casa de las Americas Prize, and the First Distinguished Citizen of the region by the countries of Mercosur. Galeano once described himself as “a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia.” Isabel Allende, who said her copy of Galeano’s book was one of the few items with which she fled Chile in 1973 after the military coup of Augusto Pinochet, called Open Veins of Latin America “a mixture of meticulous detail, political conviction, poetic flair, and good storytelling.”

Learn more about this author