Autumn Football Titles – The Top Six

1. Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin (out now)

A new Calvin book is always a treat worth waiting for, and Living on the Volcano is no exception. Football management is his biggest and toughest topic yet, but Calvin maintains that high level of range and insight that we’ve come to expect from him. For my full review, visit http://wp.me/p5bRPr-9v

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2. Das Reboot: : How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World by Raphael Honigstein (out 3rd September)

Since that 5-1 defeat to England that we’ll never let them forget, Germany have rebuilt themselves as world beaters at both club and international level. Every revolution must have its historian; over the last decade or so, Guardian and Blizzard writer Honigstein has emerged as the go-to man for all things Fußball. Great title, great jacket; this promises to be an excellent look at modern football’s biggest rebirth.

Das Reboot

3. A Season in the Red: Managing Man Utd in the Shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson (out 20th August)

Have there ever been bigger boots to fill? Moyes taking over from Fergie at Old Trafford was a nice narrative that most people wanted to see work out. Sadly, it didn’t, for a variety of reasons. Ever wondered what went on behind the scenes during that turbulent 2013-14 season at Old Trafford? Guardian journalist Jamie Jackson is the man to tell you.

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 4. Diego Costa: The Art of War by Fran Guillén (out now)

After a poor start to the season, Chelsea need their star striker back to his fearsome best; all power, speed and goals. While Costa works his way back to full fitness, read up on his fascinating journey to becoming one of the best players in the world and toughest opponents. For my full review, visit http://wp.me/p5bRPr-9F

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5. Touching Distance: Kevin Keegan, the Entertainers and Newcastle’s Impossible Dream by Martin Hardy (out now)

With billionaire owners now fixing the football hierarchy for years to come, we have to treasure the old stories of unexpected success. We’ve all heard about Newcastle’s 1995-96 season – Asprilla, Ginola, attacking football, goals galore and Keegan’s fate-tempting speech – but this promises to be the definitive account of those entertaining times on the Tyne.

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6. Autumn sees a number of autobiographies battling it out for that final spot: Steven Gerrard’s My Story, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Leading, Jose Mourinho’s Mourinho, Sam Allardyce’s Big Sam. It’s probably best not to expect too much from these.

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Diego Costa: The Art of War

Diego Costa: The Art of War

By Fran Guillén

Arena Sport/BackPage Press, 2015

51MRXQMm0eLIn my experience, football biographies can be even more disappointing than the autobiographies. After all, there is a higher level of expectation; these are books authored by chosen experts, rather than reluctant writers. At one end of the quality spectrum you have the unofficial biographies scrabbled together for the man of the moment; at the other, you have the insightful, often academic work of David Winner, Jonathan Wilson and Philippe Auclair. So where does Fran Guillén’s Diego Costa: The Art of War sit on this scale?

The answer, I believe, is slap bang in the middle, even though it has one of the best football book covers of all time. Over 200 pages, Guillén does a very good job of masking the fact that his book contains no original interviews with Chelsea’s star striker. Existing Costa quotes are scattered throughout but the focus is much more on the words of the people around him. Thanks to his strong Spanish media connections, Guillén brings together an impressive array of ex-teammates, opponents and coaches. The star is Jesús García Pitarch, the former Atlético Madrid Director of Football who bought Costa from Braga in Portugal.

With Pitarch’s voice leading the narration, the book offers a strong analysis of the early years, particularly for English football fans who missed Costa’s coming of age. Pranks, parties, tantrums, scraps – these are the common threads during loan spells at Celta Vigo, Albacete, Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano. As Pitarch neatly summarises, Costa ‘had never been in an organised team and had no experience of the dressing room, of being part of a team. He lacked any sense of discipline, of belonging to a club. He was already 15 or 16 before his football took off.’

This unfettered background, once tamed somewhat by maturity, is key to creating the beast that Chelsea fans now know and love. Costa remains the man-child, the ‘clown prince’, but he has honed his greatest skills – the positioning, the shooting, the mind games. José Antonio Martín Otín wins the award for the book’s best quote: ‘He’s like your typical Sunday-morning footballer who turns up with three aims: he wants a game, he wants to score and he wants a bit of a fight.’

Typically, however, insight seems to run thin just as fame appears on the horizon. With the exception of the chapter on Costa’s decision to play for Spain and the 2014 World Cup, the second half of the book lapses into match-by-match reporting. Title-winning seasons at Atlético and Chelsea come and go without anyone delving below the surface. The book’s title becomes increasingly problematic with each irrelevant Sun Tzu extract. Where is the tactical detail, the information on the ‘art’ of the striker’s war? Paulo Assunçao reveals that Ronaldo is Costa’s idol, but sadly this is a passing remark rather than a probing inroad.

Ultimately, Diego Costa: The Art of War is an up-to-date and entertaining look at one of modern football’s greatest characters. New season, old hamstring injury but Costa remains integral to Jose Mourinho’s plans. And perhaps there is no greater depth to reveal about the Chelsea striker. With a game built around raw aggression and power, simplicity often seems his greatest asset.

Buy it here

Raheem Sterling! Gareth Bale! Wayne Rooney!

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Another football season is about to begin and the biggest superstars in the world have been preparing for months. In fact, they’ve been working hard all of their lives to make it to the very top. To succeed as a professional footballer, you need talent but you also need focus and courage. There will always be difficult times – growing pains and injuries, coaches thinking you’re not quite good or strong enough – but the best players in the world battle on to achieve greatness.

Raheem Sterling, Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney are three of the best and most expensive British footballers ever. This season they’ll be playing in front of thousands of fans, aiming to win league titles and perhaps the biggest prize of all, the Champions League. But how did they get to where they are now? What challenges did they face along the way? What were the key moments in their incredible journeys?

There’s only one fun way to find out! Raheem Sterling: Young Lion, Gareth Bale: The Boy Who Became a Galáctico and Wayne Rooney: Captain of England are fictionalised stories for football-mad kids, aged 9 years and up. Come and share their highs and lows and learn what it takes to become a superstar. What are you waiting for?!

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To buy the books, click here

Living on the Volcano

Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager

By Michael Calvin

Century, 2015

Arguably the greatest asset of Michael Calvin’s previous, award-winning book The Nowhere Men was its human insight into a shadowy, under-appreciated world. The trials and tribulations of scouting were vividly portrayed through interviews with figures unaccustomed to the limelight. This was always going to be the biggest challenge for his latest book, Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager. As Calvin admits in the acknowledgements, ‘football managers are categorised by the profundity of their pronouncements.’

Living on the Volcano takes the same structural approach as The Nowhere Men: a broad range of case studies (26 at the author’s count), where a quiet, objective narrative style prioritises the words of the subjects themselves. These range from ‘veterans’ Ian Holloway and Aidy Boothroyd to bright young things Garry Monk and Eddie Howe; from League Two survivors to Premier League personalities. Even cutting through the bluster of the likes of Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers, there is honest insight to be found throughout.

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‘When we piece together the jigsaw of what makes a successful manager, it contains shards of bone, scraps of sinew and slithers of grey matter.’ As Calvin’s words neatly summarise, no two managers’ stories, situations or approaches are exactly alike; some have expensive technology at their fingertips and swear by it, some pride themselves on a persona of self-belief, and others have little more to work with than old-fashioned man-management.

However, what Living on the Volcano does so brilliantly, is pick up the recurring threads. The ‘band of brothers’ mentality that emerges is built on a mutual world of uncertainty, frustration, and ‘recurrent rejection and renewal’. Each chapter is cleverly connected to the next to reflect the fluid nature of the managerial merry-go-round. The importance of father figures is clear, whether that be mentors within the game or personal heroes outside of it. In such a pressurised profession, the support network is key, as is maintaining perspective. ‘All right, we all want to win, and we might lose our job, but there are a lot of worse things in the world,’ Wolves manager Kenny Jackett stresses.

And whether they’re discussing neuro-linguistics or ‘developing the person and the player’, all managers are trying to create the best environment to nurture talent. Rodgers sees himself as ‘a welfare officer’, former Brentford boss Mark Warburton talks of ‘handling the hunger and the anger’ and Walsall manager Dean Smith describes ‘the natural sensitivities of human beings’. Within each squad, there are a range of character types to understand and get through to. It is this emotional angle that emerges as every manager’s number one challenge, whether they’re fighting for a Champions League spot or fending off relegation.

As a series of individual portraits, Living on the Volcano may seem like a book to dip in and out of. However, in doing so, there’s a danger of missing the power of the overall narrative. Bookended by former Torquay manager Martin Ling’s emotional story, this is a book about people and what it takes to do their intoxicating and exhausting job. Just as with The Nowhere Men, Calvin gets to the personal core of an impersonal industry, arguing for empathy with these ‘Poundland prophets’ and their ‘desperate ambition, absurd pretension and ritual sacrifice’. Living on the Volcano might not make the job any easier, but it should make you give your manager a little more time.

Buy it here