315 MagicalA life in football
by Paul Fletcher MBE with Dave Thomas
Vertical Editions, £14.99
Reviewed by Alan Tomlinson
From WSC 315 May 2013

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This is a book about life-changing moments, successful adaptations in life and survival in the football business, from player to executive. Paul Fletcher explains the title by saying that his "life and career has been magical; it's as simple as that". Fletcher's three moments of life-changing experience were seeing a small player head the ball, inspiring him to practise jumping and heading aged 16; meeting his wife-to-be at Bolton's Beachcomber Club; and attending a Dale Carnegie course in leadership training. The third Damascan moment was at the end of his playing career and, as a fan of Carnegie's book How to win friends and influence people, Fletcher enrolled on a 12-week course in Bark Street, Bolton. There's a deliberate evocation here of dead-end hopelessness, back in the stark, dark uncertainties of his early life in the town but now with a pair of worn-out knees and an unplanned future. The Carnegie programme changed all that for Fletcher, with the probing question: "Where do life's opportunities lie, inside or outside of your comfort zone?"

Fletcher was born in Bolton and played football for his hometown club then Burnley and Blackpool, all in a state of decline or at best static during his playing days, which peaked in the mid-1970s. But the Carnegie course gave him the urge and the confidence to branch out into after-dinner speaking, from World Cup events to the Bacup Wheeltappers, India to Ramsbottom and an appearance at the Cambridge Union. He also moved into photography, the property business and marketing, which got him the job of commercial manager at Colne Dynamoes, a non-League outfit threatening Burnley's local hegemony at the time.

After a year he was recommended for the commercial manager's job at Huddersfield Town, where a derelict plot alongside the club's old ground was available but undeveloped. He went there to introduce money-making ideas but found himself drawn into the process of modernisation of the game, by taking on responsibilities for the specifics of stadium design. The old Leeds Road ground was superseded by the modern McAlpine (now John Smith's) Stadium and suddenly Fletcher was a man in demand – a former player with commercial nous and a pedigree of successful project management.

Fletcher's is an engaging story with some good put-downs; Alan Ball, in charge at Blackpool, comes out as one of the worst managerial appointments of the era. But it's a bit laddish, cultivating the spirit of the dressing-room and stand-up/after-dinner circuit. I'd have liked to know more about the minutiae of his departures from top jobs at Huddersfield, Bolton, Coventry, Wembley and Burnley (covering their season in the Premier League). But he holds back on that and tells another anecdote or reminds us that he's a ukelele-playing stalwart of the George Formby Appreciation Society. "Magic" or "magical" gets a dozen or so mentions throughout the book and at the end "serendipity" too. Fletcher recognises that he was a chance-taker not just on the field; his life in football at his impressively wide levels of achievement is testimony to his determination, ambition, loyalty towards and sustained affiliation to his local roots.

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315 Greenhoffby Brian Greenhoff
Empire, £14.99
Reviewed by Joyce Woolridge
From WSC 315 May 2013

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Rarely can five years have generated as much football print as Tommy Docherty's stint at Manchester United. Although Docherty's managerial skills and style continue to polarise opinion, no one has argued he was a defensive genius. The statistics bear that out: away from home his United team always let in more than they scored, apart from their one year sabbatical in Division Two. Brian Greenhoff's blunt autobiography, fully embracing the Yorkshire stereotype of never being afraid to call a spade a shovel, at least has the merit of bringing into focus what, especially in the mid-1970s, could be considered as one of the most cultured centre-half pairings in British football: himself and Martin Buchan. Sammy McIlroy here deems them "absolutely one of the great underrated defensive partnerships".

When Greenhoff signed for United as a schoolboy in August 1968 he was unimpressed by Old Trafford's shabby facilities and organisation, compared with what he had seen at Burnley. He credits coach and former player Bill Foulkes with stopping the apprentices cleaning the ground all afternoon and saving him from an unnecessary operation, by organising strength training after he broke his leg and was prescribed rehab of running up and down the Stretford End paddock.

An unashamed supporter of Docherty, Greenhoff was one of those young talents promoted by the manager, who found them far easier to deal with than the established names at Old Trafford. Accidentally, as he admits in the foreword, Docherty converted Greenhoff into an unlikely centre-half, given that he stood just over 5ft 10ins, and he went on to partner the only slightly taller Buchan for two seasons. Both were elegant ball players who countered their lack of height by pushing out quickly and pressing the opposition. United, claims Greenhoff, called this strategy "attack the ball", adding that today's Barcelona and Spain employ something similar.

If Greenhoff has nothing bad to say about Docherty, the same isn't true for his replacement Dave Sexton (boring, overly obsessed with systems, afraid to deal with players directly), nor Allan Clarke (nobody liked him, obsessed with running and weighing players) who took over at Leeds shortly after they bought Greenhoff for £350,000. The post-United and potentially more interesting section of Greenhoff's professional career is dealt with relatively brusquely. A stint in South Africa, initially as part of a "rebel tour", which ends prematurely because of protests, passes without dealing with any ethical considerations. Greenhoff famously became part of another United pairing when his brother Jimmy joined United in 1976 (as Buchan's brother George had done previously). The two brothers are reunited disastrously at Rochdale and Brian goes on to fulfil another stereotype by running a pub.

The book ends by "setting the record straight" on why the Greenhoff brothers haven't spoken for 20 years. Like the rest of the contents, the revelations are unsurprising. However, despite the often familiar material, Greenhoff tells his tale with the unvarnished directness you'd expect from someone who once told striking Barnsley miners that they had to get rid of Arthur Scargill.

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314 ChalmersMy autobiography
by Stevie Chalmers with Graham McColl
Headline, £19.99
Reviewed by Mark Poole
From WSC 314 April 2013

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Stevie Chalmers scored the winning goal in the 1967 European Cup final. It's still the most important goal in Celtic's history: the goal that liberated club football's greatest prize from its Spanish-Italian-Portuguese stranglehold for the first time and that inspired Bill Shankly to call Jock Stein immortal.

Chalmers scored 230 other goals for Celtic – including the last hat-trick in an Old Firm derby – but his career has come to be defined solely by his tap-in (team-mate Bertie Auld's words) against Inter in Lisbon. His autobiography does nothing to change that. The middle two chapters, one for each half of that final, are where the book comes alive and Chalmers's detailed perspective of the match is compelling reading for Celtic fans.

There are other intriguing aspects to his life and career: he almost died from tuberculous meningitis when he was 20, he only played five times for Scotland (in spite of his clear talent and scoring against Brazil) and he had a long career at the club he supported but an uneasy relationship with its most successful manager.
His perspective on Stein is interesting but no more so than many others and, perhaps unsurprisingly for a renowned gentleman, Chalmers seems reluctant to complain directly about being overlooked or played out of position.

A lot remains unsaid, leaving readers to infer much of the story. Like many of his contemporaries, Chalmers repeatedly insists that he would always rather do what was best for the team than for himself. However, it's clear that some managers' and selectors' tactics and decisions (including Stein's) still rankle with him over 40 years later, particularly his omission from the Scotland team that beat England at Wembley in 1967.

It's a melancholy experience to intrude upon such a successful player's feelings of loss. Stein was a notoriously hard man to read – his players' feelings were rarely allowed to intrude on the business of winning matches – but his choices as a manager made it clear how much he valued Chalmers. The reader is left to wonder if Chalmers realises this and also if he would seem more content now if he'd made more of a fuss back then. This glimpse into a 1960s footballer's mind is one of the more interesting aspects of the book.

The Winning Touch could have provided more of an insight into what it was like to experience Chalmers's terrible illness, and to recover so remarkably from it. This presence of detail but absence of insight is symptomatic of other parts of the book, perhaps evidence of the adage that consummate professionals often produce mostly pedestrian autobiographies and typical of the emotional restraint of mid-century Scotsmen.

In his playing days Chalmers made the most of the chances that came his way, so it's surprising that parts of his autobiography seem like a missed opportunity. Although it is worth reading, at least for the insight into the day when he and ten other men from the edge of the football world shocked the game's aristocracy.

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314 BobbyCampbellThey don't make them like him any more
by Paul Firth
Bantamspast, £12
Reviewed by Jason McKeown
From WSC 314 April 2013

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It's long been a mystery to me how people of a certain age will lament the behaviour of modern day footballers and then, within the same breath, romanticise the bad lads of decades earlier. The story of Bobby Campbell, Bradford City's all-time leading scorer in two spells between 1979 and 1986, features tales of drinking sessions, fighting and police run-ins that would prompt moralistic howls of derision were he playing today. Yet the book's tagline – "They don't make them like him any more" – invites us to consider that football is worse off today for the absence of someone whose off-field antics have become as much a part of Valley Parade folklore as his 131 Bantams goals.

Still there is an almost apologetic tone to some of the stories of punch-ups with bouncers and drinking in the dressing room before matches, with biographer Paul Firth focusing more on Campbell's many admirable qualities. Any footballer who recovers from a broken leg at 19, plays for nine different clubs across three continents and makes the Northern Ireland 1982 World Cup squad after a season in Division Four has quite a story to tell.

The book is a combination of Firth's narration and the views of Campbell himself, which are interwoven throughout. At times the switching back and forth into the subject's direct quotes feels awkward but the striker's blunt statements add a valuable layer of understanding into how his career unfolded. Campbell is brutally honest about the sectarian troubles he experienced growing up in Belfast ("I had a few friends who were assassinated, one just for courting a Catholic girl") and why his career, which started promisingly at Aston Villa, at one stage drifted into the relative obscurity of playing part-time in Australia.

Campbell's two spells at Bradford City, his heyday, take in two promotions, the club almost going bankrupt (he had to be sold to Derby to raise money) and the tragic Valley Parade fire of 1985. You get a sense that, although Campbell had something of a hardman reputation, he deeply cared about team-mates, supporters and the club. The book's most memorable moments are provided by interviewees who played alongside Campbell. They praise both his playing ability and caring nature, such as when he raced off a team bus that had crashed into a car to try to save the lives of two children: "It's typical of the person, going in and not being afraid of anything," former team-mate Stuart McCall says.

Following the Bradford fire, a City supporter tells of Campbell's regular hospital visits to various supporters' bedsides, as he and many others recovered. Despite a decent final spell at Wigan, Campbell was apparently fed up with football when he retired at the age of 32. Nonetheless, his biographer does an excellent job conveying the lasting legacy of this unlikely hero.

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314 OutsiderA History of the Goalkeeper
by Jonathan Wilson
Orion Books, £20
Reviewed by Jonathan O'Brien
From WSC 314 April 2013

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Of all the "name" football writers on the merry-go-round today, Jonathan Wilson is arguably the best value, even if a few of his many theories and pet obsessions tend towards the overly self-indulgent. He's a busy man, too – running the quarterly Blizzard while producing columns for the Guardian and Sports Illustrated and roughly one book per year. The Outsider is his sixth tome since 2006, the kind of workrate that sees a lot of writers spread themselves too thinly. But Wilson's prodigious energy doesn't seem to dilute the quality of what he comes up with and this meticulous study of the goalkeeping art is characterised by the attention to detail that he brings to everything he writes.

Starting with a study of football in the 1800s, he demonstrates how the mere fact of being a goalkeeper has always carried with it the smell of the scapegoat. In Victorian times the position was occupied by small boys, "duffers" and "funk-sticks" (milksops who had failed to perform elsewhere on the pitch). As the years went on and the sport evolved at snail's pace, deaths were commonplace for keepers – Celtic's John Thomson, accidentally kicked in the head during a match in 1931, being an infamous example.

Wilson has put in plenty of air miles, heading for locales as far-flung as Brazil and Russia. The latter country, which once produced great keepers by the lorryload, has nursed a special obsession with the position since before the 1917 revolution (an assertion backed up with quotes from none other than novelist Vladimir Nabokov). Brazil, contrariwise, has had mostly white keepers due to some strange socio-racial issues – the odd exception such as Dida not withstanding. Although, as Wilson shows, English football has nurtured a similar instinctive distrust of black keepers.

African keepers, specifically, sit even lower down the food chain of perception. Two of the best, Cameroon's Thomas N'Kono and Joseph-Antoine Bell, enjoyed a (mostly) friendly 20-year rivalry after learning from Yugoslavian legend Vladimir Beara. N'Kono was the natural, Bell the hard worker. N'Kono shone at the 1982 World Cup, got a move to Spain out of it and became an Espanyol hero. Bell had to wait until the disastrous USA 94 campaign to play in the finals, by which time he was 39 and too far over the hill to do himself justice.

Wilson's fondness for idiosyncratic structuring sometimes weakens the book's sense of direction. The Brazilian chapter abruptly veers into Scotland for several pages, then heads back to Brazil. Not that the material therein isn't interesting or informative – the passages concerning the appalling bad luck that plagued Jim Leighton's long career are particularly vivid – but layering the material in such an odd way seems unnecessarily perverse.

In the main The Outsider is a terrific history of its subject. It wears its knowledgeable perspective lightly and deftly works its vast research into the text without battering you over the head with it. Wilson can always be relied upon to come up with something a little bit different and a little bit special, and this has plenty of both.

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310 HenryLonely at the top: 
A biography
by Philippe Auclair
Macmillan, £17.99
Reviewed by David Stubbs
From WSC 310 December 2012

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"I don't recognise myself in the players I see today," George Best said in his very last interview, conducted, as it happens, with Philippe Auclair himself. "There's only one who excites me, and that is Thierry Henry. He's not just a great footballer, he's a showman, an entertainer."

Henry, however, is not exactly in the Best tradition. He has both more and less about him than the ultimately ruined Manchester United superstar. Henry's sheer quantity, as well as quality, of achievements at both league and international level dwarf Best's but for all that he hasn't quite blazed in the firmament in the same way. A lifelong teetotaller, he yields little or nothing in the way of a volatile private life, while his personality ranges from affable to aloof. For all those va-va-voom ads, he is simply not as scintillating a character off the field as he was on it in his prime. Maybe that's why there has only been one full-length study of the player published in the UK – Oliver Derbyshire's Thierry Henry: The amazing life of the greatest footballer on earth – a book as abysmal as its title, almost Piers Morganesque in the low it sets in Arsenal-related discourse.

Auclair admits not being drawn to Henry the way he was to Eric Cantona, his pre-
vious subject in the acclaimed The Man Who Would Be King. However, Lonely At The Top is probably about as shrewd and in-depth a profile as we're likely to get of Henry, who seems to have been moulded by the drive of his father, a highly influential figure in his life until he made a botched attempt to effect a transfer for his son to Real Madrid. The book tracks his development from a speedy but slight youngster reluctant to track back to the machine of panache he was at Arsenal. Auclair adds his own flourish with allusions to the likes of Philip Larkin and Gustave Flaubert which will raise the blood temperature of the compiler of Pseuds Corner but otherwise will only distract the most determinedly Philistine reader.

Auclair poses questions he's not always able to answer, such as why Henry never seemed to get along with Zinedine Zidane and truly fulfil his potential at international level, or why Arsène Wenger is so beset at times with tactical ineptitude despite his success at Arsenal. Viewing matters from a French perspective, he regards Henry's fateful handball against the Republic of Ireland as an unfortunate crowning moment in his career given the probably unfair antipathy it triggered against him, though Arsenal fans in particular would hardly see this as quite so defining of the player.

The access he has had, some forbidden to UK journalists, does yield insightful, incidental nuggets along the way: into the character of Emmanuel Petit, for instance, profoundly affected by a personal tragedy; Patrick Vieira's excessively informative quote that the cheers of the Highbury throng gave him "a hard on"; as well as the partying habits of the French squad in the 2002 World Cup. This occasionally gives the impression that, fine and thoughtful as Lonely At The Top is, its author would secretly prefer to be writing about somebody or something else.

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309 Southallby Neville Southall
De Coubertin Books, £18.99
Reviewed by Mark O'Brien
From WSC 309 November 2012

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The standard format for modern sports biographies is to start on the cusp of the subject's defining moment – the race, the fight, the match of their life – and then flash back to their childhood to tell the story of their rise to the top. Neville Southall, record-breaking goalkeeper for Everton and Wales, kicks off his autobiography on a football pitch but instead of a glorious match at Goodison, Wembley or Cardiff Arms Park it's the present day and he is being called a "fucking fat knobhead" by one of the troubled youngsters he now works with.

It quickly becomes clear that Southall has done everything slightly differently to other sportsmen. He states early on that he wants to show people that there is more to his personality than just the grumpy caricature that he became in many eyes and he succeeds up to a point.

From his beginnings in Llandudno through to the glittering heights at Everton, where he became the club's most decorated player, then on a tour of English football's less glamorous outposts when he ended his career as a wandering pair of gloves for hire, Southall talks constantly of a single-minded, overwhelming desire to improve as a keeper. After a while it's hard not to wonder whether this obsession, especially with training, is born of a deep-seated lack of confidence.

Like Henry Skrimshander, the fictional baseball star in Chad Harbach's The Art Of Fielding, Southall only ever seems at home in a sporting environment, one where social interaction is reduced to piss-taking and the rules are very simple: play, train, improve and play again.

He still seems quite guarded and loath to criticise too many of his former colleagues, apart from Everton's disastrous management duo of Mike Walker and Dave Williams, but still he has a dry sense of humour and tells plenty of funny anecdotes, especially about the misadventures of the Welsh national team which appears to have been run like Dad's Army.

Even when describing the rather melancholy end to his 751-game Everton career Southall manages to see the funny side. Told that Howard Kendall wants to speak to him ahead of a game at Elland Road he goes to the manager's hotel room.

"'You do know I love you,' he said when I came in.  He looked awful, like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. To be honest, this wasn't what I wanted to hear. Howard Kendall stood in his dressing gown with his bollocks hanging out telling you he loves you is not a good sight."

Another of football's less conventional characters, Pat Nevin, is spot on when he describes Southall as the classic eccentric with a complex personality. As a result The Binman Chronicles is a more interesting read than the average footballer's life story.

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309 SecretFootballerLifting the lid on the beautiful game
Guardian Books, £12.99
Reviewed by Taylor Parkes
From WSC 309 November 2012

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Who is the Secret Footballer? Does anybody really, truly give a toss? When the weekly column first appeared in the Guardian, offering insights into the life of an especially bright and articulate player, it was hard not to speculate on who exactly was writing this stuff but that was pretty much a side-issue. Lately, thanks to the magic of the internet, this dull masquerade has become the greater part of the point. A dedicated website examines the "clues"; hours of televised football are trawled for clips corresponding to events from the column, which are uploaded solemnly to YouTube. On the Guardian site you can watch a promotional video where someone in a hoodie sits with their back to the camera while a voice intones "Who am I? I'm the secret footballer..." Surely this is the point at which any reasonable human being rolls their eyes and ceases to care?

Maybe not. Football's own Bruce Wayne has a best-selling book out now and for what it is, it's actually not bad at all. There's very little here – about pressure, decadence, the culture of the dressing room – which you wouldn't have been able to guess, but it's fairly well written and rarely boring and sometimes genuinely funny. There's even a proper ending: past the unlikely quotes from Proust and Pink Floyd (and the many jabs at Robbie Savage) is an unsettling final chapter in which TSF discusses his depression, and claims to be overeating and drinking deliberately in an effort to finish his career: "I don't want to go back. Don't make me go back." It's all very convincing, particularly as letting go of the reins like this can be a side-effect of the antidepressants he's taking (a fact of which he seems blissfully unaware).

The trouble is, it's hard to trust a man with a brown paper bag on his head. You feel like you're being messed with somehow, even if you're not. Is this really a footballer, you wonder, or a journalist writing up insider stories collected from contacts and colleagues? He has to keep his identity secret to avoid being "ostracised", he says – but so much detail is given away about overseas trips, Christmas parties and various incidents on the pitch that anyone who knew this bloke would recognise him instantly from skim-reading a couple of chapters. Then again, there does seem to be an awful lot of evidence pointing at one player in particular...

There you go. Before you even know it, you've fallen into a trap. But so has The Secret Footballer – all this infantile, hucksterish hoo-ha detracts greatly from the content of a book which will be widely read and enjoyed but will, I'd have thought, be used as a kind of riddle, a puzzle without a prize. Whoever The Secret Footballer might be, he/she/it deserves better than that.

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309 RedCardSex, booze and sendings off: The life of Britain's wildest footballer
by Roy McDonough with Bernie Friend
Vision Sports, £12.99
Reviewed by Tom Lines
From WSC 309 November 2012

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The football hard man is still a familiar figure, even if he is receding increasingly quickly into the game's recent past. Popular culture tends to remember those who played at the highest level, where violent tackles and unsavoury moustaches were brought to a national television audience. For every Graeme Souness or Tommy Smith there were less well-known contemporaries in the the lower leagues. One such player was Roy McDonough, who accumulated a British record 22 early baths.

Apparently assembled from a bin of spare "Soccer's Hard Men" tropes (the mullet and tache, the drinking and womanising, the failed marriage, the distant father he's desperate to impress) McDonough is such an unrelenting stereotype that the obligatory career photos have presumably been included to reassure readers that they are not the victims of an elaborate spoof. Driven by limitless quantities of self-belief and an almost psychotic relish for physical confrontation, McDonough played just two first-team games during unhappy spells as a centre-forward at Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Chelsea. At the age of 22 he claims to have made a conscious decision to cruise through lower-league football as a way of funding his fondness for nightclubs.

A man who once promised a horrified physio that he would cut down to "just" 70 pints a week should be heading for a spectacular fall but it is the tragic suicide of Colchester team-mate John Lyons that, briefly, throws the boozing and one-night stands into stark relief. Alcohol permeates almost every page of this book but alcoholism is mentioned only once – when McDonough categorically rejects it as a description of his own drinking.

He is more honest in recounting the football side of his career, with team-mates, opponents, referees, supporters, managers and boardroom "suits" all subjected to withering assessments. There's also a refreshing lack of dressing room omerta. It's doubtful that Mark Kinsella will thank him for revealing a teenage fling with his landlady, though McDonough stops short of naming the team-mate who goaded Ian Holloway on the pitch by insulting his cancer-stricken wife.

He's generous to those he respects too, without ever allowing it to affect his behaviour during a game. He idolises Southend boss Bobby Moore and when the manager gets wind of an unsettled score with Newport County's Tony Pulis he pleads with McDonough not to let the team down. He is duly sent off after just seven minutes following a self-confessed attempt to decapitate the future Stoke manager.

Ghostwriter Bernie Friend has a great eye for period detail (there has surely never been a more evocatively named central-defensive partnership than Peterborough's Neil Firm and Trevor Slack) and there are hilarious insights into some of the more eccentric characters of the era: Exeter boss Jim Iley's fondness for games of hide and seek during training, for instance. In describing McDonough's nocturnal activities the book occasionally slips into the kind of graphic detail that wouldn't be out of place on the top shelf of a backstreet 1980s newsagent but this is still a fascinating voyage through a career described as "a violent trawl through the rough seas of the lower divisions".

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308 SahaReflections on life as a Premier League footballer
by Louis Saha
Vision Sports, £14.99
Reviewed by Simon Hart
From WSC 308 October 2012

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It was in the wake of the darkest hour of his life in football, when injury robbed him of the chance to play in the 2008 Champions League final, that Louis Saha began writing down the thoughts filling his troubled mind. Saha wept in his wife's arms in the Luzhniki Stadium that night and would soon leave Manchester United for Everton, yet his writing became a crutch and eventually led to a book that is quite unlike your usual footballer's offering.

"Eclectic" is how Saha describes his approach in the preface to Thinking Inside The Box, in which he combines memoir with musings on a range of football-related topics: media, money, racism, fans, music. And eclectic is a fitting word for a book that does not list medals won or goals scored but instead references Sir Trevor McDonald, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Leveson Inquiry, quotes Sean Penn, questions the French education system, praises the Bakewell tart, and cites statistics about CCTV cameras and anorexia sufferers.

It starts with Saha's wry observation that his name means health in Arabic. "Me: plagued by injury," he notes. It is certainly ironic that a player who acquired a reputation as injury-prone, even work-shy, should provide two poignant passages on the pain of missing matches. As well as the 2008 Champions League final, when his asthma meant he could not take the painkilling injection administered to Nemanja Vidic, he recalls his nausea after the booking that ruled him out of the 2006 World Cup final, adding lyrically: "My throbbing head was trapped in the referee's pocket."

Saha, with his evident love of the "paradise" of English football, denudes any notions about himself "not caring". He does the same for the one-dimensional image of the footballer, writing with empathy about team-mates yet acknowledging their weaknesses. Wayne Rooney is capable of smashing a mobile phone in anger on the team bus yet also of answering every question in a quiz. Nicolas Anelka, a contemporary at the Clairefontaine national academy, had "tenacity, tinged with a touch of madness". There is even understanding for young players who use prostitutes rather than risk kiss-and-tells.

The book's French title, Du Quartier Aux Etoiles – "From the streets to the stars" is a rough translation – evokes his journey from a poor district of Paris under the guiding hand of his disciplinarian father, an immigrant from Guadeloupe, but while retelling his rise Saha provides a broader scope by including the thoughts of old team-mates like Patrice Evra, Thierry Henry, Zinédine Zidane and Phil Neville, and his manager at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson.

Translated from French, the book has an idiosyncratic style – "bro" and "lol" crop up a lot while a chapter on money introduces an imagined "Mam'zelle Starfucker" and "Mr Bling". Saha's approach to money betrays an ambivalence – he lists his expensive cars yet worries his children are spoiled. Meanwhile, he gives his wife Aurélie a chapter to offer a WAG's perspective, laments the demise of traditional values and yet declares that total honesty is the wrong approach with a woman "because what you say goes in one ear and comes out through her mouth, with added ammo".

This ambivalence is a virtue of a book that asks questions while seeking no easy answers. It is not something you heard every week at Goodison Park, but full marks to Saha for trying.

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