This is the One: Sir Alex Ferguson: The Uncut Story of a Football Genius
343 Pages, £1.60
Whether or not you like Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, or indeed the media circus which follow the pair, this book is insightful and compulsive reading.
Daniel Taylor and his journalistic peers trekked to and from press conferences with Sir Alex Ferguson every week, never sure whether they were going to be warmly embraced or cruelly dismissed. Covering the rollercoaster 2005/6 and 2006/7 seasons, this book offers a brutal, honest and occasionally emotive account of events at one of the worlds’ biggest football clubs, and of the aura behind the man at the helm.
In a diaries format, Taylor leads the reader through the trials and tribulations of 2005/6, including the epic falls from grace of Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy. This contrasts with the euphoria of 2006/7, with the league title wrestled from the grasp of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. We find ourselves at matches, at Press Conferences, before, during and after Ferguson’s occasionally explosive appearances; it is a fascinating read.
Where the book excels is in its portrayal of the Jekyll and Hyde characters of Ferguson. Journalists experience first-hand the highs and lows of developments at a football club, and Taylor successfully conveys the former Manchester United managers’ unwavering dedication to the club, and his contempt for those who tried to destabilise it.
It reminds the reader of the pressure Ferguson was under in that 2005/6 season, and of the dogged determination he and his players’ demonstrated to reverse their fortunes.
Often offensive, frequently amusing and always captivating, this book is highly recommended. 8/10
Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life
432 Pages, £6.64
Alex Bellos’ anecdote laden account of Brazil’s obsession with football documents not only the sport itself, but the way in which it culturally and emotionally dominates the nation.
Rather than focusing solely on top-level football, Bellos introduces the reader to some colourful characters; corrupt club presidents, beauty queens and players searching for glory – in the Faroe Islands.
There are, of course, chapters dedicated to giants of the game. Socrates’ diagnosis of a period of limited Brazilian national team success is insightful, as is a later appraisal of the “Ronaldo affair” at the 1998 World Cup. However, it is the parallels drawn between Garrincha and Pele which resonate the most. Whilst Pele is highly regarded, it is Garrincha who clearly captured the hearts and imagination of the people.
Domestically, wherever Barros looks at Vasco da Game and their ex-President Eurico Miranda, the corruption and chaos that used to be rife in the National and State Championships is revealed. They are fascinating sections, arguably the most enticing of the entire book.
There are occasions where the book strays into the dangerous world of “filler”. As an example, the Peledao (Big Kickabout) is an amateur football tournament held in the Amazon. It is a great example of the quirkier side of the Brazilian football obsession, but it dominates sections of the book, and it loses momentum as a result.
Overall, it is an enjoyable overview of many facets of football and life in Brazil, and it is recommended as a result. 6/10
Superclasico: Inside the Ultimate Derby (90 Minutes Shorts)
53 Pages, £0.99
Occasionally, it is nice to remind yourself that there are football rivalries outside of Europe. In Argentina, River Plate vs. Boca is a monumentally fierce and occasionally violent match up, and Joel Richards summarises their rivalry in this concise book.
Richards briefly details the history of both clubs, with River Plate being the merger of the Los Rosales and Santa Rosa clubs, with their name being taken from a European container ship which arrived at the La Boca docks. Boca Juniors were formerly Indepencia Sur, and their kit colours are based on the Swedish flag adorning another boat which pulled into port at La Boca.
Argentine football has a legacy of combustible characters and mercurial talents, and most of them have been involved in these matches at some time or another. Boca’s more recent roll-call of players includes Maradona, Caniggia, Riquelme, Palermo, Samuel and Tevez; River can offer Batistuta, Crespo, Ortega, Salas, Aimar and Falcao
It is a very short overview of a rivalry which could easily justify a more sizeable tome. What is included is good, but there remains an overriding sense of what could have been. 5/10
The Football Men: Up Close with the Giants of the Modern Game
362 Pages, £5.98
Citing inspiration from Arthur Hopcraft’s 1968 book, The Football Man, the author here profiles some of (generally) Modern football’s true legends.What defines a “legend”? Featured players include Cruyff, Matthaus, Bergkamp, Seedorf, Maldini, Romario, Xavi and Cantona. It is truly an all-star cast.
The book also engages with a range of variably qualified managers at various stages of their managerial journey; Passarella, Maradona, Wenger, Hiddink, Mourinho, Guardiola and Capello are all profiled, with varying impressions left for the reader to consider.
It is not a shallow, tabloid-esque attempt to unearth scandal, sensation or controversy. Instead, it is a considered character assasination, supplemented by the author’s own well-reasoned assessments as to the merits or otherwise of each individuals’ persona or career achievements. Highlights include the strange world of Lothar Matthaus, the interview with Glenn Hoddle, and a critique of the auto-biographies of Messrs Cole, Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard and Carragher.
The Football Men is a collection of more than ten years of Simon Kuper’s newspaper articles, and as such it is very much coffee table material. The nature of any compilation of articles, is that the book as a whole lacks cohesion, but then it is never really intended to be read as a novel.
Simple to read, often insightful and rarely running out of steam, The Football Men earns a creditable 7/10
Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World
480 Pages, £4.42
Football Manager Stole My Life
Macintosh, Iain, Millar, Kenny, White, Neil
260 Pages, £1.09
Championship Manager and the subsequent Football Manager series have been annihilating spare time for over two decades now, and this book contains fond memories from fans, scouts, Sports Interactive staff, real life players and “celebrity” gamers.
Whilst it is interesting to see the origins of the game, including a series of handwritten storyboards from the Collyer brothers, it is the anecdotal pieces which best encapsulate the spirit of the franchise, and the dedicated following it attracts.
A great addition to the book are the interviews with past legends of the game; interested in seeing what the likes of Cherno Samba, Mark Kerr, Kennedy Bakircioglu and Tonton Zola Moukoko went on to achieve in the game? It’s all in here.
Humour is a consistent theme throughout, and the contributions of Iain Macintosh are a particular high point; “I once wore a suit and played Abide With Me through Spotify before managing a team in an FA Cup final.”
This is reminiscing at its best. You won’t emerge a changed reader and you won’t learn much of substance, but once you finish reading, a few long-forgotten memories of your own will resurface. Best of all, it manages to convince you that you aren’t alone, and that a legion of like-minded FM obsessives have grown up with you, and will continue on the journey with you. 5/10
Champions League Dreams
306 Pages, £4.99
Champions League Dreams is a detailed journey through the Merseyside clubs seasons of Champions League football under Rafa Benitez’ astute control. It reveals the meticulous attention to detail that Rafa and his team of backroom staff put into each and every game. Indeed their preparation is evocative of that employed by the much-lauded Pep Guardiola, and it is a shame that outside of the red half of Liverpool, Rafa Benitez was rarely afforded the respect he deserves in English football.
As well as reviving memories of that extraordinary comeback against AC Milan in Istanbul, and successes against Real Madrid, Chelsea and other notable European triumphs, the book charts the escalation of political breakdown at the club under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
Throughout the book, Benitez’ strategic plans and his quest for continuous improvement stand out, although it does inevitably tend to focus on the achievements rather than the setbacks of his spell at Anfield. If more content relating to the challenging era of American ownership was included, a far more rounded read would have resulted.
It is clear from the outset that Benitez and his family developed (and retain) a strong bond with the city, the club and its people. It is an emotional link which endears the Spaniard to the reader, and is perhaps at odds with the often cold depiction of him in the media. Benitez tends to polarise opinions, and the tabloid press played a significant part in shaping the public perceptions of him.
Tactically it is enormously insightful, and this is possibly the critical element for the neutral Football Manager player. Benitez details the approach to key games, changes of system (including the half time at Istanbul) and this is all supported with useful graphical tactical boards. The detail he provides is sufficient to allow the reader to apply real-life footballing methodology to Football Manager; it is frankly quite disturbing!
Humour inadvertently creeps into the book, and there are a few “Alan Partridge” moments, where we learn about his desk, the colour of the Anfield office doors, and what he eats for breakfast.
Champions League Dreams offers varied content, tactical masterclasses and insight into the day-to-day running of a national institution. It comes highly recommended. 8/10
Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning: The Biography
256 Pages, £4.49
Guillem Balague’s biography of the enigmatic Pep Guardiola is a triumph. It chronologically tracks Guardiola’s career from his football roots in his home village through to La Masia and then his metronomic playing days as fulcrum of Cruyff’s Dream Team. Once his playing career at Barcelona ended somewhat acrimoniously, we learn briefly of the painful experience Guardiola endured in Italian football.
Following the end of his playing days after spells in Qatar and Mexico (which thankfully aren’t dwelled upon), Guardiola returns to Spain to take up the reins of Barcelona B alongside Tito Vilanova and embark on a remarkable coaching career. It is this period where Guardiola’s main managerial influences (Cruyff and Bielsa among others) really support and catalyse Guardiola’s own footballing ethos, and his self-critical nature reveals a sensitive side to the cool facade so often portrayed to the World’s press.
Balague writes fluently and passionately about the fragile genius of the now Bayern Munich manager, and provides enormous insight into key turning points and influences in Guardiola’s life, what he learned from those experiences, and how they have helped to shape the man we see today. He highlights the importance of men such as Vilanova, and it will be interesting to see how Pep’s onward career in Germany unfolds without the trusted support of his right-hand man.
There are fascinating details about the politics behind Spanish football, and indeed the politics within the Barcelona dressing room. A current player and his tactical role are hugely influential in the recent transfer strategy at Camp Nou, and details like this really highlight the ego massaging that is now a vital part of the modern manager’s armoury. Remember Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona? The stories behind their arrivals and departures are captured from the perspective of Guardiola and the players themselves.
Whilst Balague is an Espanyol rather than Barcelona fan, his Catalan roots do lend a touch of bias and romanticism to the book. That aside, the book portrays Guardiola as a mentor, an inspiration, an innovator, a reluctant idol and a true gentleman. Hugely impressive book. 9/10.
Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World
480 Pages, £4.42
Graham Hunter is well-known as a Sky Sports co-commentator and journalist. Having lived in and around Barcelona for over a decade, he has forged close links with the club, its players and backroom staff. His book focuses on Barcelona’s recent era of dominance, and for this reason it has a number of similarities to Guillem Balague’s excellent ‘Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning: The Biography’.
As ‘Barca’ focuses on the club, rather than Guardiola, Hunter’s book more evenly addresses players, staff and boardroom struggles than Balague’s account, and so offers a more balanced chronicle of the last decade in Catalonia. In particular, numerous well placed anecdotes relating to past and present stars make the reader feel close to the superstar players of this outstanding generation of footballers.
As with Balague’s version of events, the influence of Messi at the club is made abundantly clear. Key decisions at the club in recent years have centred around getting the best out of the Argentine genius, and the reader learns of Messi’s early years at the club, his growth hormone treatment and early unrest, the reasons behind the departures of Ronaldinho and Deco, and numerous other key landmarks in Messi’s Barcelona career to date.
There is an excellent chapter on Andres Iniesta plus a lovely section detailing “The Odd Couple”: Puyol and Pique. Where Hunter’s book excels is with its flow. It seamlessly moves through the years and intersperses key match summaries with memorable quotes from the likes of Sylvinho, Mascherano, Xavi and Valdes.
All the “usual” areas are appropriately covered. Cruyff, La Masia, the underlying philosophy of the club (and challenges to it), the rise and fall of the Rijkaard era. We learn of a potential surprise loan move for Iniesta, the club’s reluctant discussions with Jose Mourinho ahead of Guardiola’s appointment, and a number of defining moments in the recent history of the club.
If Barcelona is “More Than A Club” then this is “More Than Just Another Football Book”. As with all Barcelona books, it is sycophantic on more than one occasion so won’t be to everybody’s taste. However, it offers unrivalled access to life at one of world football’s greatest ever club sides. It is expertly written and never runs out of steam. 9/10.
The Way Forward: Solutions to England’s Football Failings
259 Pages, £6.44
As an Englishman, this book is painful reading. Matthew Whitehouse holds a UEFA A Coaching License and Master’s Degree In Sports Coaching; this book is not an founded rant. Instead, it is a well researched and thorough appraisal of the myriad reasons behind decades of failure of the England national team.
The author articulately analyses problems in the structure of the game from top to bottom and suggests solutions to address these perceived failings. He looks at the irresponsible and unnecessary investment of £1bn in a national stadium whilst the country has 10% of the number of qualified coaches that Germany and Spain have.
We learn of the influence of short-termism at elite clubs, whose quest for instant success overrides their perception of the importance of youth development. Infrastructure and governance loopholes result in club ownership models which perpetuate these failings and exploit the ambiguity of “Homegrown” rules.
Critically, the ongoing ineptitude of the FA and governing bodies throughout the English football environment are exposed. A simple parallel of our inactivity relative to the proactive stance of the German DFB post Euro 2000 in particular is uncomfortable to read and actually rather infuriating.
Consider if you will that Germany had won Euro ‘96 just 4 years prior to the Euro 2000 debacle with England’s only notable success having been 30 years prior to that. Germany and England were eliminated from the same group, at the group stage. The DFB immediately reacted by building 121 national talent centres run by qualified coaches to focus on technical and tactical training. At a league level all clubs in the top two tiers were obliged to build academies with the stipulation that 12 players at each intake must be eligible to play for Germany.
England appointed a new manager.
It is a thought-provoking and intelligently constructed series of observations. England fans can only hope that it isn’t just they who read it but the Old Boy’s club at the FA who may finally realise that they are largely to blame for 50 years of stagnation for English football. 9/10.
158 Pages, £2.99
I read this book after rattling through a few ghost-written autobiographies and it made a refreshing change. Bicycle Kicks sees Simon Hood chronicle a season where he attempts to cycle to each of York City’s games: 50 matches, 10,000 miles. For someone who doesn’t even drive half that distance in a year, it is an inspiring and frequently amusing anecdote-laden journal.
The book excels with its depiction of the “warts and all” nature of lower league football, and successfully conveys the arduous nature of the cycling challenge the author set himself. As you progress through the book, you get a real sense of just how difficult that task was. He faces broken bikes, appalling conditions, fixture rearrangements and long journeys in short spaces of time. Can he make it through the season without succumbing to the incessant lure of public transport?
There is a great sense of camaraderie and human spirit throughout the book whether in the form of people he meets on the rides, rival supporters at the games or local hoteliers who support him on his travels. It is well-balanced and successfully blends the football, cycling and even a fair amount of non-league footballing history into a single, coherent package. Highly recommended and a welcome break from the norm. 7/10
484 Pages, £3.59
Eric Cantona is one of my footballing heroes. He was a beacon of light at the start of a period where English football was functional at best. His talismanic quality inspired Leeds United to a title and then heralded the dawning of a new era of unprecedented success at Manchester United. Philippe Auclair comprehensively charts the enigmatic Frenchman’s journeyman career and tracks the development of one of modern football’s most complex characters.
I’m guilty of not being aware of Eric’s career prior to him arriving on British soil. Auclair’s meticulous research fills that void and leads the reader through Eric’s journey from Auxerre to Manchester and the many stops in-between. Auclair is a well-respected French football journalist and this serves to provide some great insight into Eric’s years in French football and he captures some memorable quotes along the way.
Controversy and Cantona go hand in hand and it is interesting to see just how many incidents he was involved in, prior to the most high-profile of them all – the infamous “kung-fu” kick at Selhurst Park. A highlight of the book is the way Auclair appraises the way in which Cantona’s various managers dealt with the explosive, impulsive and fragile man with the upturned collar.
This is a very detailed book and sometimes that detail does wander through periods of digression from the author which easily add 30-40 pages of superfluous content. That aside, it is a comprehensive and fascinating view into the character and footballing career of an iconic man. Unlike the player, it is very good but it is not a true great. 7/10
Stillness and Speed: My Story
Bergkamp, Dennis / Winner, David
272 Pages, £7.60
In the same way as Eric Cantona inspired Manchester United in the early 1990s, Dennis Bergkamp proved to be a catalyst behind Arsenal’s progression just a few years later. His autobiography is slightly different to the usual footballing memoirs in that it combines traditional autobiographical style, input from former colleagues and a series of short interviews with ghost writer David Winner.
When Arsenal signed Bergkamp for a club record £7.5m he was a household name having signed from Inter Milan whose matches were televised on Channel 4’s Football Italia in England. This book reveals the stark contrast between his experiences at his respective clubs. At Ajax and Arsenal he was very much a central creator whose mere presence elevated the performances of those around him (Ian Wright provides a quote which alone is worth reading the book for). His spell in Italy was prompted by a poorly executed attempt by Inter to make ground on the peerless Milan side of the era and there are some interesting appraisals of Bergkamp from former teammates and some direct ripostes from the man himself.
His early years at Ajax are documented well and give insight into the ethos at that footballing institution. The uniquely Dutch way of viewing the game features strongly throughout the book and there are some captivating sections about the Dutch national team and all of its self-destructive qualities.
Bergkamp is portrayed as a driven, intelligent, technical and tactical man. As with many books of this ilk, there are moments where the quality is spread a little thinly and the flow suffers as a result of this. In spite of that, this is a must-read for any Arsenal fan and for any fan of one of modern football’s iconic Number 10’s. 7/10
I Think Therefore I Play
Pirlo, Andrea; Alciato, Alessandro
A confession: I may just have a man-crush on Andrea Pirlo. He plays football the way it is meant to be played. For some reason, Barcelona’s arsenal of playmakers get far more headlines than Pirlo, but make no mistake – he is one of the finest creative midfielders in modern football, and is the personification of the Regista Role which appeared on Football Manager 2014.
This autobiography is a welcome, intelligent addition to a genre littered with mindless dross. Pirlo’s early struggles to be accepted as a footballer are perhaps surprising (especially given his extreme confidence in his ability, which treads a fine line at times), but once established, his career was on an upward trajectory – just like one of his Juninho Pernambucano inspired free kicks (before it wickedly dips under the crossbar).
Humour permeates the book, with training ground antics with the Azzuri and Milan being particular highlights. Rino Gattuso is a constant target of dressing room banter from the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Daniele De Rossi and Pirlo himself. Pirlo has a way with words, and he paints unique images of Silvio Berlusconi and other notable colleagues, presidents and acquaintances.
We learn of his views on the racism and match fixing rife in Italian football, the suffering Milan endured following Liverpool’s astonishing comeback in Istanbul, appraisals of referees and a desire for the introduction of more widespread technology.
Pirlo is due to retire from international football after the World Cup, and his absence from that stage will be sad. Juventus fans, football fans in general, should cherish every single one of Pirlo’s remaining passes and assists. I had high hopes for this autobiography, and was not disappointed. Indeed, I blasted through it in two reading sessions.
A thoroughly enjoyable book, with the only downside being its brevity. 9/10
The Complete Book of the World Cup
This is the most comprehensive history of the World Cup I could find. The author’s meticulous research provides the reader with match reports from every single World Cup match since its inception in 1930. It even goes as far as to document matches at the precursor to the World Cup – the five Olympic Games football tournaments staged between 1908 and 1928, which arguably crowned the first World Champions.
We learn of the line-ups, attendances (which vary wildly from source to source) and referees at each game, and the author has trawled through historic newspaper articles and match footage to provide some balance to the inevitable subjectivity which afflicted many of the original match reports.
Clearly, as the World Cup became established over time, there were advances in technology and the depth, distribution and availability of journalism, which means that the more recent matches are more comprehensively documented. However, it is impressive to see the earliest World Cup matches described in print in any form – an outstanding achievement.
It serves as an educational book. You learn of the multiple changes of format of the Finals, and it also acts as a sort of footballing genealogy lesson – want to know about the footballing heritage of Gigi Buffon? Javier Hernandez? Diego Forlan? It’s all here!
This is not a fluent novel; it couldn’t possibly be one. It is a compendium of facts and match reports, and needs to be read as such. It can be a bit of a clunky read as a result of this enforced structure, but you will not fail to learn something of interest from a book whose scope is very impressive. 7/10
Pele: The Autobiography
Pelé’s footballing genius is beyond reproach, but he always came across as a bit of an egotistical nightmare to me. Would this book change my perception of one of World football’s iconic figures?
It is nicely written in the first person, and charts Pelé’s meteoric rise from street footballer in Três Corações, through his playing career with Santos, Brazil and the New York Cosmos. His ascension from new-boy at Santos to the 1958 World Cup squad is astonishing, and I thoroughly enjoyed much of the era devoted to his early years with Santos and the national side.
There is a reasonable level of depth to the various match reports, and they give a sense of Pelé’s prowess. I’m a big fan of Garrincha and was particularly pleased to read Pelé’s appraisal of the contribution his former Seleção teammate made in numerous Brazil matches.
Running in parallel to the footballing side of the book, is the human side. Pelé seems to have been a bit of a swordsman as well as a superb footballer, and has left a trail of women in his wake in the same way as he left defenders dumbfounded at Vila Belmiro and the Maracanã. His open trouser policy yielded a number of children and grandchildren, and yet he expresses surprise that former “acquaintances” have tried to cash in on their experiences.
On a few occasions, Pelé comes across as either enormously naïve, or too quick to trust people. He certainly attempts to paint a picture of the latter, and his failings here have cost him a fortune over the years in failed business ventures.
On the whole, the book successfully conveys the genius of Pelé as a footballer, but I am left with the prevailing sense that his ego taints the ambassadorial image that he is so keen to promote. Great footballer? No question. Great man? I’m not so sure. 7/10
I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic, Zlatan; Lagercrantz, David; Urbom, Ruth
I read this shortly after completing Pelé’s autobiography. In many ways, I had preconceived ideas about both players before reading their books, but unlike Pelé’s, this one did somewhat change my opinion of the subject.
For all the pomp and ceremony that surrounds Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it rapidly becomes clear that the public persona is a facade. To me, Ibrahimovic comes across as a hugely insecure individual. It is true that he has had a relatively tough upbringing, but the way in which he continually tries to present himself as a “wild child”, seems a little misplaced. I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t the only kid who nicked the odd bike, lobbed a few rubbers about and set off firecrackers.
Aside from those attempts to paint a picture of a childhood which was perhaps tamer than Ibrahimovic would like to admit, this is an enjoyable book. Some of the language used is peculiarly innocent and naive, and you do feel that you are getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth. The book covers Zlatan’s career from the early years at Malmö FF, up until the end of his stay at Milan – just the latest chapter in his life at Paris Saint-Germain is absent.
Having expected an arrogant account of his career to date, I was instead delighted to find an open, honest and often amusing recount of one of World football’s most decorated players. It doesn’t hold back when reminiscing on the Barcelona years, and there are no holds barred when Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi are topics of conversation. An enjoyable read. 6/10.
Death or Glory!
Of the non-autobiographical World Cup themed books I read for this edition of Clear Cut Chance, this was my favourite. It isn’t a direct review of key on-pitch moments in the history of the World Cup, so look elsewhere to read about the exploits of Maradona, Pelé et al. Instead, it looks at some of the nastier social and political history which influenced the outcome of many tournaments in years gone by. The Beautiful Game? This book will make you think twice!
Jon Spurling is a terrific writer, and the sixteen chapters herein are the product of some 100 interviews with players, political figures, archivists and commentators from the periphery of some of the most tainted World Cup campaigns in history. Many people will be aware of the headline chapter – Zaire 1974, but there are numerous accounts of other, similarly controversial and shocking incidents.
We learn of the influence of the military junta at Argentina in 1978, rivalry between East and West of pre-unification Germany, the tragic story of Andres Escobar, and many more fascinating “behind the scenes” machinations.
This is more of a compilation of investigative journalism pieces than a pure football book, but it is absolutely engrossing and informative at the same time. Highly recommended for people with an inquisitive mind, and for people keen to learn more of the subtext to the Greatest Show on Earth. 8/10.
Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game
My knowledge of football outside of England’s green and pleasant land is frankly scant. To address this shortcoming, I’ve consciously started to diversify my range of Kindle purchases – starting in Russia.
Marc Bennetts lives in Moscow and has also written ‘Kicking the Kremlin: Russia’s New Dissidents and the Battle to Topple Putin’. His experiences from over a decade living in Russia enable him to secure access to some captivating interviewees, and it serves to give insight into the oil-rich, hooligan-rife and corruption laced world of Russian club football, in the post USSR era.
There are shady undertones throughout and Bennetts does a decent (if occasionally distant) job of investigating some of those unpalatable elements. In some instances, there is a sense that more perhaps could have been revealed, but Russian politics throw many a stumbling block into Bennetts’ path.
Ultimately, the book successfully conveys the journey that Russian football is on, and the impact that figures such as Guus Hiddink have had in reshaping the unique Russian psyche. 7/10
Ajax, The Dutch, The War: Football in Europe During the Second World War
Simon Kuper’s writing pedigree is beyond reproach. His level of research always results in facts to complement the prose, and this book is a fabulous example. It uses football as a social and political barometer of the mood and mentality of the nation throughout the war. More importantly, it documents the way Dutch Jews were treated in Holland at this time, and the duplicitous way in which this era has been subsequently portrayed in Holland.
As an example, Ajax had strong Jewish support prior to WWII. Jewish businessmen and players helped accelerate the clubs’ development in the 1960’s. Gentile fans of the club proudly wave the Israeli flag at games, and yet the club makes no reference to the 80% of Dutch Jews who died in the concentration camps. Why? Silence in the face of an apparently snowballing anti-Semitic culture on the terraces of rivals Sparta Rotterdam. Why?
Kuper explores the wider context of the political background of Holland at the time. His investigations paint an image of a nation struggling to accept the realities of its apathy towards its Jewish countrymen in the war; the comparison of Dutch and Danish behaviours in this period are particularly stark. The author signs off with what I take to be a pretty damning indictment of the direction modern Holland is heading in.
This book clearly touches on very sensitive subjects and is a hugely powerful and emotional book. Sometimes the flow is a little disjointed but it remains a benchmark against which similar books should be measured. 9/10
Louis van Gaal: The Biography
In the spirit of topicality, I decided that Louis van Gaal’s appointment as Manchester United manager allied to his Dutch side’s occasionally thrilling performances at the World Cup, warranted a small investment.
What I received on my Kindle was a thoroughly enjoyable book. Maarten Meijer has liberally sprinkled quotes throughout the book to support van Gaal’s journey from a bit-part player at Ajax through to his latest managerial role at Old Trafford.
Unbeknown to me at least, Louis originally viewed himself as the natural successor to Johan Cruijff in a footballing capacity at Ajax. The only minor obstacle to overcome was Cruijff himself. Somewhat amusingly, van Gaal left Ajax after a frustrating spell only for Cruijff to then depart for Barcelona! To this day, I believe that the self-confident van Gaal is still convinced that he would have amply filled Johan’s boots.
Thereafter, Meijer leads us through a sort of journeyman career of football, teaching PE and finally a meteoric rise through the annals of coaching history. There is wonderful insight into the contradictions of van Gaal’s philosophy – a disciple of Total Football who is an “ultra-individualist devoted to collective effort”.
There are fascinating revelations from his spells at Bayern and Ajax, with the farce of the civil war at Ajax of particular interest. Louis van Gaal comes across as a strong-minded, direct and domineering man. It will be an interesting season or two at Manchester United, that is for sure. 9/10.