Football autobiographies that should be translated into English

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


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


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


  1. Giocare da uomo by Javier Zanetti (Mondadori)


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


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


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


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


  1. Capitaine by Marcel Desailly (Stock)


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


  1. Bleu ciel by David Trezeguet (Hugo Sport)


  1. Tout Simplement by Claude Makelele (Editions Prolongations)



George Rinaldi Interview

The first few months of the year tend to be a pretty barren time in sports publishing. We’re reading our Christmas presents, we’re watching football on TV and we’re saving money in every way possible – these are the sales theories. I can’t speak for everyone but I find myself crying out for new books by February. Thankfully, Pitch Publishing read my mind and they’ve served up a real winter warmer: George Rinaldi’s Calcio’s Greatest Forwards. It hit the shelves on 15th February and the author was kind enough to answer my prying questions.


1. So how does a 20 year-old go about getting a book contract?

Ha! Well I turned 21 two days before release but we’ll pretend I’m still 20 for my own sake! It was an odd experience in all honesty. I always wanted, from a young age, the chance to write a book whether it was fiction or non-fiction. For some bizarre reason at the tail end of my gap year I started putting things into place to make a self-published book, so I did a bit of research around that and then started writing it. What I wasn’t aware of was that when people pitch their books to publishers that most, if not all, of the book was already done! I was handed a contract with about 15,000 words on the table out of a targeted 80,000! It was tough work but I really did put so much effort into this. I wanted something to replicate my work for years to come.

2. Why did you pick forwards? Why not Italy’s most famous creation, the defender – Baresi, Maldini, Cannavaro? Or is that the next project?

Oh good question. I thought first of all that maybe a mixture called “Calcio’s Greatest” would work, with say 20 odd players from all positions, but forwards just have that certain interest pinned to them. I wanted people to know about Gunnar Nordahl and Silvio Piola in the same way Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti are seen. I may choose to do another with extra players who missed out or revise it at a later date.

3. 21 is an odd number to pick! You mention in the introduction that 20 was the target. Who was the one that you couldn’t quite let go?

Well, I had it all signed off with 20 players originally and had to crack on with that due to time restraints. I didn’t want to, say, add 25 players but those extra five weren’t properly researched like the rest. It would have felt rushed, and not worthy for people to read and learn of. I worked out, with the time I had, I could do the 20 I wanted. There was no one I could let go but I had a time window for both myself and the illustrator (Josh Clifford) to get one more done. So I made sure Marco van Basten was there, as I’d stupidly not included him!

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4. And in a similar vein, who was Number 22, just missing out on the final cut?

Ronaldo, George Weah, Omar Sivori and John Charles. They were the four, bar Luca Toni, who I just couldn’t keep over the others, even though some value Ronaldo as above pretty much all of them. I felt more has been done on Ronaldo elsewhere though, and I thought the ones I picked gave a good mix. I did want Weah, but I didn’t have the time. Sivori and Charles came down to the fact I had Boniperti, and they crossed over very closely. I’d have done Charles alongside him, but again time was the issue.

5. What was the hardest part of the writing process?

Probably the extensive research into publications from La Gazzetta dello Sport, La Stampa, Corriere della Sera etc. They have some wonderful pieces from the early stages of Serie A, but finding the right source to access them was tough. I had to exchange a variety of e-mails to get those as close to factually correct as someone can do in that situation. I even debunked a few myths on Giuseppe Meazza, which I was quite proud of regarding his goalscoring stats.

6. The illustrations – the Steve Welsh cover, the Josh Clifford portraits, the Paine Proffitt images – are a great touch. How did that come about?

Steve was my aim from the off. I had seen his work everywhere and I loved his Roberto Baggio illustration. We came to an agreement for the cover and he took my long-winded e-mail and managed to craft it into my image. Paine was kind enough to allow me to use his work for free, having asked him to do the nostalgic paintings for the players pre-1970. He’s a wonderful man and his work is of the highest quality, it was too good a chance to pass up. As for Josh, it was very fortunate on my part. One of my friends knew Josh, and asked me to send him an e-mail to show me what he can do. He did two practice ones – Meazza and Totti – and they were incredible. They all work seamlessly together which was a nice surprise!

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7. Why do you think so many of the attackers featured either never left Italy (Totti, Inzaghi, Del Piero) or did but failed to reach the same heights (Shevchenko, Crespo)?

Well, sometimes your home is your home. Totti came down to his mother’s wishes, and with Del Piero and Inzaghi it’s just where they were comfortable. Remember, they were playing at a time when Italian football was probably the best league in the world. It wasn’t really until the tail end of noughties the league curtailed somewhat. Because of that, it’s why players like Edinson Cavani moved on, same goes for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Italy isn’t what it was. It can return to its former glories at some point, but I doubt it’ll ever be what it was.

In regards to Sheva and Hernan, I think a lot of people forget that Crespo actually had a decent goals-to-games record for Chelsea. For Andriy it just didn’t work out for him. He worked wonders for Kyev then at Milan, but the move to England saw his decline. It wasn’t just the climate or the new league to adjust to, considering he went back to the Rossoneri and was then voted the flop of the season.

8. If you could write a whole book about just one of Serie A’s 21 finest attackers, who would it be?

Gigi Riva, all day every day. This man went through the works to achieve his greatness with Cagliari. He lived in poverty, had his parents snatched from under his nose and still went on to guide his side to their first and only Scudetto. There’s so much more to tell, and if I could do so, I would, but like Valentino Mazzola I don’t think my words at this stage could do him justice!

9. And finally, who do you predict will be the next great Calcio forward?

Tough one. Paulo Dybala has what it takes to be one of the best in recent years since his move from Palermo but it depends how long he’ll last at Juventus. Even being a Fiorentina fan, I hope it’s for his entire career, as his sort of talent can attract some good names over to L’Italia. As Crespo said, Messi and Ronaldo don’t want to step foot in Serie A. We must change that. We’ll try our best, Hernan.

Buy Calcio’s Greatest Forwards here

Baresi’s Story

The 1994 World Cup final was a grand, tense affair but most of it passed me by. Only the penalty shoot-out woke me from my trance. I’d fallen in love, but not with the mischievous guile of Bebeto or Romario. It was an Italian defender who had caught my eye, and not young, wild-eyed Maldini. No, it was Franco Baresi, the captain, making possibly his final appearance for his beloved nation in the biggest game of all. And what a game he played.

Even now when I watch the footage, Baresi has the look of a man approaching fifty so you can only imagine how old he looked to a six year-old me. The wispy head of hair atop the deeply furrowed, prominent brow, the grimacing, the hobbling, the hand on the lower back. This aching man the bastion to fend off a Brazilian siege? It seemed impossible. What pace he’d ever had was all but gone but it didn’t matter when you could read the game as he could. Like fine wine, the football brain matures with age; by thirty four, Baresi’s was a rare vintage.

Not a single stride was wasted; he knew exactly where the ball would go and thus where he needed to be. He charged forward to intercept, he beat men to the ball. On the back foot, he blocked once and then twice, and then a third time if needed, the ball magnetically drawn to his outstretched feet. Where possible, he moved the ball with composure and grace, but then never has a man made the Row Z hoof look like such a cultured decision. His socks slumped to his ankles but Baresi fought on. Surely he had the gods on his side.

But in the end, they abandoned him. At the final whistle, he sank to the ground in agony. His teammates surrounded him, doing their best to revive their fallen leader. When an ambulance cart carried him off the field, it seemed his greatest day was done. But the best stories never end there; heroicism is relentless in its pursuit of glory.

Somehow, Baresi returned to take the first Italian penalty. On the edge of the area, he stood trying to shake the tiredness from his legs, a tragic figure in waiting. With the last of his energy he ran towards the ball and kicked it with all his might. It sailed over the crossbar and into the sea of fans behind the goal. The captain fell to his knees, his hands thrown over his face to hide his pain. The Divine Ponytail of Baggio would go on to miss the decisive penalty, but this will always be Baresi’s story.


Andrea Pirlo: I Think Therefore I Play

I Think Therefore I Play

By Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato

BackPage Press, 2014

A love of Woody Allen and cinema in general; an appreciation of ‘philosopher’ as ‘a nice compliment’; the secrets of great free-kick taking; ‘I’ll sometimes come home after training, light the fire and pour myself a glass of wine.’ These are the kind of insights you’d expect to glean from the world’s classiest footballer. You won’t be disappointed but Andrea Pirlo is not a man to rush things, or to sell himself short. So instead of the comfort of the lounge, I Think Therefore I Play begins at the negotiation table of a Milan office. It turns out l’architetto is everything you knew and loved, and much more.

Don’t be fooled by his graceful, unruffled appearance on the pitch; Pirlo is made of tougher stuff. A ruthless ambition reveals itself early on in the discussions surrounding failed transfers to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea respectively. He may have spent a decade at AC Milan, through great times and later more mediocre ones, but Pirlo is no Steven Gerrard. On each occasion these top European clubs came calling, the midfielder had very little hesitation in putting his own success over any sense of loyalty. This is true even in 2006, with Milan facing the threat of relegation during the Calciopoli scandal – ‘one thing I was sure of, though: I would never drop down to Serie B.’ You could almost be forgiven for thinking it was Zlatan talking, the man Pirlo brilliantly describes as ‘a ticking timebomb of a madman’. Andrea’s eventual departure in 2011, to rivals Juventus, seems to have been as seamless off the pitch as on it. I Think shows a fully-fledged convert, a die-hard Juventino, although consecutive Serie A titles certainly helped the transition. Where Rossoneri leaders Silvio Berlusconi and Carlo Ancelotti are shown affection in passing, Antonio Conte and Andrea Agnelli get their own laudatory chapters.

The ‘Olympic torch deep within’ Andrea Pirlo also comes as something of a surprise. An intense patriotism shines throughout I Think, from the Cesare Prandelli introduction right through to thoughts on his imminent retirement. In his own words, he’s ‘an Italy ultra’ with a ‘pathological devotion’ to the Azzurri. Not that at club level he’s any less passionate or determined. Defeats weigh heavily, not least Milan’s disastrous collapse in the 2005 Champions League final versus Liverpool. Pirlo reflects at length on suffering from ‘insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness’ for weeks. Winning the same fixture two years later isn’t enough; ‘we celebrated but didn’t forget’.

Don’t let the grave face on the book jacket fool you, though, because Andrea knows ‘how to laugh, loud and long’. He’s a self-confessed pirla (dickhead), and his pranks on teammates, especially Rino Gattuso, make for brilliant reading. Humour might not be something you really expected from Pirlo but what a pleasant surprise it is to find it on every page. I Think is as quotable as Anchorman: ‘When you win, burping takes priority’, ‘after the wheel, the Playstation is the best invention of all time’, ‘It’s called an assist and it’s my way of spreading happiness’, ‘much better to be a soldier on the pitch than in the bedroom’…

But then just when you think you’ve got l’architetto nailed as just one of the lads, he reveals ‘an opinion about everything’. I Think contains Pirlo’s concise but considered thoughts on a wide range of footballing issues, including racism, technology, doping and betting. Some remarks suggest genuine oratory skill; on the subject of fan violence, Pirlo argues that Serie A is ‘way behind, and we don’t seem to realise that the further we fall, the deeper and narrower the well has become’. And even Paddy Agnew would be proud of Pirlo’s metaphor for Italy – ‘I saw the inner workings of a motor car that was imperfect, full of defects, badly driven, old and worn, and yet still utterly unique.’

Co-author Alessandro Alciato and translator Mark Palmer deserve great credit for making I Think what it is – a highly entertaining footballing autobiography that foregrounds the character of the player in question. The narrative reflects the engaging, informal style used by David Lagercrantz for I Am Zlatan, but goes one step further in avoiding all attempts at chronology. Instead, with its short, sparky chapters, I Think resembles a series of loosely connected fireside chats, the natural environment for a cultured raconteur like Pirlo. And with at least two more Serie A titles won and one last World Cup this summer, here’s hoping for a second instalment. After all, as Alciato says in his Thanks, ‘when he starts talking, there’s no stopping him’.

Buy it here

Forza Italia: The Fall and Rise of Italian Football

Forza Italia

By Paddy Agnew

Ebury Press, 2007

June 2006 was a strange old month for Italy. As the Azzurri silenced their critics with a World Cup final win, their domestic game was brought to its knees by one of the biggest corruption scandals in football history. For resident reporter Paddy Agnew, this duality was neither new nor surprising; in fact, it formed the perfect conclusion to his update of this book. After all, June 2006 was the ultimate demonstration of Forza Italia’s overarching narrative: the conflicting elements within the national sport, and thus the nation. The ‘cynical skill, occasional artistry, careful organisation and inspired coaching behind the World Cup win in Germany’ at odds with the ‘duplicity, cunning, and attempted cheating that characterised Calciopoli’. Here lies the fascination of Italy.

It is with good reason that Forza Italia promotes football (calcio) as a ‘unique looking glass’ through which to examine Italy. The founding years of Serie A is the story of Mussolini and his legacy; the Maradona soap opera highlights the central, shadowy role of the Mafia; and the AC Milan glory years of Van Basten, Gullit, Maldini and Baresi help to explain Berlusconi’s controversial rise to power. Even the ‘deadly, upmarketedly serious’ reporting surrounding Sven-Göran Eriksson and his resignation from Lazio reflects a media culture that is (perhaps at times too) happy for the private to stay private. Each story presented reaffirms the fact that the two cannot be separated; ‘football is not so much Italy’s national sport as a virus woven into the DNA of the average Italian’. And the negative connotations of that word ‘virus’ often prove apt. Corruption, racism, sexism, cronyism and economic decline – all are present and correct in this well-curated sweep of a sport and a country. Yet thankfully Agnew remains a good-natured tour guide, full of open-eyed affection for the eccentric ways of his adopted homeland.

In the world of non-fiction writing, tone is always a tricky but crucial balancing act. Too personal and it becomes light-hearted travel writing; too political and it becomes weighty history. Agnew is clearly aware of these dangers; in his introduction, he rejects the notion of ‘an academic or sociological survey of Italian football’, calling Forza Italia instead ‘a personal reflection on 20 years of football-watching’. Well it is and it isn’t. Alongside the football, the early chapters cover his acclimatisation in Rome and subsequent relocation to the village of Trevignano, offering up the kind of quirky sketches found in Tim Parks’ writings on Verona. Agnew presents a country where it takes six weeks to bank a cheque but there’s a hierarchy of experts (espertos) in the local bar – ‘This was football, a serious business, and seats had to booked.’ A country where a wily rural builder called Bruno can buy ancient Roman steps for the price of ‘300,000 old lire, plus 20 fish.’

But as the book approaches the 21stcentury, these musings on Italian life fade away, replaced by an account of Italian football’s fall from grace, scandal by vicious scandal. We see its reputation tarnished by doping allegations, match-fixing, fan violence and the bribery of match and league officials. By 2006, Agnew explains, Italian football ‘like Italy itself, is stuck in a moment and does not know how to get out of it’. The detail in these chapters is impressive, the analysis insightful but on these subjects Forza Italia cannot, and should not, compete with John Foot’s nearly 700-page definitive history Calcio, unfortunately published in the same year. It’s the charm of Agnew’s own story that makes Forza Italia particularly compelling. With this in mind, perhaps its spirit would have been better served by a collection of articles, each passing from personal observations, through football, to address a larger, Italian issue.

As it is, sadly the football also gets lost amidst the minutiae of corruption. It comes as something of a shock to find the brilliantly pithy statement ‘Italian football…is different because, along with skill comes caution’ in the coda to the penultimate chapter, after lengthy discussions of everything but the beautiful game itself. Agnew’s nostalgia for the glamour of the late 1980s and early 1990s – a time when ‘the game’s subtle skills commanded respect and knowledgeable admiration and where you could watch football in some style’ – is reflected in the early impassioned portraits of Liam Brady and Maradona. But after the commendable defence of Pippo Inzaghi in Chapter 6, very few players are given more than cursory name checks. Totti, Del Piero, Ronaldo, Zidane? Unfortunately only mentioned with regards to their roles in scandal. Please excuse the cliché, but Forza Italia really is a book of two halves.

Buy it here