Football Books 2015

The football season is drawing to a close and the holiday season is just beginning. For those that can’t bear to leave the beautiful game behind, there’s only one solution: beach reading. With the help of the best sports publishers around, we’ve collated the best football books around so you don’t have to…

BackPage Press

Neil White: We’re working with Arena Sport on ‘DIEGO COSTA: The Art of War’, translated and updated from Fran Guillen’s Spanish edition of last year to include the World Cup, Costa’s transfer to Chelsea and this season’s dramas. Due out 16th July, more info here

Diego-Costa

We’re really excited about ‘The Five-a-Side Bible’ which we’re developing with Freight Books and 5-a-side.com for an October release. That’s going to have lots of funny stories from the world of 3G, as well as tips from the best fives players in Britain, a five-a-side bucket list and much more. If you play short-sided football, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.

Around the same time, we should have ‘PUSKAS: Madrid, Magyars and the Amazing Adventures of Football’s Greatest Goalscorer’ done. We’re working with Freight Books on that, and it’s written by Gyorgy Szlossi, who heads up the Puskas Academy in Budapest, founded the Puskas Award with Fifa and remains a close friend of the Puskas family.

Pitch Publishing

Paul Camillin: The first half of 2015 sees a variety of titles being added to Pitch Publishing’s ever-growing football list​, including biographies, autobiographies and club-specific titles.

For those who lament the modern game, and feel somewhere along the way football took a wrong turn, losing touch with fans. The Ugly Game by Martin Calladine is a passionate, funny book of essays, and sets out to put football right by comparing it, often unfavourably, with American football, a sport, perhaps surprisingly, that’s showing how money need not destroy fairness and competition.

Ugly Game

Soccer in Stilettos by Liam Newman is a definitive look at the rise of women’s football, telling the inspirational story of how the female sport has slowly but surely stepped out of the shadow of its male counterpart to become the truly beautiful game that it is today. With the future of the sport looking brighter than ever, how did football finally show sexism the red card?

Of the club titles, one is already proving popular with Leeds United fans, and flying off the shelves. Jon Howe’s The Only Place For Us is the A to Z history of Leeds United’s Elland Road home, revealing the stories behind its past uses, famous features and characters – plus fires, gypsy curses and escaped pantomime horses. Using archive research, insiders’ insights and fascinating photos, Jon Howe retraces the intriguing historical journey of one of Britain’s most iconic football grounds.

Then on the autobiography front we have Moody Blue, the self-told-tale of former Rangers legend Marco Negri and Luggy, the story of journeyman manager Paul Sturrock.

Ockley Books

This Yorkshire-based publisher’s small but finely-crafted football list is one of the best around. Current highlights include Adam Digby’s Juventus: A History in Black and White and Roger Domeneghetti’s From the Back Page to the Front Room: Football’s Journey Through the English Media.

I think the best, however, may be yet to come. It’s pretty rare these days that you hear of a football book and think ‘Wow, why has no-one written about that before?’ The Agony & The Ecstasy: A Comprehensive History of the Play-Offs by Richard Foster is definitely one of the most exciting ideas I’ve heard in a long time. You can read an extract here.

Playoffs

Trinity Mirror Sports Media

Hardback:

Danny Higginbotham Rise of the Underdog, RRP £16.99

Danny Higginbotham has always been honest. What he lacked in natural ability as a footballer, he made up for in raw passion and commitment.

He started his football education under the greatest – Sir Alex Ferguson – at his beloved Manchester United. After a headline-making loan spell in Belgium, he embarked on an eventful career journey, taking in stops at high-flying Derby County, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke City.

Sharing Premier League dressing rooms and pitches with some big names, he experienced both sides of the modern game – from the gut-wrenching agony of relegation to the champagne moments of reaching Wembley. Along the way, he worked under charismatic bosses like Jim Smith, Harry Redknapp and Roy Keane – who delivered the most bizarre team talk he’s ever heard. At Stoke, he learned about the team-bonding tricks of Tony Pulis.

As honest and whole-hearted as his career on the pitch ‘Rise of the Underdog’ is the entertaining inside story of how an ordinary lad worked his way up the professional ladder, learning the lessons it takes to survive at the highest level of the English game.

Underdog

Paperback:

Sergio Aguero Born To Rise, RRP £8.99

‘A must-read for any football fan’ Daily Mirror

Sergio Aguero is one of the top strikers in world football, but his rise to superstardom hasn’t always been smooth. Born into poverty, his life story Sergio Kun Agüero: Born to Rise is fascinating and a real story of talent, desire and the guidance of good people helping him to overcome adversity.

The book features a foreword from his best friend, Lionel Messi, and includes colourful dressing room revelations about his fellow countryman and other stars he’s encountered on his journey. This is a book every Manchester City fan will want to read, but also any football fan who is fascinated by that elite group of world greats who were touched by destiny and born to rise.

Leon Osman My Autobiography, RRP £8.99

“Fascinating” Liverpool Echo

LEON OSMAN has been at Everton FC since he was ten years old and in that time has witnessed major changes at the club and within football. A fixture in the Blues’ team for the past decade, Osman’s humour and thoughtful nature shines through in his revealing and entertaining autobiography.

Osman provides a unique insight into Moyes – the man and his methods – as well as many of the big personalities he has played alongside, such as Duncan Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Tim Cahill, Thomas Gravesen, Mikel Arteta and Phil Neville.

Filled with entertaining tales and anecdotes from his life at Everton, Osman’s story is fascinating and inspiring.

Best of the Rest – top 5 new releases

  1. Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin
  2. Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga by Ronald Reng
  3. Money and Football: A Soccernomics Guide by Stefan Szymanski
  4. Eibar the Brave: The Extraordinary Rise of La Liga’s Smallest Team by Euan McTear
  5. Balotelli: The Remarkable Story Behind the Sensational Headlines by Luca Caioli

Calvin

Best of the Rest – top 5 paperback releases

  1. Thirty-One Nil: On the Road with Football’s Outsiders by James Montague
  2. Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick by Ben Lyttleton
  3. ¡Golazo! : A History of Latin American Football by Andreas Campomar
  4. Louis van Gaal: The Biography by Maarten Meijer
  5. In Search of Duncan Ferguson: The Life and Crimes of a Footballing Enigma by Alan Pattullo

Twelve Yards

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

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimović

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimović

By Zlatan Ibrahimović (told to David Lagercrantz)

Penguin, 2013

‘It was a fairy tale, and I was Zlatan Ibrahimović.’ If you’re looking for a book that confirms everything you thought about the modern football mindset, this may well be it. There are fast cars, tattoos, video games and fights (Van der Vaart, Zebina, Mijhailovic, Onyewu to name but a few) galore. Of his Ajax, Inter Milan and Barcelona teammate Maxwell, Zlatan admits, ‘I’m surprised he got to be so good. Guys that nice don’t usually make it in football. You’ve got to be tough and hard’. ‘Hate’ and ‘revenge’ are words that occur again and again here; Zlatan’s story is one of thriving on the former and striving after the latter.

It might not surprise you to hear that Zlatan can ‘bear incredible grudges’; against the middle-class parents who started a petition to get him ejected from his youth team, against the Malmo management who cheated him out of money in his Ajax transfer, against every reporter who’s ever condemned him, against the Swedish team for sending him home from international duty, against cowardly Guardiola who ‘destroyed my dream’. I am Zlatan is packed with Godfather-style tales of retribution – ‘I don’t forget … I remember, and I get my own back’. There are several sizeable chips on Zlatan’s shoulder, not least his class/ethnic background and his relationship with his one-time alcoholic and distant father (‘I’d been trying to get attention all my life’). The wronged victim stance gets a little hard to stomach at times (on arrival at Ajax, he’s too poor to stock his fridge because he’s spent it on a Mercedes) but it’s all part of the man, the myth.

As is the money. ‘A footballer’s career is short’ he philosophises. ‘He’s got to look after his own interests.’ I am Zlatan covers five transfers (not including PSG) and is at its most fascinating when dealing with Ibra’s role in proceedings. The significance he attributes to them is striking; ‘There’s one game on the pitch. There’s another on the transfer market, and I like them both’. With the help of his mafioso agent, Mino Raiola, Zlatan pushes for transfer after transfer – from Ajax to the bright lights of Italy where ‘footballers are gods’, from Serie B-condemned Juventus to superstar-less Inter, from Champions League-less Inter to Spanish giants Barcelona and then from Messi’s Barcelona to superstar-less AC. There are mind-games aplenty; for his move to AC, Zlatan tells Barcelona that he will only sign for rivals Real – ‘the idea was that those guys would become so demoralized, they’d have to let me go cheap, which would help us get a good personal contract.’

Money, fame and success are the priorities, and in larger quantities than anyone else. ‘Everybody’s interested in the one who’s number one’, we’re reminded again and again. Zlatan chooses Inter over AC first time round because he doesn’t want to play second fiddle to Kaka, while if we read between the bitter lines, Barça doesn’t work out because of their no-star philosophy. In case you hadn’t realised, Zlatan isn’t exactly a model ‘team player’ – he wants teammates in the way a general wants an army behind him. Just as he looks to have bucked the trend at Inter by bonding the club’s many cliques, he tells you he negotiates an improved contract in return. The book is full of record boasts, whether it be transfer fees, goals scored or the number of Barca fans that turned up for his unveiling. He emerges as a figure who isn’t exactly hard to please, just expensive and tiresome.

But is there anyone who Zlatan doeslike? Without spoiling too much, Ronaldo and Van Basten emerge as heroes, while Maxwell, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Henrik ‘Henke’ Larsson and Olof Mellberg are players he trusts and respects. In terms of managers, Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho are the two that emerge unscathed and, in fact, adored. Capello is credited with developing his ‘winner’s mindset’ during his spell at Juventus, while at Inter Mourinho was ‘a guy I was basically willing to die for’. With Capello, it’s the mental toughness that Zlatan admires but with Mourinho it’s the added personal touch that wins him over.

Because for all the posturing, Zlatan is a figure who needs to be loved. The ambition to entertain is as key on the page as it is on the pitch. You don’t read this for the historical detail (in the Bosnian War, his father’s town ‘was being raped, more or less’) or the insider’s view on the Juventus match-fixing scandal (‘we were the best and had to be brought down’). You read I Am Zlatan for the cult of ‘Ibra’, for the prima donna antics and boastful lines like ‘An injured Zlatan is a properly serious thing for any team’. As much as it’s a fairy tale, it’s also pure pantomime.

Buy it here