Four Football Books to Read in Early 2017

1. Above Head Height: A Five-A-Side Life by James Brown (Quercus, Feb 2017)

above-head-height

In December 2015, former NME and GQ journalist James Brown wrote a very moving tribute to one of his teammates who passed away. The article struck a real nerve with the ever-growing five-a-side fraternity and this book will surely expand on the weird and wonderful camaraderie that exists between people who only meet for an hour every week. Novelist Tony Parsons has gone so far as to call it ‘The Fever Pitch of five-a-side’.

2. Shades of Blue: My Life in Football and the Shadow Within by David White and Joanne Lake (Michael O’Mara, Feb 2017)

David White played for Manchester City for eight years, between 1985 and 1993. He’s always been a club legend but in the last few months, he’s entered the national spotlight as one of the first brave men to go public about sexual abuse at the hands of former Crewe Alexandra youth coach, Barry Bennell. This promises to be a groundbreaking account and in Joanne Lake (co-author of I’m Not Really Here, a groundbreaking account of depression in football), White has the perfect support.

3. Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend by Andrew Downie (Simon & Schuster, March 2017)

socrates

I’ll be honest – I was a little sceptical about this one at first. Sure, it’s got a great cover but do we need another book on a Brazilian legend? The answer, as it turns out, is absolutely yes because this is an unusual biography about an unusual player. Downie is in possession of unparalleled insight; ‘he has had exclusive access to Socrates’s unpublished memoir and many of the tape recordings left by Socrates’. So I think this will be a special book indeed.

4. Nolberto Solano: Blowing My Own Trumpet (Mojo Risin’ Publishing, March 2017)

solano

I’m a big fan of cult footballers and they don’t get much bigger than Sir Nobby of Newcastle. Judging by his Twitter account, I reckon the little Peruvian has plenty of tales to tell about his time on Tyneside. ‘Armed with a lifetime of memories and his trusty trumpet,’ the publisher website states, ‘Solano reveals all in a story filled with hope and punctuated by painful life lessons.’ I can’t wait for this one.

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Football (auto)biography covers analysed

‘Make his/her face as big as possible – that’s what sells!’ That, I imagine, is a reoccurring comment in publishing houses around the world. I doubt a designer’s eyes have ever lit up at the words ‘Football book’ but the likes of Ronald Reng’s Matchdays, Raphael Honigstein’s Das Reboot and Jonathan Wilson’s Angels With Dirty Faces show what a bit of thought and effort can achieve.

So what about (auto)biographies? What can be done to spice things up, to make the often forgettable contents within that bit more bearable? I’m no expert but here are a few things to consider:

1. Action Shots
Lionel Messi is a footballer – he plays sport on a pitch wearing either the light blue and white stripes of Argentina or the azulgrana of Barcelona. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to see him posing in the locker room wearing plimsolls.

Messi

Duncan Ferguson was a footballer – he played in blue for Everton and loved shouting at everyone, including referees.

Ferguson

2. Colour
I’m all for a bit of black and white when it comes to classic players like Pirlo and Bergkamp. But you know it’s gone too far when Keith Gillespie is getting in on the act.

Keith Gillespie
The halfway house is a horrible beige. They might suit the supermarket shelves but Rio and Stevie have never looked so dull.

Gerrard

I’m pretty sure I’ll never read Didier Drogba’s autobiography but at least it looks a little enticing (although back to my first point about his outfit).

Drogba

3. Fun
This might not suit every player but it’s perfect for the likes of Bullard, Parlour and Dudek. Sometimes you’re just looking for some good stories and a bit of a laugh.

Parlour

4. Not Just a Pretty Face
Sometimes (Keith Gillespie, for example), it’s not all about the looks. It’s about the bigger picture, and Big Sam means business.

Allardyce

5. Creativity

Here’s where we step into uncharted territory. What if we took a picture of a player in action and added some tasteful, colourful flourishes like you would see on most other books? I’ll leave you to ponder that.

Exclusive: deCoubertin Books to publish Ron Atkinson memoir

Ron

I might have my finger firmly pressured on the football book pulse but I don’t get many exclusives, let alone really juicy ones. However, today I can reveal that deCoubertin Books will publish Ron ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson’s autobiography on 15th September and yes, a certain controversial commentating incident may just get a mention or two. As might Dion Dublin, fingers crossed. The Independent’s Tim Rich will be Ron’s sidekick and if the book jacket and title are anything to go by, this book is destined to be a timeless classic. 

Read the full press release below:

deCoubertin Books will publish the memoirs of legendary football manager, Ron Atkinson, this autumn.

Atkinson is one of English football’s most recognisable and popular characters, having been involved in management for a quarter of a century.

He remains the only Englishman to have won major trophies with three different clubs: Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa. At West Bromwich Albion, he was one of the first managers to promote black footballers, including Laurie Cunningham, who went to Real Madrid, Cyrille Regis, who became an England international, and Brendon Batson MBE.

After retiring from management, Ron evolved into one of the most familiar and popular commentators on football. Yet that career came to an end in April 2004 with a single, unguarded comment about the Chelsea defender, Marcel Desailly. Atkinson was labelled a racist and driven from the game he loves.

In The Manager Ron Atkinson delves into the highs and lows of an extraordinary career that took him from non-league football to Old Trafford’s theatre of dreams in the space of seven years. He almost managed two Midlands clubs – Aston Villa and West Brom – to the league title. But behind the familiar image of the bling and one-line quips Ron Atkinson was – and remains – a deep observer of football and footballers.

Ron Atkinson said: ‘I thought this was the right time to be telling the story of my life in football. It began in 1954 when I was a ground staff boy watching in awe as Ferenc Puskas trained in the rain at Molineux when foreign footballers were looked on as alien beings. Football has changed completely and in a sense my career in the story of that change.

‘I wanted to give a proper portrait of the people I have worked with; men like Laurie Cunningham, Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath and Paolo di Canio and those I’ve commentated on, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. I also want to go into not just the fabulous stories from my time managing the likes of Manchester United, Aston Villa and Atletico Madrid but to analyse where they are now.

‘This is also an opportunity to discuss the Marcel Desailly affair and my fight to prove that I am not a racist.

‘I have collaborated with books before but this is my full autobiography, the story of my life.’

deCoubertin Books founder and principal James Corbett said: ‘We’re thrilled to have Ron on board and we hope that his book re-asserts his reputation as one of the finest and most innovative managers of his generation. The book transcends the clichéd version of Ron and shows him as a serious, thoughtful individual with trenchant views on a game he has given so much to.’

Atkinson has collaborated with the Independent’s Tim Rich on the book, which will be published on 15 September. Four signed special limited edition versions of 250 copies commemorating his time at West Brom, Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa will also be available in October.

Sergio Kun Agüero: Born to Rise

Born to Rise: My Story

By Sergio Kun Agüero and Daniel Frescó

Trinity Mirror Sport Media, 2015

Aguero.jpgOn first glance, Born to Rise: My Story looks like classic Christmas football fan fodder. On the cover, Agüero roars out of a football pitch in a plain light blue shirt (Manchester City obviously refused to give image rights), his Elvish tattoo on display. His name is big and central, next to that of his best friend Lionel Messi, who provides a pretty insipid three-page foreword.

However, take a second look, and you notice the size of the book. At 540 pages, Born to Rise is a hefty tome, the football autobiography equivalent of an old-school epic. So what exactly is there to fill all of those pages? The answer is – shock horror – plenty.

But first, a bit of a spoiler: this isn’t really an autobiography, or even a David Winner/Dennis Bergkamp-style fusion. There are first-person Agüero extracts dotted throughout but this is largely a biography written by Argentinian journalist Daniel Frescó.

On the whole, this format is a positive thing, especially for Agüero’s early years in Argentina where Frescó is able to call upon an impressive array of personal and professional sources. 200 pages into the book and ‘Kun’ is still only 13 years-old, excelling in the Independiente youth teams. For British fans, this incredible, pre-City detail is surely a real selling point. Perhaps most interesting of all is the groundbreaking financial/legal relationship between Agüero and the IMG group. And if you feel things are moving too slowly, there are boxes detailing his career highlights (debut, first goal, the Premier League winner against QPR) peppered throughout.

The downside to the format is that at times, Born to Rise feels a little too much like a propaganda piece. Agüero’s controversial departure from Atlético Madrid (he refused to celebrate goals as he tried to force through a transfer) is described in the dry language of a PR document: ‘throughout these times, Sergio left nobody in doubt as to his allegiance towards Atleti, identifying with the club’s values and adopting them as his own, as for him befits such a compliment. Elsewhere, the writing reads like a CV: ‘Kun had learnt to balance the obligations that come with such prominence with being able to enjoy his free time.’

These detours into bland biography aside, Born to Rise is a refreshingly comprehensive look at one of the best footballers in the world, and particularly the rise itself, from dirt pitches in an Argentinian slum to international tournaments and top European league titles. 500-plus pages may seem daunting if not excessive but Agüero’s rags to riches story is certainly worth reading.

Buy it here

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