Raheem Sterling! Gareth Bale! Wayne Rooney!

DinoBooks_Banner

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?!

978178418646397817841864569781784186470

To buy the books, click here

Advertisements

O, Louis

O, Louis: In Search of Louis Van Gaal

By Hugo Borst

Yellow Jersey Press, 2014

Van GaalWhen Louis Van Gaal agreed to become the next manager of Manchester United, he sparked yet another war. This time, however, it was literary, a war of words written on the page rather than words spoken at a press conference. No offence meant to Maartin Meijer’s Louis Van Gaal: The Biography, but of the two translations released in 2014, Hugo Borst’s O, Louis was certainly the more intriguing. The Yellow Jersey Press seal of approval certainly helped, as did the sinister cover photo decorated with the Dutch manager’s own quotes.

So what exactly is O, Louis? Well, it’s certainly a strange one. 32 pages in and Borst makes an announcement; ‘You might be expecting this to be chronological…This is not a biography.’ Instead, the book turns out to be a bizarre, Woody Allen-esque exploration of one man’s obsession, and the subject of that obsession. As such, it’s part biography, part autobiography, part ‘tribute’. ‘Some of this book is about me’, Borst admits. ‘That’s inevitable given that my obsession with Louis Van Gaal has taken on grotesque proportions.’

The pride, the candour, the loyalty, the arrogance, the suspicion, the hidden warmth, the outbursts of righteous indignation – the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager is certainly an engrossing character, with far more enemies than he has friends, especially among the media. In short, sharp, non-sequential bursts, O, Louis presents each period of Van Gaal’s career in football, as well as each of the parts that make up his complex character. The prose is witty, analytical and frank, representative of the more daring approach of the Dutch football press. It’s hard to imagine a British journalist suggesting that Sir Alex Ferguson had ‘all the mobility of a slug on sandpaper’ and living to tell the tale.

‘Objectivity has never been my strong point’, Borst warns the reader, but for the most part, that statement does him a disservice. His own narrative may be somewhat irrational but he’s the first to admit Van Gaal’s split personality; the bad and the good, ‘a crazed loon and a consummate professional sharing the same body’. Borst’s own views are presented alongside media transcripts and a series of interviews with less biased authorities. His choice of interviewees – including a novelist, a priest, a psychiatrist and a spin doctor – is unexpected but there’s plenty of intellectual insight on offer. Theatre director Luk Perceval, for example, is fascinated by Van Gaal’s ‘blend of spiritual leader and prima donna.’

The problem with O, Louis is that the obsession gets tiresome, as obsessions always do. There’s only so much desperate discussion of Van Gaal’s poor communication skills and father-complex that one can take before the question begged is, ‘So what?’ 140 pages build up to the revelation of why Borst and Van Gaal have fallen out and it’s an anti-climax of petty proportions. Comedian Theo Massen quite rightly tells Borst that he shouldn’t expect Van Gaal ‘to be a good coach and to act more or less like a normal human being’. However, that doesn’t stop him from trying to pin every possible psychological condition on Louis – narcissistic personality disorder, schizophrenia, autism. Thankfully, psychiatrist Bram Brakker is on hand to speak some sense: ‘Putting any label on a colourful character like him would be to sell him short.’

As it must, the book’s journey ends with a resolution of sorts following Holland’s surprising performance at the 2014 World Cup. At the beginning of the book, Borst says ‘There are few things I want more in life than to understand Louis.’ By the end, he is arguably no closer to understanding Van Gaal but what he does understand is that it’s time to let go. O, Louis is a funny, often frustrating, but ultimately unique and rewarding look at a top manager’s mindset. Now for LVG vs Mourinho, Part Two…

Buy it here

Pep Confidential

Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich

By Martí Perarnau

BackPage Press, 2014

PepHaving read Another Way of Winning, Guillem Balague’s biography of Pep Guardiola, I felt pretty familiar with The Philosopher and his work. But Martí Perarnau’s Pep Confidential is another level of intimacy entirely; where Balague offered a well-focused panorama of Barcelona 2008-12, Perarnau delivers the equivalent of Team Cam. Bayern Munich 2013-14 – one year, one team, one very special manager. This is unrestricted access of the kind Castel di Sangro gave Joe McGinniss, combined with intelligent insight of the kind Philippe Auclair provided for Cantona and Henry. Rarely, if ever, has one season been so intricately and rigorously explained.

The detail is extraordinary, if a little overwhelming. Pages and pages are dedicated to training regimes and tactical minutiae. Rondos, pivotes, the False Nine, zonal marking – like the Bayern players, the reader is quickly immersed in Pep’s football ‘language’. Numbers, too, feature heavily – the law of 32 minutes, 4 second pressing, 40m running, 15-pass moves, the 16 ‘starter’ squad, the defensive line starting 45m from goal. There is even a stat for the average amount of time Pep spends gesticulating during a game (70% in case you wondered). And then there are the formations, many of which Pep and his staff invent in the early hours of the morning like mad scientists: 2-3-2-3, 4-1-2-3, 4-2-1-3, the successful 3-6-1 and the disastrous 4-2-4. In November’s 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund, Bayern move through four systems in one game.

As well as Pep Master Tactician, Pep Confidential also showcases Pep Master Man-Manager. When his head’s not buried in game plans and video analysis, Guardiola is busy ‘squeezing’ the talent out of his players, whether that be developing his protégé Pierre Højbjerg, massaging the egos of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, consoling the injured, or teaching important new roles to Javi Martinez and the pivotal Philipp Lahm (pun intended). As a result of this generosity of spirit, players are quick to buy into his ideas. Dissenters are few and far between, with Mario Mandzukic the only named rebel. Rather than a stubborn visionary, Pep emerges as an open-minded lover of the game, eager to learn from German football and vice versa.

Pep Confidential feels like the kind of dossier Guardiola himself would love to read about each and every team he faces: exhaustive, repetitive, obsessive to the verge of insanity. 120 pages in and the season is just starting in early August; 300 pages in and the season-defining defeat to Real Madrid is mentioned for the first time. Perarnau opens the book with Guardiola’s fascinating conversations with Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and chess proves a very apt point of reference throughout. ‘Patience and passion. Guardiola’s two main weapons’ – for Pep, perfect football is tac-tac-tac (never to be confused with the dreaded tiki-taka) then pam!, deft midfield dominance leading to incisive, goalscoring chances. The one time he betrays this principle, his team are beaten 4-0 at home by Ronaldo and co. and knocked out of the Champions League. As Karl-Heinz Rummenigge puts it, ‘he deserted the middle of the pitch and opted for much more direct football’. On this occasion, Perarnau loudly condemns Pep’s choice of tactics, but then Guardiola has always been his own harshest critic.

As brilliant a portrait of Guardiola as it paints, Pep Confidential is perhaps most significant in its study of a team’s momentum over a season. Following on from the treble success under Jupp Heynckes, it’s a story of Bayern Munich trying to maintain focus and desire in the face of exhaustion and complacency. Hot on the heels of the joys of March, come the woes of April. As Perarnau concludes, ‘a team is a living entity, not a frozen image. It grows and flows, retreats and advances – a team is the sum of all its successes.’

Buy it here

You Don’t Know Me, But…

You Don’t Know Me, But: A Footballer’s Life

By Clarke Carlisle

Simon & Schuster, 2014

Along with most of the football-loving population, I have a natural scepticism when it comes to player autobiographies. Like the ‘True Scotsman’, they tend to be all bluster and skirt, with nothing underneath. Messrs Keane and Bellamy aside, few footballers are daring enough to name and shame their fellow professionals, and understandably so. With so many players extending their careers in football through coaching and media work, burning bridges at retirement is to be avoided like the plague. There is, however, another kind of honesty, one that doesn’t play on scandal but instead offers genuine insight into the realities of footballing life. Clarke Carlisle’s You Don’t Know Me, But is a winning example of this. Touching on everything from finances to dressing room politics via addiction, depression and racism, it’s a real breath of fresh air in a fusty genre.

In many ways, Carlisle is an atypical member of the footballing fraternity. He’s won two rounds of Countdown, presented documentaries on racism and depression, and he’s the former Chairman of the PFA. While it’s not the main focus of the book, Clarke’s cerebral side is still given plenty of platform, particularly in ‘Part of the Union’, one of the book’s stand-out chapters. Discussing FIFA’s response to racism, Carlisle argues, ‘There is a disgusting disparity between the sanctions imposed for offences that will cost the governing body money and those that are unethical or immoral.’ He goes on to add, ‘It is not the exclusive remit of black players to fight racism, it is for everyone to fight.’ Carlisle is equally eloquent and forthright on the subject of his own alcohol dependency and depression, brought on by a bad injury at the tender age of 21. ‘I didn’t have the wherewithal to face my responsibilities. From my warped and clouded viewpoint, all I could see was myself.’ Carlisle reflects on his troubled past with the frank assessment of a man who is very aware of his fortunate position.

But in other ways, Carlisle is incredibly typical. As with Tony Cascarino’s Full Time, You Don’t Know Me, But… is written by a footballer who has been through the English leagues, experiencing both great highs and great lows. Blackpool, QPR, Burnley, Preston, Northampton, York City – Carlisle is no superstar and he knows it. In his own words, he’s ‘a kid from Preston, from the humblest of beginnings and with moderate ability’. The modest, unaffected narrative voice is a really appealing feature; for all his more high-brow aspirations, Carlisle is full of the joys of the ‘playground’ banter that brings a team together: ‘It’s incredibly immature, but the whole working environment of football is.’ Whole chapters are dedicated to pranks, fights, preseason tours and Christmas parties. The tone of the book reflects the combination in Carlisle’s character brilliantly, blending his intelligent observations with cruder touches of humour.

The structure of You Don’t Know Me, But… is also a real masterstroke and key to the book’s success. What better way to address the harsh realities of football than by showing a former Premier League player scrapping for a living in the belly of League Two? Carlisle’s present day trials and tribulations, interwoven with flashbacks to a career of success and failure, paint a very powerful portrait of an average football career. Transport, housing, bills; these are still everyday concerns for all but the very top players, and even then, there is always the danger of the good life being whipped out from under your feet when you least expect it.

It seems an odd phrase to use for a footballer’s autobiography, but You Don’t Me, But… is a multi-faceted memoir. In its candid handling of mental health issues, so long a taboo in the macho sporting arena, it’s a significant addition to books by the likes of Sol Campbell, Keith Gillespie and of course Ronald Reng. But Carlisle’s book also addresses some of the key issues of modern football politics and, perhaps most significantly of all, offers everyday details from the largely everyday career of an endearingly everyday footballer.

Buy it here

Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino

Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino

By Tony Cascarino with Paul Kimmage

Simon & Schuster, 2000

No offence to Tony Cascarino but a true superstar could not – and would not – have written Full Time. Honesty and humanity, which are the book’s greatest strengths, are native to the seasoned grafter with a knowledge of both success and failure. Cascarino is an expert on both sides of the coin. He might have been an early million pound man who played in 2 World Cups and the top divisions of England, Scotland and France, but he also started out as a hairdresser, spent nine years in the lower tiers of the football league and then at least three more failing to live up to great expectations. So there are few better placed to offer a candid insight into all aspects of the beautiful – and not so beautiful – game.

‘We drive flash cars and wear flash suits and behave like flash pop stars; and we shape and mould the truth about our lives and present ourselves as shiny, happy people in the pages of Hello.’ As a glimpse behind the glamorous façade of football, Full Timeis equal parts entertaining and sobering. Remote and remorseful in his end-of-career exile, ‘Cass’ is quick to acknowledge he’s a somewhat negative tour-guide. ‘Careers in football are like divorces’, he tells us, ‘there are few happy endings – they always end up bad.’ The striker’s memoir is as much about the mistakes made and the secrets kept as it is about the goals scored. In his own words, ‘In football, it’s not what you are but what you appear to be that counts.’ Nothing’s really changed.

What Full Time conveys brilliantly is the ups and downs of a life in football, from game to game but also from second to second. There are the moments of feeling ‘bulletproof’ as one of the kings of Jack Charlton’s Ireland in the early 1990s, eating and drinking without caution, winning big in card schools and sneaking back into hotel rooms after nights with female fans. But there are also the moments when the aches add up and the doubt creeps in: ‘For as long as I can remember, there has been a little voice in my head that highlights my weaknesses and undermines my confidence.’ Cass knows more than most strikers about loss of form and the tough mental battle to regain it. ‘Becoming a multi-million pound player was the worst thing that ever happened to me’ is a pretty powerful statement to make.

Paul Kimmage does a fantastic job of finding a suitable tone for the book, blending the cruder style of footballing banter with the more elegant prose of reflection and regret. An anecdote about throwing Phil Babb’s skid-marked pants to hysterical groupies is followed by ‘The craving we have to be someone. The magnetic lure of fame.’ The book’s closing line – ‘We win, we lose, the manager bangs the table. But we answer to ourselves’ – is worthy of great literary fiction. In weaving the contemporary French strand through the telling of the past, Kimmage maximises the poignancy of a man looking back at the twilight of his career.

Full Time’s original selling point was the scandal surrounding Cascarino’s false Irish heritage. Nearly fifteen years on, in a world where Adnan Januzaj could have chosen to play for England, it seems one of the book’s least intriguing angles. Instead, it’s the personal indiscretions that engross, and Cascarino’s heart-felt desire to make amends for them. Now living with his second wife and their daughter after a painful and drawn-out separation, Cass is no saint and he knows it. But in the renaissance of his own father and the indifference of his two sons, he has the best inspirations for redemption. Why should you read Full Time? In Cascarino’s own wise words, ‘Because there’s more to football than the ninety minutes of a game and more to the people that play it than a 5 in the ratings.’

Buy it here