Apparently there’s a major football tournament starting in Russia this week. I don’t pretend to know a huge amount about it other than England’s chances of winning are hovering at around 16-1. So at best that’s a gallant exit in the quarter final, though more likely it will come sooner in the group stage – humbled by footballing giants Panama and Tunisia.

So it got me thinking is there a World Cup that England might just have chance of winning? Well maybe if there was literary World Cup… Here’s the Strong Words take on who would be the teams to beat.


Unlike the Russian football team, who have never apparently got beyond the group stage, the Russian literary team would be tournament favourites as they are so rich in talent and creativity They could field the evergreen trio of Tolstoy (who if War and Peace is anything to go by would have no problems with extra time), Dostoevsky and Turgenev, boast Chekhov, who is great in short (story) bursts, and rely on the bizarrely creative Bulgakov, a kind of Alexis Sanchez of literature, an unpredictable master magician.

Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, (although he doesn’t have much of a shot on him) Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Goncharov (if he stays awake) and Sholokhov – it would be a hugely impressive line up from a country that really ought to be clear winners. Yet the only thing that could possibly stop them winning would be dressing room shenanigans. If you had a rouble each time one of them had written something nasty about the other (you’d have to keep Tolstoy well away from Pushkin and Chekhov) you would be very rich.


If internal disagreements scuppered the Russian campaign England would be in with a very good shout. The ultra prolific, but highly consistent Dickens, would make a splendid captain, supported by Orwell on the left wing (naturally) and Waugh on the right. There would be a heavy female presence with a Bronte sister or two Austen, Eliot, Rowling and Woolf all offering genius creative flair. Leading the line would be DH Lawrence, a star striker of the old school whose runs would be as direct as his prose.

United States

Team USA would also be in with a much greater chance of winning the literary World Cup than the football version. Captain and centre back would the imposing figure of Ernest Hemingway – who when it comes to penalties isn’t a bad shot either. He’d be ably assisted by other heavyweights Melville and Twain. F Scott Fitzgerald would surely be an inventive, creative, midfielder though some have said prone to a little melodrama, while the team could also boast Salinger, a controversial player who splits opinion and is magic for the first few moments of the game but then entirely disappears. Given his output I suspect Updike would make a great ball winning midfielder with an amazing engine, while Wharton could supply some much needed subtlety and guile.


Another big favourite on account of some huge literary giants including Zola (who even has a football name), Flaubert and Balzac. There’s plenty of intelligent football too courtesy of first choice goalie Albert Camus and a midfield duo of Sartre and De Beauvoir who would intuitively seem to know what the other person would do. The bad boy of French literature de Sade would surely be a great impact player.

Longer shots


Like their football team the German literary team would fit the stereotype. Hard working, ruthlessly efficient and creative enough when they need to be. Though maybe lacking the glamour of some of their rivals they would nevertheless boast in Hesse and Sebald, two massive cult favourites with interesting moustaches.


Only really boast one huge internationally renowned player in Garcia Marquez, but what a great player! As long as his magical realist tendencies are kept in check (because there would be a high percentage chance of the ball turning into a parrot) they could take on anyone.


If it were all about the numbers then Iceland would be favourites as it is a country where almost everyone is a published novelist. In the literary World Cup they would be cult favourites and can rely on the breathtaking skills of Laxness to please the traditionalists, but also the flair of Sjón to enchant the modernists.

Anyway – that’s our half-baked theories… Who do you think would win?