Los Demás: Spanish Football Stories

Sometimes football journalism can feel pretty two-dimensional. If isn’t the mainstream media reporting on the biggest stories, it’s those awful click-bait sites reporting on the biggest ‘stories’. So thank goodness for the less fickle storytellers like These Football Times, The Blizzard, The Football Pink and now Los Demás.

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This exciting new, long-form journalism project, focusing on the best stories from all across Spain, is the brainchild of Nick Dorrington, Colin Millar, Euan McTear and Pål Ødegård. I caught up with Nick to learn more about the idea, the inspiration and the plan of attack. If you like the sound of Los Demás, don’t forget to back the Kickstarter project!

1. Talk me through the inspiration for this project. I know all four of you are very experienced Spanish football writers but was there a breakthrough, meeting-of-minds that kickstarted (pun intended) this?

The initial idea was mine. I was in Argentina researching a piece on the origins of Mauricio Pochettino. The ex-president of the youth team in his hometown of Murphy said something that really resonated with me. He said that many people think football is just about the big clubs, about Boca Juniors or River Plate, but the reality is that it is in small towns like Murphy that football lives on a day-to-day basis. There was something attractive about that idea to me, and Spain seemed like the ideal setting in which to explore it further.

There are journalists based in Spain doing excellent work but the reality is that the majority of mainstream coverage is focused on Barcelona and Real Madrid. We wanted to offer something a bit different and in Colin, Euan and Pål, I found three superb writers who shared my vision for the project.

2. Am I right in thinking that the content will be mostly historical and social, rather than match reports and current updates? Do you have any examples of the sort of content that subscribers will be receiving?

Yes, that’s right. We will be looking for stories that shed a light on the clubs, communities, players and personalities who best represent the vibrant and diverse culture of Spanish football. For example, there are stories to be told of the grassroots supporter movements at clubs who were or are in danger of going out of business. Or of a small, otherwise unremarkable, town that has produced a number of Spanish internationals. Or of a supporter who is older than the club he supports. Stories like these, stories about people and communities, will be at the heart of our work.

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3. I’m interested in the production values – will there be images/illustrations alongside the text?

The plan at the moment is for the focus to be on the quality of the writing. The presentation will be clean and simple.

4. Is your aim to cover all Spanish clubs except Barcelona and Real Madrid, or will the content be audience-driven? Will subscribers get a say in what you write about?

Our aim is to cover the most interesting stories we can find from all over Spain – be that player, team, city or region-specific. I think it will be a largely organic process for the first year or so. But perhaps after that we will sit down and mark out the teams and regions we haven’t yet covered in order to ensure that our coverage is as widespread as possible. We will, of course, always be open to story tips from readers.

5. Would you say that this project is in some ways the result of a mainstream sports media that is rejecting long-form journalism?

Yes, I think it can be seen as a reaction to that, which isn’t to say that there aren’t outlets out there for long-form journalism. For example, The Lab at Bleacher Report has produced some excellent pieces. But these outlets are mainly interested in content that relates to big-name teams or players. It can be hard to find somewhere to place more character-driven pieces that don’t rely on an established name as a hook.

6. Again on the subject of long-form journalism, what made you decide on the crowdfunding subscription model rather than the traditional print book?

We felt that the crowdfunding model offered us the best chance of making a sustained success out of the project. Publishing on a monthly basis will allow us the freedom to explore interesting stories as they develop, instead of being tied to a single deadline as we would be for a book. It will hopefully also serve us in building our readership over time as word spreads about our early pieces.

7. Finally, do you have a 140 character sales pitch for potential subscribers?

Love Spanish football? Then help support in-depth, long-form journalism on the untold stories of the Spanish game by backing Los Demás.

Click here to learn more and back the Kickstarter project

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

 

Sergio Kun Agüero: Born to Rise

Born to Rise: My Story

By Sergio Kun Agüero and Daniel Frescó

Trinity Mirror Sport Media, 2015

Aguero.jpgOn first glance, Born to Rise: My Story looks like classic Christmas football fan fodder. On the cover, Agüero roars out of a football pitch in a plain light blue shirt (Manchester City obviously refused to give image rights), his Elvish tattoo on display. His name is big and central, next to that of his best friend Lionel Messi, who provides a pretty insipid three-page foreword.

However, take a second look, and you notice the size of the book. At 540 pages, Born to Rise is a hefty tome, the football autobiography equivalent of an old-school epic. So what exactly is there to fill all of those pages? The answer is – shock horror – plenty.

But first, a bit of a spoiler: this isn’t really an autobiography, or even a David Winner/Dennis Bergkamp-style fusion. There are first-person Agüero extracts dotted throughout but this is largely a biography written by Argentinian journalist Daniel Frescó.

On the whole, this format is a positive thing, especially for Agüero’s early years in Argentina where Frescó is able to call upon an impressive array of personal and professional sources. 200 pages into the book and ‘Kun’ is still only 13 years-old, excelling in the Independiente youth teams. For British fans, this incredible, pre-City detail is surely a real selling point. Perhaps most interesting of all is the groundbreaking financial/legal relationship between Agüero and the IMG group. And if you feel things are moving too slowly, there are boxes detailing his career highlights (debut, first goal, the Premier League winner against QPR) peppered throughout.

The downside to the format is that at times, Born to Rise feels a little too much like a propaganda piece. Agüero’s controversial departure from Atlético Madrid (he refused to celebrate goals as he tried to force through a transfer) is described in the dry language of a PR document: ‘throughout these times, Sergio left nobody in doubt as to his allegiance towards Atleti, identifying with the club’s values and adopting them as his own, as for him befits such a compliment. Elsewhere, the writing reads like a CV: ‘Kun had learnt to balance the obligations that come with such prominence with being able to enjoy his free time.’

These detours into bland biography aside, Born to Rise is a refreshingly comprehensive look at one of the best footballers in the world, and particularly the rise itself, from dirt pitches in an Argentinian slum to international tournaments and top European league titles. 500-plus pages may seem daunting if not excessive but Agüero’s rags to riches story is certainly worth reading.

Buy it here

Eibar The Brave

Eibar The Brave: The Extraordinary Rise of La Liga’ s Smallest Team

Euan McTear

Pitch Publishing, 2015

9781785310362I blame Castel di Sangro. Joe McGinniss’ 1999 classic set the bar too high for tales of sporting underdogs. Those expectations just aren’t realistic and the clue is in the title; ‘The Miracle of Castel di Sangro’ refers not just to the on-field triumphs but also to the once in a lifetime off-field access. Will we ever see the like again? Judging by Euan McTear’s Eibar The Brave, the answer is probably not. What is sadly missing from this excellent book about Spanish football’s greatest overachievers is the voice of the actors themselves. What was it like to go from playing in Segunda B to Primera division in just two seasons? I don’t really know. We hear from La Liga experts Sid Lowe, Guillem Balague and Jason Pettigrove but with the exception of Derby County’s Raúl Albentosa, the players are largely silent. Eibar is described as ‘the most relaxed football club in Spanish football’s top flight’; the Ipurua Municipal Stadium is never locked, and yet the closest we really get to the action is the crazy fans.

Rant over because despite this, against the odds, Eibar The Brave succeeds in bringing this incredible story to life. Like Eibar manager Gaizka Garitano, McTear does a fantastic job with somewhat limited resources. His match reports/diary entries are full of character, humour and affection, even when the scoreline doesn’t deserve it. The will-they-won’t-they story of their 2014-15 La Liga debut is neatly woven throughout, with space in between to delve back into the history books. Eibar The Brave is brilliantly researched, taking in the post-civil war founding of the Basque club, its promotions and relegations, its heroes (Xabi Alonso and David Silva amongst them), its stadium, its enterprising president and, most importantly, its fans. The Eskozia La Brava group in particular gets the airtime it deserves for providing such amazing ánimo in a stadium of 6,000 people, in a city of just 27,000.

In less than 200 pages, McTear even finds time to explore the wider issues at play in Spanish football, touching on financial regulations (with Eibar and Elche at opposite ends of the debt scale), TV rights, cup competitions, fan violence, regional politics and la cláusula del miedo. As such, Eibar The Brave is an informative guide to a league that you may watch but not necessarily always understand. The ins and outs of relegation head-to-heads, for example, take a bit of explaining to those schooled in goal difference.

This overall picture that McTear paints so engagingly serves to reiterate the special, if not unique, nature of Sociedad Deportiva Eibar. A debt-free, ‘family’ club that acknowledges its ‘natural home’ is in the third division, and yet finds itself playing against goliaths like Ronaldo and Messi on a weekly basis; a team that respects and involves its fanbase and gets undying love in return from all over the world. The unbelievable tale of Eibar certainly isn’t over, and hopefully McTear will be on hand to narrate the next instalment, perhaps with some new friends to keep him company.

Buy it here

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