Published by Mariana Zapata on April 11th 2015
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"Trust me, I've wanted to punch you in the face a time or five." When the man you worshipped as a kid becomes your coach, it's supposed to be the greatest thing in the world.
Keywords: supposed to. It didn't take a week for twenty-seven-year-old Sal Casillas to wonder what she'd seen in the international soccer icon-why she'd ever had his posters on her wall, or ever envisioned marrying him and having super-playing soccer babies. Sal had long ago gotten over the worst non-break-up in the history of imaginary relationships with a man that hadn't known she'd existed. So she isn't prepared for this version of Reiner Kulti who shows up to her team's season: a quiet, reclusive shadow of the explosive, passionate man he'd once been. Nothing could have prepared her for the man she got to know. Or the murderous urges he brought out in her. This was going to be the longest season of her life.
I can’t ever remember a time when football hasn’t been a part of my life and reading a book so dedicated to it – and all its intricate byplays – is such a joy, even if it’s just to see the minutiae of practice and a game come to life on paper. Mariana Zapata carefully catalogues these moments though Sal Casillas’s down-to-earth and sometimes hilarious perspective as she finally starts to separate the man (and her coach) from the soccer legend that she’d idolised all her life.
Slow-going at first, the story gets a lot more interesting as Kulti’s and Sal’s paths converge more and more over the weeks and months to come and I did find myself enjoying the second half of the book way more than I did the first. Their relationship is long drawn out over a football season and it’s only after the season when it all begins – and ends abruptly.
But if I liked Sal’s very distinct voice and personality, I thought Kulti was mostly unreachable and way harder to grasp as a male romantic lead. Seen through Sal’s eyes, he seemed for most of the book, like a gruff and threatening arse who thrived on staying aloof, rude and difficult while treating everyone around him badly. The hints of him falling for Sal do come later, but it was nonetheless frustrating because I didn’t feel as though I’d uncovered his layers – his personal history, the story behind the DUI, his broken marriage – at all by the end of the story when they kick off their HEA. Without greater insight into Kulti, it always seemed that the growing friendship between him and Sal was one-sided and developed on his terms. There were other small quibbles I had as well: the weird, changing eye-colour and the descriptions of Kulti’s eyes, the funny way that Sal kept calling Kulti ‘The German’, for instance.
The long and short of it is that I don’t quite know what to make of this at all. It’s about the most beautiful game after all and Sal’s childhood fantasy come to life is really the stuff of dreams (even though it’s hard to believe that she’s loved Kulti all her life) I loved reading about. Yet the reality of when they meet and go on for periods as dysfunctional friends made me wonder just how anyone wanted to have anything to do with this jerk of a ‘hero’. The main draw had always been Sal – Zapata does a great job of endearing readers to her – for me and by the end of the story, she shone way more brightly than Kulti and for her alone, I’m glad she got what she needed.