The father of modern English football
by Graham Morse
John Blake, £17.99
Reviewed by David Stubbs
From WSC 317 July 2013
My earliest memory of Walter Winterbottom, manager of England from 1946 to 1962, is from a second-hand copy of the FA Book For Boys. His name spoke to my infant sense of humour, though I assumed he harked from a more didactic, purposeful age when no one had time to find the word "bottom" amusing. I also heard him providing co-commentary for the 1966 World Cup final, his vowels a strange mix of received English and suppressed Lancastrian. Like his successor, Alf Ramsey, Winterbottom had felt obliged to brush up on his elocution if he was to be taken seriously. Such class considerations abounded in his era, in all their absurdity – author Graham Morse recounts how FA secretary Stanley Rous had been reprimanded by the FA chairman for wearing plus fours when his predecessor, Sir Frederick Wall, had worn a top hat and frock coat to games.
Winterbottom himself was quite the modern man – an Oldham lad who had made his way in the world on academic merit, who understood the value of tactics, technique and advanced coaching skills. He gained a reputation as a "pedagogue" for trying to impose these methods on often-reluctant players, Stanley Matthews in particular, who thought the best way to play was to bloody well get on playing, and that skill was something you were born with. Winterbottom understood what he was up against – that in England the game had deep-rooted, violent beginnings which encouraged a crude approach, whereas in Europe and South America the game had been taken up at more middle-class levels, and was more open to theory-based technically sophisticated methods.
Winterbottom was England manager when the team lost 1-0 to the US at the 1950 World Cup. However, his hands were tied. He was never allowed to pick the team – a dubious panel of selectors did this job, whose whims once led them to grant 38-year-old Leslie Compton his first cap. He also had to put up with Matthews being ordered on a goodwill tour of Canada during the tournament. As for the 1953 defeat to Hungary, he was almost alone in understanding that the Magyars would be formidable opponents. Contemporaries such as Chelsea manager Ted Drake, however, continued to insist that England's problem had been physical fitness rather than formation and tactics.
Morse is the son-in-law of Winterbottom, who would have been 100 this year, and his account is naturally sympathetic. It's deservingly fulsome as well as being engagingly redolent of his era, in which Winterbottom was paid just over £1,000 a year, of players arriving at games by tram, laced balls carried around in nets, and courtships shyly conducting on hills overlooking mill chimneys. The title isn't an overstatement – Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson and Trevor Brooking all took on board Winterbottom's philosophy. That England continue to fail is more to do with the institutional obtuseness Winterbottom himself never managed to break down, as opposed to his enlightened approach, whose time may not yet properly have come.
Surviving football's money business
by Brian Laws with Alan Biggs
Vertical Editions, £16.99
Reviewed by Graham Stevenson
From WSC 316 June 2013
For a manager who has spent over a decade employed by Scunthorpe United in three spells, it's disappointing to find only 19 pages in Brian Laws's autobiography about his time at Glanford Park. He's led the club to a couple of promotions and a couple of relegations, so it's not as if there is a dearth of interesting history between them, despite the balance sheet currently reading roughly "nil".
Scunthorpe are now broke, broken and back in the basement division for the first time in several years – which is exactly where they were when Laws first arrived in 1997. For the small steel-town club he was a relatively big appointment and made an immediate impression. Rumours spread quickly of dressing-room dust-ups and car-park dusting-downs, but "Ol' Big Hair" and his journalist co-writer don't take many opportunities to fill in much colour between the lines here.
The Machiavellian boardroom-level manoeuvres during a bizarre three weeks in 2004, for instance, are dealt with in just over a paragraph. This involved Laws being fired by a new chairman, before the previous one stepped in to take back control of the club and reinstated him. "The whole thing got quite nasty," Brian says. But nasty how? Were horses' heads involved?
It's much the same elsewhere throughout this (terribly titled) book. Laws's time at Grimsby Town is over quite quickly and the aftermath of an injury caused by his launching a plate of chicken wings into Italian midfielder Ivano Bonetti's face reads like only two-thirds of a story. The lessons learned seem to have been to do with Laws's handling of the media rather than the handling of his players. Later managerial roles at Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley are similarly done-and-dusted in mere pages and key incidents at all of his clubs feel as if they are dealt with like clearances to be booted into row Z. Much more care is taken in detailing why Laws got the nickname "Ernie" during his playing days. It's as simple as you imagine – team-mates' reference to comedian Ernie Wise being short and wearing a wig.
Laws's years on the pitch dominate – obviously none more so than successful ones at Nottingham Forest (during which he drank Mick Hucknall's backstage bar dry and wet himself walking out at Wembley for a Cup final – events unrelated). A series of anecdotes about Brian Clough's eccentricities add more to the mythos but it's actually Laws himself who surprises with some poignant recollections of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, such as his continuing embarrassment at not realising the seriousness of events and hurling verbal abuse at the first few Liverpool fans out onto the pitch.
It's clear Clough had something of a soft spot for Laws and it's easy enough to figure out why. Laws comes across as reasonably principled and workmanlike – qualities he showed as a player. He also seems prone to let his feelings boil over from time to time, an attribute he clearly takes into the dressing room as a manager.
by Guillem Balague
Reviewed by Tim Stannard
From WSC 313 March 2013
If Pep Guardiola thought a sabbatical year spent hiding in plain sight in New York would offer a much needed respite from football, he was being a touch naive. Over four hairline-damaging years, Guardiola was in the news for what he had won with Barcelona. Since announcing his departure from the Nou Camp in April 2012, headlines have been dominated by what Guardiola might achieve next. The news that Bayern Munich are set to be the next port of call merely quadrupled the chatter, such is the fascination with the future of the former Barça boss.
In Another Way Of Winning, Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague offers a timely indication of whether Guardiola will ever be able to repeat his La Liga success in the Bundesliga. As well as recalling a stereotypical fairytale story of a gangly Nou Camp ballboy becoming the Barcelona boss via an outstanding playing career, the biography attempts to dissect Guardiola's psyche to discover how a managerial rookie transformed Barça into one of the best club teams in the history of football.
Through testimonials from friends, colleagues, players and Guardiola himself, Balague describes a contradictory character who has both enormous confidence in his coaching abilities and philosophies on football, as well as frequent moments of self doubt and insecurity. Guardiola struggled to cope with conflict and confrontation, a necessary evil of his job, but still had the courage to jettison dressing room heavyweights such as Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o, Deco and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for the simple reason that he had no connection or "feeling" with the players.
For an emotional personality, handling the expectations of supporters and media demanding constant success, keeping the team's tactics fresh, the endless provocation from José Mourinho and the illnesses suffered by Éric Abidal and Tito Vilanova took too much of a toll. Guardiola struggled to separate his personal life from the job, a feat that one of his mentors in the game, Alex Ferguson (who writes the introduction), has been able to achieve. The physical transformation of the former Barça boss between his first and last day at his job is startling.
While the question of why Guardiola left the best club in the world was an easy one to answer for Balague, the poser of whether his success can be repeated elsewhere is a tougher one to tackle. The answer is positive. Guardiola did have outstanding talents at his disposal but his development of Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Pedro and to some extent the transformation of Lionel Messi into a pure goalscorer are often overlooked. As are the absolute commitment and passion that Guardiola would bring to any role.
Trying to break down the inner workings of someone's psyche is a tough ask, especially one as complex as Guardiola who himself struggles to live with his conflicting characteristics. Nonetheless, Balague's attempt is an intriguing and enlightening read on a figure who is still only in his early 40s and whose next challenge is about to begin.
The Keith Alexander story
by Rob Bradley
Vertical Editions, £14.99
Reviewed by Ian Plenderleith
From WSC 312 February 2013
With Lincoln City perpetually languishing around the nether regions of the Conference, it's tempting for wistful fans to recall more positive times at the club. These lie just a handful of years back when the Imps became a football trivia question for making the League Two play-offs five seasons in a row but failing to get promoted. This now seems like a bronzened era of relative glory.
When the late Keith Alexander began his second spell as manager at Sincil Bank in 2002, the crowds were as low and the money was as scarce as they've been throughout the past 30 years. But at least the team, as Alexander promised, would be "there or thereabouts" come the season's end. Trawling the non-League bargain bins for big, tough lads who would do the proverbial job, the manager moulded Lincoln into a team that would not only survive but get results.
Lincoln's inversion of tiki-taka won them few friends beyond the county boundaries but Alexander had already learned from his first year in charge at Lincoln in 1993 that playing neat football in England's fourth tier garners faint praise, while losing you both games and your job. Sacked after just 12 months, the Football League's first black manager dropped down to Ilkeston Town to relearn the basics of leadership. He returned to Lincoln as a man who knew how to get the best out of limited performers.
As a player, Alexander was a journeyman non-League striker who had the knack of making friends wherever he went, before moving on to try his luck somewhere else. He was a benevolent bender of rules, being fined by Barnet for turning out for a Sunday league team in Lincoln when he should have been resting and forging his birth certificate by two years at the age of 31 in order to secure a contract with Grimsby Town, his belated breakthrough as a player at League level.
The harshest criticism you will find of Alexander in this book is that he wasn't much good in the air and that he could be tough with his players, as you would expect with any decent manager. You will read what you likely know – that he was a hard-working, genuine, funny and caring man who rarely forgot a name or a face and who would go out of his way to talk to fans and journalists without ever making them feel like it was an imposition.
Like its subject, this book is difficult to criticise. It's written by another fine human being, Rob Bradley, the former Lincoln chairman who famously remortgaged his house to help save the club. It's no great investigative work but it is a thorough and warmly told story with a sprinkling of wonderful anecdotes, such as the time when, playing for Cliftonville, Alexander smiled and blew kisses at bellicose Glentoran fans chanting racist abuse.
That kind of reaction is one of the reasons why family, friends, fans and fellow players universally remember a great bloke who, in the words of ex-Lincoln defender Ben Futcher, "was the only manager in football who could pull you into his office, tell you you're not playing, and you came out with a smile on your face".
by Rafa Benítez
Reviewed by Rob Hughes
From WSC 312 February 2013
While it's still too early to judge Brendan Rodgers, the consensus on Liverpool's post-war managers is pretty much in. Shankly and Paisley? Daft question. Dalglish? Still a legend, despite last season. Evans and Houllier? Both missed their chance and overstayed their time. Hodgson? Oh come on.
But no Liverpool chief has polarised opinion like Rafa Benítez. To some he remains the tactical giant who outmanoeuvred far superior teams on the way to Champions League nirvana in 2005 and whose plans for reasserting Liverpool's dominance at home were only undone by the financial misdeeds of a pair of mad American owners. To others he's the bloke who got lucky, made more disastrous transfer dealings than good ones, took us down into the Europa League and promptly buggered off to Milan with a £6 million pay-off.
Champions League Dreams is unlikely to make either camp scamper over to the other side. Aided by Telegraph writer Rory Smith, Benítez's prose is often as clinical and perfunctory as his press conferences while he journeys through his six European campaigns at the club. It's a smart narrative move. Ignoring his underwhelming achievements in the Premier League – only coming close in 2008-09 and that after an embarrassing post-Christmas collapse and the Robbie Keane fiasco – this book amounts to a Greatest Hits of Rafa's time at Liverpool.
One thing it does shore up is his obsession for detail. Benítez happily reveals the extent of his DVD resource library, one that lined the walls at Melwood, filled the basement at home and even stuffed up the attic of his parents' house in Madrid. Those DVDs and accompanying notes were filled with games, players and coaching sessions, all neatly categorised, numbered and instantly accessible through a database, what he describes as "not just a record of all the games I had managed and training sessions I had overseen in my career, but an extensive library of football around the world". It was a system he applied to educate players about the opposition and how to improve.
Some of his written detail is enlightening, not least when explaining how Liverpool managed to outsmart Barcelona in 2007, pinching the win at the Nou Camp then, with a first 45 minutes of "possibly the best half of football, tactically, I saw in my time at Liverpool", closing out the tie. Occasionally some of the incidental detail is precious. Steven Gerrard, for instance, catching a lift home from a passing milk float when unable to flag a taxi after celebrating the semi-final win against Chelsea that season.
The baffling sale of Xabi Alonso is dealt with, though hardly satisfactorily, with Benítez claiming he was backed into a corner by financial necessity and UEFA's newly imposed overseas player ratios. While both hold a degree of truth, at no point does he concede that it was a colossal mistake or show any awareness of the huge demotivating effect Alonso's departure had on the likes of Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres.
If it's tactical insight you're after, this book might suit you fine. But those hoping to unlock the secrets and impulses of this complex individual will be little the wiser.
The man behind Manchester City's
greatest ever season
by Stuart Brennan
Andre Deutsch, £16.99
Reviewed by Matthew Barker
From WSC 310 December 2012
Roberto Mancini was a gloriously gifted player. He was also stroppy; prone to outbursts and sulks that frequently alienated him from coaches of club and country and, occasionally, some of his team-mates. Now, as a manager himself, he has to deal with players who can comfortably outdo him on the ego and attitude fronts.
The first 100 pages or so of Stuart Brennan's book are dedicated to Mancini the footballer, particularly his time at Sampdoria. Mancini's contention that he was actually a midfield playmaker, rather than an out-and-out striker, caused him problems throughout his playing career. His great vision and unfailing talent for placing the ball where he wanted won him endless plaudits, but fallings out with a succession of Azzurri coaches and a surfeit of Italian attacking talent put the blockers on his international career.
Bar a few stand-out howlers – claiming the Calciopoli scandals took place "six years after" Italia 90, for one – the main problem here is the author's drawn-out, clumsy theory that Mancini has always sided with the underdog, and that his notorious stubbornness is actually the stuff of an anti-establishment rebel (this despite him being a boyhood Juventus fan).
We are told that his move to Sampdoria in 1982, after a debut season with Bologna, "appealed to his sense of destiny" and that the Genovese club – a "provincial footballing backwater" apparently – provided the perfect platform for someone keen to topple the established Serie A order. And yes, it's pretty obvious where we're going with this one.
Less time is spent looking at Mancini's time in Italy as a coach, which is a pity. The traumas of a first job in charge of Fiorentina, when the club were edging towards bankruptcy and demotion to the old Serie C, are dealt with in a few paragraphs, as is his equally troubled stint at Lazio. Brennan is itching to get to the bit where Mancini takes charge at Inter, so he can triumphantly point out that Nerazzurri are sort of, a bit, kind of like Manchester City. And Milan just like Manchester United. Perfect. Except, of course, they're not.
The claim that il Mancio was sacked by an "ungrateful" and "impatient" Inter after three post-Calciopoli championship wins is hugely misleading. Most Italian commentators (and did Brennan really not think to speak to one?) believe the coach engineered his move away from the club and that his bluff was called after he reportedly told players he was going to Chelsea following Inter's 2008 Champions League exit against Liverpool.
Instead of the promised insight and examination, we get a decidedly uncritical portrait; there is little analysis of the handling of Carlos Tévez. The relentless blandness of Mancini's press conference quotes are interspersed with uninspiring, cut-and-paste retellings of events from the past couple of years, stuff that anyone with a passing interest in British football, never mind Manchester City supporters, surely knows well enough already.
We're told those City fans are "in delirium", some lucky ones are even "in ecstasy", and surely no one can begrudge them that? Brennan sees his subject's habitual grumpy aloofness as a positive, proof that he's willing to fight his corner. However, a more searching assessment of Mancini, both as a man and a manager, could have flagged up warning signs of potential troubles ahead.
A football life
by Jared Browne
New Island, £14.99
Reviewed by Jonathan O'Brien
From WSC 307 September 2012
At some point in the next few months, we can expect Eamon Dunphy's memoirs to emerge, a publishing event that is equally likely either to break all Irish bookselling records or sink without trace, so starkly does he polarise opinion in his native land. In the meantime, Jared Browne has stepped into the breach with this diligent but narrowly focused biography of the ageing controversialist.
Dunphy: A Football Life arrives at a moment when, for the first time, the omnipotence of Dunphy's double act with John Giles on RTE's football coverage is being openly questioned. Regarded since the mid-1980s as gods of football analysis, they are now frequently accused of laziness, poor preparation and excessive smugness. This isn't touched upon here, however. Perhaps Browne knows that to have done so would have removed a large part of the rationale for doing the book at all.
As well as being the best-paid journalist in Ireland (he made half a million euros last year), Dunphy is also the most notorious, with a life history speckled by drug use, numerous drink-driving convictions, poisonous running feuds and bully-boy political columns in a Sunday newspaper. But none of that, other than his temporary estrangement from Giles around the 2002 World Cup, is mentioned here. It's football and football only.
This means that we're left with a fairly colourless read, albeit a reasonably well-written one. Browne spends too much of this book pushing up the word-count with lengthy digressions on Roy Keane's managerial career, Jack Charlton's dinosaur tactics and the inadequacies of the BBC's pundits. A couple of woeful mistakes slip through the otherwise generally meticulous research: Ireland lost 2-0, not 2-1, to Holland at USA 94, and scored 130 goals, not 75, during Charlton's decade at the helm.
Browne is no sycophant towards his subject, who he correctly accuses of often self-sabotaging strong arguments by going embarrassingly over the top. But some of his own stances seem a little perverse themselves. There's a lengthy onslaught on the footballing deficiencies of Mick McCarthy, who Dunphy derided as a player and hated as Ireland manager. Browne goes to the lengths of unflatteringly comparing the man to Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro, which is hardly fair. Yet Ireland conceded a mere 17 goals in 30 competitive matches with McCarthy in the side, so he must have been doing something right.
At times, adopting an overly formal tone ("Stephen" Staunton, "Josep" Guardiola), the book feels more like an academic paper than a conventioal biography. Browne writes in one not untypical passage: "We must take these concerns seriously and put Dunphy's views to the test. Was Charlton's coaching fundamentally flawed and was there a better way for Irish football at this juncture?"
Here and there, the book that instead might have been realised comes bobbing to the surface, not least when Browne correctly and perceptively identifies the "old Ireland v new Ireland" nonsense of the Saipan summer as the pop-psychology drivel that it was. But there's not enough material like that and, instead, too much aimless strolling down blind alleys, like a very long blog post that's got way out of hand.
Just as evangelical Christians are supposed to address difficult situations with the words "What would Jesus do?" there is an apparently burgeoning legion of football folk who react to any player-related crisis at a club by asking: "How would Cloughie have handled this?"
21 years with Clough and Taylor
by Maurice Edwards
DB Publishing, £16.99
Reviewed by Mark Rowe
From WSC 279 May 2010
Peter Taylor and Brian Clough – the author, their long-time scout, puts them in that order – were an East Midlands phenomenon. The region’s publishers love this story for its guaranteed readership; few local sports reporters of that era have not published memoirs. Maurice Edwards learned scouting from Taylor, when he was starting as a manager at Burton Albion, so long ago that David Pleat was a teenager.
Football With A Smile
by Gary James
James Ward, £19.95
Reviewed by Ian Farrell
From WSC 283 September 2010
Unless there are any new revelations, legal estate challenges or hauntings to report, you might reasonably ask what the point is of putting out an updated version of a posthumous biography. Though it is coming up to the 20th anniversary of Joe Mercer's death, the first thought about this reworking of Football With A Smile, originally published in 1993, is that it's really to capitalise on the moderate publicity generated by The Worst Of Friends, the recent novel about his time managing Man City alongside assistant Malcolm Allison. But, opportunistic or not, it nevertheless comes across as a heartfelt attempt to reassess Mercer's standing 17 years on, and see his legacy given the respect it deserves. Those who've read the "faction" have a chance to read the facts.