Reviews of some of the finest books cited in stories on this site.
Last updated 30 June 2017.
Note: The direct links go to Amazon UK, where, for every book that is bought, this site receives a tiny part of the fee. The list below is in alphabetical order.
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Calcio: A History of Italian Football (first published 2006)
by John Foot
A classic. So mad and wonderful is the world of Italian football that it takes a sizeable work to capture it all, and academic John Foot has done that in a book whose paperback version spans 592 dense pages. There are sections on elementary things such as teams, players, fans and tactics, as well as contextual factors such as politics, media and scandals. We get a comprehensive historical overview, a familiarity with the key personalities, and a better understanding of the Italian mindset. Calcio is also a treasure chest of stories and portraits that bring to life Italy’s many eccentrics—coaches, journalists, presidents—several of whom appear in articles on this site.
Direct link: buy Calcio.
by Gabriele Marcotti
This exemplary biography combines lively narration and thorough research. Covering every part of Fabio Capello’s life, from his birthplace of Pieris to his stellar career in management, Gabriele Marcotti and his researchers have interviewed more than one hundred and twenty people to paint a detailed portrait of a complex character. Particularly the AC Milan years make for enjoyable reading, and this site has indeed leaned heavily on those passages when writing about Capello’s 1993/94 season at San Siro. If only every football biography had been so comprehensive.
Direct link: buy Capello.
Fear and Loathing in La Liga (2013)
by Sid Lowe
A deeply rewarding read for anyone interested in Real Madrid, Barcelona or Spanish football. Delving into the rivalry, Sid Lowe draws on his academic background to explain its historical context, rooted in the Spanish Civil War, and its complex politics. Early years of bleak conflict transition into a colourful journey up to the present, with portraits of inimitable leaders who shaped the story—Santiago Bernabéu, Alfredo Di Stéfano, László Kubala, Helenio Herrera, Johan Cruyff. (Our own profile of Herrera owes much to the book.) Penned by the finest Spanish football writer in the English language, the book is as educative as it is entertaining.
Direct link: buy Fear and Loathing in La Liga.
Fergie Rises (2014)
by Michael Grant
With prior knowledge of the brilliance of Fergie Rises, our own Sir Alex Ferguson story, Furious Fergie, would probably not have been written. So competently has Michael Grant chartered his Aberdeen years that any competing article is destined to seem pale and sketchy. There could hardly be a man better placed for the job: Grant supported the club, as did his dad, and went on to work as chief football corresponded for the Herald, compiling knowledge of Aberdeen and its history, the national press, and the personalities involved. Though Ferguson is not interviewed, Grant lines up a strong selection of ex-players and staff members who tell anecdotes and deliver killer quotes. The writing is concise, rich in detail. The structure is elegant, entwining themes and narrative in a logical order. In comparison, Furious Fergie can be considered only an introduction.
Direct link: buy Fergie Rises.
Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (2002)
by Alex Bellos
Our very favourite. Unlike most entries on this list, it is authored by a foreign correspondent. Alex Bellos was dispatched to Brazil by the Guardian in 1998, and started writing a book that cut to the heart of the country. Few if any comparable books have managed to say so much about a culture through the prism of football. Through meticulous research, Bellos explains Brazil’s unorthodox traditions, superstitions and rituals; he hangs out with players, presidents and referees whose quirks would befit a cartoon. Outside of the game, he meets store owners, politicians and locals who help give us a deeper understanding of the Brazilian way of life. The book is often funny, by the mere virtue of the stories and people Bellos unearths. If we could recommend just one football book, it would be this one.
Direct link: buy Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life.
El Diego (2005)
by Diego Maradona
Among many things, Diego Maradona is known for his explosive honesty; even decades after his retirement, he can be seen giving ludicrous assessments on contemporary players and managers. The more you read, the more you realise he is a bit mad. That impression does not abate in this autobiography, in which Maradona tells the tale of his eventful life, from poverty in Buenos Aires to global stardom. Our story of his time at Napoli could not have been written without the inside track this book provides. Though originally written in Spanish, the English translation is faultless, capturing the raw emotion—particularly the anger—that so often fuelled his behaviour.
Direct link: buy El Diego.
I am Zlatan Ibrahimović (2011)
by Zlatan Ibrahimović
When you mix a nomadic career with a forthright mind, you get an entertaining story. The autobiography of Zlatan Ibrahimović is one of the most unputdownable books on this list, the Swede recalling his childhood pranks in Malmö, his breakthrough at Ajax, the behind-the-scenes dealings at Juventus with power brokers such as Mino Raiola and Luciano Moggi, and the entrancing influence of José Mourinho at Internazionale. First published in Sweden in 2011, the book has a candour that Ibrahimović might have avoided in his later years. Some of the flashpoints have already been cited often—particularly his clashes with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona—but the books demands to be read in its entirety.
Direct link: buy I am Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics (2008)
by Jonathan Wilson
A seminal book, Inverting the Pyramid inspired much of the interest in tactics that now fill the blogosphere, though few such sites have ever come close to match its depth and quality. The research is meticulous and often original, presented in chapters that break down the key innovations and developments. So many crucial concepts are explained that most publications concerned with tactics are deemed to reference it often, and this site is no exception; particularly the piece on Helenio Herrera—the spiritual father of catenaccio—would have been poorer without it. It remains one of the most influential football books of recent years.
Direct link: buy Inverting the Pyramid.
Managing My Life (1999)
by Alex Ferguson
Of the four books Sir Alex Ferguson has penned, his first autobiography covers the longest period, and is also the best. His 1985 debut, A Light in the North, reviewed his Aberdeen years; his 2013 autobiography covered the second part of his Manchester United era; and Leading, in 2015, dissected the art of management. Managing My Life begins with his Govan childhood and ends with the 1999 treble. Ghostwritten by Hugh McIlvanney, it is a formidable work; the hardback version spans 480 pages, and its astonishing level of detail is ascribed by McIlvanney to the sharp memory of Ferguson, who at one point supplied him with about fifteen thousand words in longhand bashed out during the very fortnight United clinched the treble. The result is one of the most thorough football autobiographies around.
Direct link: buy Managing My Life.
The Second Half (2014)
by Roy Keane
Roy Keane has a knack for being funny without intending to, dishing out harsh criticism on TV or mordant assessments in his capacity as Ireland assistant coach. That same ability permeates his second autobiography, The Second Half, ghostwritten by Irish novelist Roddy Doyle, which starts where Keane’s first book let up in 2003. We get the usual insider tales, told with customary honesty, but also peculiar thoughts on the most trivial matters; whenever you read ‘I’d be thinking…’ or ‘I remember thinking…’, you know there’s a gem round the corner. Other nuggets stem from his no-nonsense attitude: when Keane fears his Sunderland team lack leaders because they’re playing Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ in the dressing room, it seems natural to him but funny to us. An amusing book.
Direct link: buy The Second Half.
This is the One (2007)
by Daniel Taylor
This is the One stands out for its novel approach. Covering 2005 to 2007, Daniel Taylor documents what it is like to follow Sir Alex Ferguson from a journalistic perspective: attending press conferences, covering matches, sharing a plane with the players. Much of it is colour and description usually omitted from regular articles. We get to see the journalists’ unstable relationship with Ferguson, who can frighten a reporter in one moment and bring out humorous repartee in the next. The book is particularly enjoyable in the first part, when United endure a disastrous season that ramps up the pressure on Ferguson, making life harder for him—and consequently for the reporters. Told in a diary-style format by one of the most perceptive football journalists around, This is the One is well worth a read.
Direct link: buy This is the One.