Review of ‘Globalization and Football’ by Richard Giulianotti & Roland Robertson

Globalisation and Football is an engaging, accessible and comprehensive sociological study of the political economy of the world’s most popular sport. The authors Richard Giulianotti & Roland Robertson fuse disciplines to trace the historical evolution of football, its interplay with processes of globalisation, all against the backdrop of the socio-economic and political developments of the day.

In a lot of ways, Giulianotti & Robertson pick up from their earlier works. Borrowing from Robertson’s work, Globalisation and Football begins by explaining to the reader the waves or phases of globalisation witnessed by human history: germinal, incipient, take-off, struggle-for-hegemony, uncertainty and millennial.

This six-phase model of globalisation is the framework for a historical analysis of football against the backdrop of major political, cultural and socio-economic events of that era. Unlike other studies that equate globalisation with western modernisation processes, the objective of the authors is to highlight the historical complexity and the myriad roles played by actors and institutions both in the global North and South in aiding the globalisation and development of football. Further, the authors use four elemental reference points: the individual, national societies, international relations, humankind. Every chapter dissects the role of each reference point in the evolution of football.


What this means is that besides the growth and spread of the sport itself, careful attention is paid to the highly evolved ‘business’ models that constitute the governance and organisation of football today. The book equates the top football clubs in the Big Five countries (England, Germany, France, Spain and Italy) with trans-national corporations and discusses them in the light of neo-liberalism and neo-mercantilism. This necessarily calls for a closer look at the disparity between these top clubs and national football associations of smaller countries. Also under the scanner is the complex relationship between football’s multi-layered governing structure- FIFA, national associations (both big and small), elite leagues, lower divisions and the cash flow and popularity of each. The top clubs have successfully capitalised on the explosion of satellite television in established and emerging markets, merchandising opportunities and the popularity of big stars. The book also analyses trends in fan and supporter cultures, multiculturalism in football, laws on movement of players within the EU and overseas players at top European clubs.

The disparity in finances and stature is even bigger between the Big Five and their clubs on the one hand, and the African and Asian football associations and clubs on the other. Additionally, the privileged position of the Home Nations within the governance of football (International Football Association Board), the allocation of places in the World Cup, gender and sexuality in football are issues that polarise opinion and raise tensions. All of these have resulted in a rather skewed balance of power and development within the membership of FIFA.

The authors do highlight some admirable developmental and peace initiatives through the medium of football undertaken by FIFA, other governing bodies of football, the UN and affiliated organisations, governments, NGOs, etc. As a result of this intense analysis, the authors help us understand the almost unparalleled influence and reach of football by casting it as a metric, mirror, motor and as metaphor of globalisation.

Heavy though all this may sound, the content is paced and explained in an easy-to-grasp manner. The book is extremely accessible and chronological with lucidity in both language and narrative style. Every chapter begins with the introduction of relevant concepts and theories followed by empirical evidence. The book is a treasure-trove of information, well-explained concepts (most of which should be familiar to students of sociology), illustrative examples, telling facts, trivia and anecdotes. As mentioned by the authors in the beginning, the book spans all major footballing countries and continents.

Conceptually, the book is extremely rich; it furthers established concepts in various disciplines. The authors borrow from and advance concepts, ideas and discussions in globalisation, global-local-‘glocal’ studies, connectivity, ‘re-territorialisation’ and ‘de-territorialisation’; sociology, social change and social network analysis; ethnicity, migration, identity, ‘Americanisation’, nationalism, transnationalism and cosmopolitanism; politics, economics and political economy; and civil society. References are also made to contemporary political developments and socio-economic movements such as the World Social Forum that has presented itself as an alternative to the World Economic Forum. The book posits that the sociological fields of race, ethnicity, post-colonialism and post-imperialism will feature prominently in the globalisation of football in the future. The authors leave us with the suggestion that sociologists ought to approach such global areas as football using ‘methodological glocalism’ as opposed to ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’ or ‘methodological nationalism’.

This book is a marriage of sorts between various disciplines and concepts. By putting football at the centre of it all, it gives due recognition to the undeniable influence, reach and complexity of the sport. This book could undoubtedly be useful as part of the curriculum of students of sociology and cultural studies, globalisation and development, international relations and history of sport. For a wider complementary study, students could look at other titles by these two authors. The authors write authoritatively on all of these diverse subjects in what is a highly welcome multi-disciplinary study.


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2 replies »

  1. Interesting thoughts in the review !
    I am currently studying the M.A.(International Broadcast Journalism ) at City University ,London and would be specializing in sports .
    I understand that you are doing some interesting work on ICC.
    hence wanted to get in touch with you.
    Please do share your contact details.My email is itzzamit@gmail.com

  2. Intersting.I am cuurrently working in a college at kolkata as assistant professor in economics.I am trying to make a paper on the ‘relationship between football and economic devlopment’And also’Football and business’.I need your help.If you are agree to share your your valuable experience, then I will be very greatful to you.My contact details;prabal.dsgpt@gmail.com

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