Football autobiographies that should be translated into English

  1. Se uno nasce quadrato non muore tondo by Gennaro Ivan Gattuso (Biblioteca Univ. Rizzoli)

Gattuso.jpg

  1. La mia vita normale by Pavel Nedved (Add Editore)

Nedved

  1. Simeone partido a partido : si se cree, se puede by Diego Pablo Simeone (Plataforma Editorial S.L.)

Simeone

  1. Giocare da uomo by Javier Zanetti (Mondadori)

Zanetti

  1. En Kamp Til by Claus Lundekvam (Cappelen Damm)

Lundekvam

  1. Der Wahnsinn liegt auf dem Platz by Jens Lehmann (Kiepenheuer&Witsch)

Lehmann

  1. Erfolg kommt von innen. by Oliver Kahn (Goldmann Verlag)

Kahn

  1. Der feine Unterschied by Philipp Lahm (Droemer Knaur)

Lahm

  1. Capitaine by Marcel Desailly (Stock)

Desailly

  1. La parole est à la défense by William Gallas (Editions du Moment)

Gallas

  1. Bleu ciel by David Trezeguet (Hugo Sport)

Trezeguet

  1. Tout Simplement by Claude Makelele (Editions Prolongations)

Makelele

 

Das Reboot

Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World

By Raphael Honigstein

Yellow Jersey Press, 2015

Das RebootEngland qualified for Euro 2016 at a canter, the only team with a 100% winning record. And yet Roy Hodgson’s side has never looked convincing or, perhaps more importantly, exciting. In nine months we’ll build our hopes up just to see them dashed once again. Few fans would disagree that a long-term strategy is needed, a major overhaul of the current creaking system. The blueprints are clear for all to see – France 1998, Spain 2010 (Graham Hunter’s Spain is the book to read) and Germany 2014. So I couldn’t help reading Raphael Honigstein’s Das Reboot with the Three Lions in mind.

Before I compare and contrast, let me first say that Das Reboot is a brilliant book; insightful, well-written and well-structured. Guardian journalist Honigstein is clearly a man in the know but there’s never any danger of the guest stars stealing the show. Klinsmann and Bierhoff represent the management, while Lahm, Müller and Mertesacker are the most vocal of the World Cup-winning squad. There are even chapters written by ex-players on the 2006 and 2010 tournaments; Thomas Hitzlsperger and Arne Friedrich respectively. Honigstein plays the Matthäus-esque libero role throughout, orchestrating but also bringing plenty of skill of his own. His writings on Müller, Khedira and Kroos, and the Bayern-Dortmund rivalry, are particular highlights.

As the subtitle suggests, Das Reboot is a book about the German journey – ‘how German football reinvented itself and conquered the world’. Honigstein uses the 2014 World Cup success as the central narrative thread but then weaves the history around it. The millennium is the starting point, the wake-up call, as Die Mannschaft lose to England and finish bottom of their Euro 2000 group. In true Hollywood style, footballing visionaries and a band of talented brothers come together to overcome complacency and tradition, and win the sport’s greatest prize.

Fitting tributes are paid to the trailblazers; Dietrich Wiese, the man behind ‘a revolution in youth development’ which saw the creation of certified academies at a cost of £1billion to Bundesliga teams; the revolutionaries Rangnick and Klopp who overthrew the sweeper system with their philosophy of gegenpressing (high pressing); and Klinsmann and Bierhoff, the men credited with starting the project in the face of widespread scepticism. The basics of the project were simple – ‘the law of larger numbers…more coaching for more talents equalled more skilled football players’. The execution, however, was an intricate endeavour.

There is a lot for England to learn in Das Reboot – the accessibility of academies, strong links with schools, a certification regime, the importance of large numbers of qualified youth coaches. To a certain extent, it is about ‘attention to the little, easily fixable things that cumulatively made all the difference.’ However, what is most striking in Das Reboot is the intelligence of the players, and this is not necessarily replicable. Müller jokingly describes himself as an ‘Interpreter of Space’ – it’s hard to imagine Raheem Sterling or Ross Barkley saying something similar.

For the coaching system to work, the German players must think for themselves and take responsibility. There is a ‘culture of accountability’ that in theory could certainly benefit English players but do they have the cognitive powers to make that work? In Das Reboot, there is a great story about stats technology being introduced to Die Mannschaft. What starts as a tool for the coaches to give players things to work on becomes a social point for the players, as they discuss tactics amongst themselves. Education and communication lead to a more democratic, winning environment.

‘Football has become a mind game’ is one of Honigstein’s take-home messages in Das Reboot. ‘To get better in the modern game translates into taking in things more quickly, analysing them more quickly, deciding more quickly, acting more quickly.’ Rangnick’s vision of football doesn’t take shape overnight. To create a generation of Müllers, Lahms and Schweinsteigers you need the best youth coaches working with talented and engaged young players from the earliest age possible. In England’s case, you need to break everything down and start again. As Weise says, perhaps with our fuddy-duddy FA in mind, ‘there will always be smart people with good ideas. But the key is for them to be in a position to actually implement their ideas.’

Buy it here

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

9781780893273

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.

9781781315125

 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

51MRXQMm0eL

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.

A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke

A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke

By Ronald Reng

Yellow Jersey Press, 2012

‘He could only lose … if everything went as planned, Barca would win 3-0 or 4-0 and no one would mention the goalkeeper. If it went wrong, he would get the blame.’ It’s 2002 and Robert Enke’s Barcelona debut, a Copa Del Rey tie against minnows FC Novelda. It’s his first chance to impress but in the new surrounds of Spain, under pressure from manager Louis van Gaal to conform to Barca’s sweeper-keeper tactics, the German keeper is too anxious to see the positive side. What follows is one of sports writing’s greatest chapters. Lower league journeyman Toni Madrigal scores a hat-trick in his team’s historic victory over the La Liga giants. Enke isn’t solely culpable for any of the 3 goals he concedes and yet defender Frank de Boer breaks ‘an unwritten law in professional football: never criticise your team-mates in public’. And thus begins his first bout of depression.

Explaining why A Life Too Short surpasses other sporting biographies is simple; it’s the absorbing, larger-than-sport story of a talented and likeable individual, told by a skilled writer with an intimate understanding of his subject matter. As such, it’s a brilliant and unique proposition, a winner by default. What’s more important to convey, therefore, is why this book is quite so significant in a wider context. It’s the twinned themes of sport and mental health but it’s more nuanced than that, a question of tone and perspective.

Reng narrates the tragedy of his great friend with gentle comprehension and understated emotion. In other, more Hollywoodized hands, Enke might have become the greatest keeper that ever lived, a saint between the sticks. Instead, he is a sensitive and sometimes flawed human being, a highly talented but not unimpeachable footballer, ‘a warm-hearted person who believed that humility isn’t a bad character trait, even for a goalkeeper’. With its blend of psychological detail, anecdotes and interviews, A Life Too Short has a remarkably personal feel. Reng is greatly assisted by Enke’s diary-keeping and his intelligent and perceptive self-analysis. When the crowd cheers a great save during his comeback at Tenerife, Enke offers an important reminder of the motivational bond between player and supporter – ‘That was what I missed most, that feeling that what you do is important for somebody’. Elsewhere, he confesses to close friend Jörg, ‘Football turns you into someone who always wants more, who’s never content.’

Rarely have the mental pressures of sport been laid so bare. Early on we’re told that Enke ‘developed a mechanism for turning inner nerves into outward peace. Only very rarely did the mechanism break down.’ At Borussia Mönchengladbach, he concedes 15 goals in 2 games and yet rises above the chaos with dignity and composure. He even copes with a difficult transition to Portugal at the tender age of 21. But when this mechanism does break down, the effects are devastating. Following the Novelda episode, Enke notes in his diary, ‘All the self-confidence I built up in three years at Lisbon has been taken away from me.’ He can’t stop playing the errors over in his head and becomes terrified of his perceived weakness for crosses. Ultimately, he lacks the mala leche that maintains the likes of Victor Valdes and Oliver Kahn; anxiety consumes him. As his close friend Marco Villa puts it, ‘If all you have is football, and it goes wrong, you’re left with nothing but doubts.’

The subtle grip of the narrative is such that it’s possible to forget the tragic conclusion we already know. You’re rooting for Enke as he rediscovers his love for the sport at Tenerife and then Hannover, as his performances earn him a recall to the national side and even the coveted No.1 jersey. You worry about his mental stability but with a loving wife, close friends and a baby daughter, it’s hard to see what can go so horribly wrong. But that, in a way, is the message of the story. Depression is an illness that hits suddenly, often without an obvious trigger. It leaves you physically and mentally exhausted, reducing the mind ‘to a tiny crack through which only negative impulses could slip’, and yet a sufferer can still struggle through their daily life without letting on. Until, that is, they see suicide as the only escape from the darkness. ‘Perhaps this book will do something to help depressives find more sympathy and understanding’, Reng says in the epilogue. A Life Too Short’s myth-busting insight into the tragedy of Robert Enke will achieve this and much, much more.

Buy it here