Spring 2017 – The Best Football Paperbacks

MARCH

Soccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful Game (Pro Edition) by David Sumpter

Maths doesn’t have to be boring and pointless. Instead, it can teach us fun and fascinating things, even about football. Especially about football, according to applied mathematician David Sumpter. Whether you’re a player, a coach or a fan (or all of the above), you’ll never look at statistics, tactics and analytics in the same way again. The Pro Edition paperback has updated content and a great new cover.

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APRIL

Quiet Leadership: Winning Hearts, Minds and Matches by Carlo Ancelotti (with Chris Brady and Mike Forde)

As Bayern Munich’s recent demolition of Arsenal showed, Ancelotti is still a manager at the very top of his game. Quiet Leadership combines Carlo’s own stories with the reflections of many of the biggest names in football including Cristiano Ronaldo, Paolo Maldini and Sir Alex Ferguson. Like Sir Alex’s Leading, this is a book with a massive dual market: sports fans and business people.

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Mister: The Men Who Taught The World How To Beat England At Their Own Game by Rory Smith

The British invented football in the 19th century and messengers spread the word to other nations around the world, who quickly became better at the sport than us. It’s a familiar story but no-one has written about those first football pioneers with as much style, craft and detail as New York Times Chief Soccer Correspondent Rory Smith. A new cover for the paperback would have been nice but Mister is a highly-recommended read.

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Ring of Fire: Liverpool into the 21st Century: The Players’ Stories by Simon Hughes

First Red Machine looked at the 80s, then Men in White Suits looked at the 90s and now Ring of Fire looks at Liverpool in the 2000s. Simon Hughes’ journalism is exceptional, bringing together insightful stories from Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Gérard Houllier and many more. You don’t have to be a Liverpool fan to enjoy this book but it certainly helps.

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MAY

Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius by Oliver Kay

This was my favourite football book of 2016 and one of the William Hill Sports Books of the Year. Forever Young is a surprising, enthralling and emotional tale about talent, ambition, disappointment and personality. Trust me – Manchester United’s Adrian Doherty will soon be your new favourite player. In a world of agent-controlled Twitter accounts and bland player interviews, this is a real breath of fresh air.

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And The Sun Shines Now: How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain by Adrian Tempany

This hugely significant book explores the sporting and political environment that led up to the Hillsborough Disaster in April 1989, as well as the aftermath and the ground-breaking rise of Premier League football. Above all, it’s a book about the fans and how gentrification and commercialisation has affected their experience of football. The new paperback cover is fantastic and should help to bring And The Sun Shines Now to an even bigger audience.

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Alexis Sanchez! Luis Suárez! Eden Hazard!

First we brought you the exciting stories of Bale, Rooney and Sterling and now we’re back with three more must-read titles for football mad 9-12 year-olds. Enjoy!

Alexis Sanchez: The Wonder Boy

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This is the story of the Arsenal superstar’s incredible journey from the streets of Tocopilla to become ‘The Boy Wonder’, a national hero, and one of the most talented players in the world. With his pace, skill and eye for a goal, Alexis is now one of the Premier League’s biggest stars. The story is every bit as exciting as the player.

Read all about Alexis’ exciting childhood, his rise through Chilean football, his partnership with Antonio Di Natale at Udinese, his time with Messi and co at Barcelona, and his amazing first season at Arsenal.

Luis Suárez: El Pistolero

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Follow the Uruguayan’s winding path from love-struck youngster to Liverpool hero to Barcelona star. Grabbing goals and headlines along the way, Luis chased his dreams and became a Champions League winner. This is the inspiring story of how the world’s deadliest striker made his mark.

Read all about Luis’ move to Europe, his World Cup adventures, his brilliant time at Anfield with Steven Gerrard, and his big money move to Barcelona to join Messi and Neymar.

Eden Hazard: The Boy in Blue

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This is the thrilling tale of how the wing wizard went from local wonder kid to league champion. With the support of his football-obsessed family, Eden worked hard to develop his amazing dribbling skills and earn his dream transfer to Chelsea.

Read all about Eden’s days as a child prodigy in Belgium, his trophy-winning days in France with Lille, his development under José Mourinho, and his incredible rise to become a league champion at Chelsea and the best player in the Premier League.

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A Patient Man: The Career of John Obi Mikel

On a cold December night, John Obi’s phone rang. It was Victor Moses. It was so easy to forget about Victor – was he still a Chelsea player?

‘They say Guus is coming back!’

The news left John Obi with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it would be nice to feel wanted again but on the other, it would mean a lot more playing and a lot more running. On balance, the negatives seemed to outweigh the positives. John Obi had always been happy to play understudy to the likes of Nemanja Matić, Claude Makelele, Michael Essien and Steve Sidwell. He wasn’t a 45-games-a-season kind of midfielder but he could accept that. There was honour in treading water.

He did, however, have very fond memories of that 2008-09 season. First Big Phil and then Guus; finally, two managers who had really understood him. With box-to-boxers like Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack alongside him in midfield, John Obi could stick to his favoured middle third. He was nominated for club player of the season. If it had been a more acceptable sport for men, he would have loved to play netball. What some critics saw as laziness, he preferred to think of as ‘discipline’. He did it all for the team.

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He could still remember arriving at Stamford Bridge for £16million in 2006. The Chelsea fans were delighted because they’d pipped Man Utd to the post. He was young, tall and strong and he was the second best player at the 2005 Under-20 World Cup behind Leo Messi. But John Obi couldn’t understand the fuss; he wasn’t a replacement for Eddie Newton, he wasn’t the new Celestine Babayaro. He couldn’t even do a back flip. All he had was a rotating name and a wayward shot.

From day one, Mourinho had never liked him. John Obi turned up a little late for training five times in his first few weeks and the next thing he knew, Jose had questioned his commitment.

John Obi Mikel, Cesar Delgado

‘Most of the time you don’t even tackle enough to get booked!’ José complained but John Obi would never be Lee Catermole. He liked to wait and pick his fights carefully: Kolo Touré, Phil Neville, Mark Clattenburg. ‘We have different values’ was all John Obi said to his best friend Salomon Kalou. He couldn’t abide his manager’s very strict preference for work-rate and passion from his defensive midfielders. Even the sideways pass was being outlawed. He found it hard to fit into such futuristic plans.

But while others moved on, John Obi stayed put. Some critics called him a parasite but he had a long way to go to reach Winston Bogarde levels. Drive just didn’t come naturally to him. When Benoit Assou-Ekotto took his title as the Premier League’s least interested player in 2010, he was annoyed but not enough to do anything about it.

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At the 2013 African Cup of Nations, Nigerian fans called for ‘the other Mikel’. John Obi was confused.

‘Do they mean Arteta?’ he asked teammate Efe Ambrose. ‘I think he’s Spanish.’

‘No, I think they want you to pass forward and sometimes run into the penalty area to shoot,’ Efe replied.

John Obi tried but he wasn’t Victor Moses.

In 10 seasons, he had scored just one Premier League goal. Against Fulham, John Obi found himself in the penalty area for an attacking corner. The defenders had never seen him before and left him to his own devices. Terry knocked a header down and he tucked it away like a striker. It was a very happy day.

There had been many of those. In the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, he played the full 120 minutes. Jamie Redknapp told the world that John Obi was ‘literally putting our fires everywhere’. He had never felt so tired in all his life.

But when Mourinho returned to Chelsea, he bought Matić straight away. John Obi could imagine the conversation:

José – I need a midfield enforcer.

Roman – What about Mikel?

José – I said a midfield enforcer.

John Obi was playing fewer and fewer games and there was talk about a move to Russia. He went to speak to Mourinho.

‘John Obi, you’re like four-fifths of a plug. You can fill a gap for a little while but ultimately, things will get through.’

It was a nice analogy. He nodded and waited for The Special One’s downfall. Now Guus was returning and John Obi would lace up his big boy boots once more to play the leading role.

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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.

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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.

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