The Football Book Calendar – August to November 2016

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August

Angels With Dirty Faces: The Footballing History of Argentina – Jonathan Wilson

The Roar of the Lionesses: Women’s Football in England – Carrie Dunn

Ring of Fire: Liverpool into the 21st century: The Players’ Stories – Simon Hughes

Hope – Hope Powell

 

September

A Yorkshire Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of a Sporting Powerhouse – Anthony Clavane

The Bottom Corner: A Season with the Dreamers of Non-League Football – Nige Tassell

No Nonsense: The Autobiography – Joey Barton

Fearless: The Amazing Underdog Story of Leicester City, the Greatest Miracle in Sports History – Jonathan Northcroft

Bayern: Creating a Global Superclub – Uli Hesse

The Wenger Revolution: Twenty Years of Arsenal – Amy Lawrence

The Manager – Ron Atkinson

Martial: The Making of Manchester United’s New Teenage Superstar – Luca Caioli

 

October

My Turn: The Autobiography – Johan Cruyff

Jamie Vardy: From Nowhere, My Story – Jamie Vardy

Saturday, 3pm: 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football – Daniel Gray

Tunnel of Love – Martin Hardy

The Man in the Middle: The Autobiography of the World Cup Final Referee – Howard Webb

The Football Ramble – Marcus Speller, Luke Aaron Moore, Pete Donaldson and Jim Campbell

 

November

Pep Guardiola: The Evolution – Martí Perarnau

The Illustrated History of Football – David Squires

Hail, Claudio!: The Man, the Manager, the Miracle – Gabriele Marcotti

Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game –  Karl Ove Knausgaard and Fredrik Ekelund

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.

Touching Distance

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.

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