Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no escaping it – World Cup fever has gripped the globe.
And while some of us might be putting our fingers in our ears, scrunching our eyes shut and waiting for the final whistle, one writer of children’s football novels can’t get enough of it, and has even written another book especially for it.
Dan Freedman, from Mill Hill, is the author of the highly successful Jamie Johnson series, about a teenage footballer and his quest to make it to the top. We met Jamie for the last time two years ago when, aged 19, he was about to transfer to the best club in the world.
But last year, with the rhythms of Brazil already beginning to pound in football fans’ ears, Dan was inspired to bring Jamie back to tell another part of his story – before his journey to success started.
“In Skills from Brazil, we go back to Jamie when he’s 11 years old,“ explains Dan, “he’s in the final year of primary school and this new boy, Rafael, comes to his school from Brazil. He and Jamie develop a friendship and Rafael invites Jamie to come to Brazil during half term.“
On his trip, Jamie gets to learn about this fascinating country, plays football on the beach and is trained by a footballing master.
“He brings all this learning and these skills back to England, back to the school playground,“ says Dan, “and it’s the first step on the journey that eventually takes him on to become a legend.“
The book was released at the end of May and, thanks to the World Cup, is already the best received of all the seven Jamie Johnson books.
For all of his books, Dan has drawn on his experience working as a journalist for the FA, the Premier League and FIFA and, most importantly for Skills from Brazil, from his time living with the England team at the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments.
“I even had my own squad number,“ he laughs, “number 62. The players’ numbers go from one to 23, and I did start to imagine what would happen if there was a virus which affected the whole squad – would I get to make my international debut!“
In his role as in-house journalist for the FA, Dan was the first person to interview a 17-year-old Wayne Rooney, during the 2003 European Championship qualifiers, regularly played pool with Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, and was constantly on the road and in the company of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Gary Neville, and John Terry, many of whom have endorsed his Jamie Johnson books.
From his time with the England team, Dan knows exactly what our boys will be going through in Brazil in the lead-up to our opening game against Italy on Saturday.
“This week will be very, very hard training for them and then they’ll ease off, and it’ll be a case of wrapping them up in cotton wool. And in the hotel, they’ll be trying to relax, but it’s very difficult.“
What does Dan make of England’s chances in the tournament?
“It’s a really interesting one because it’s a very difficult group, with Italy and Uruguay, so if we got knocked out in the group stage it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world – but it would be a disaster.
“But at the same time, young players like Adam Lallana from Southampton, Raheem Sterling from Liverpool and Ross Barkley from Everton could potentially have a really big impact because they’ve got no fear, they’ve got no pressure on them because nobody really expects anything, so they could give us a bit of momentum and we could maybe get through the groups and through to the quarter finals – and maybe even further.“
Skills from Brazil is out now from Scholastic. Details: danfreedman.co.uk