The life and crimes of
a footballing enigma
by Alan Pattullo
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 336 February 2015
For someone who so determinedly shunned the media throughout his playing career Duncan Ferguson had quite a knack for grabbing headlines. The two were intrinsically related of course and contributed to him polarising opinion like few other Scots-born players have in recent decades, with perhaps only Graeme Souness ahead in the queue. This book lays bare not only justifications for his brooding hostility towards the press pack but also in turn how such unwillingness to explain himself fuelled antipathy towards him, especially in Scotland.
For those with strongly held opinions over whether Ferguson was a chronic underachiever with delinquent tendencies or a mixed-up kid who just needed to feel appreciated it’s unlikely this thoughtful and even-handed appraisal by Alan Pattullo will persuade them to change camps. Among the undecided there is simply just a lot more to ruminate over.
On the playing side the book chronicles Ferguson’s emergence as an exciting prospect at Dundee United, a then record-breaking £4 million transfer fee when he moved to Rangers in 1993, his failure there and the headbutt on Raith Rovers’ Jock McStay that led to a short jail sentence, a smattering of generally underwhelming international appearances and finally rejuvenation of sorts, eight sendings-off and near folk-hero status in two spells at Everton. Off the field Ferguson also emerges as no less paradoxical. For every interviewee testifying that he was “fun”, “sensitive” or had “a heart of gold” there is another portraying him as a “hellraiser”, “cruel” or “difficult to like”.
It’s hard not to escape the view that Ferguson’s early experiences under the successful but authoritarian Jim McLean at Tannadice shaped his seemingly ambivalent attitude towards the game. Along with notoriously long contracts to tie players down, there were results-driven pay packages with low basic wages topped up with relatively handsome appearance and win bonuses. This bred a “brutal” culture within the club where players competed ferociously with one another to make sure they were in the matchday squads. Newcomers were treated as unwelcome potential rivals and details of how Ferguson once humiliated a young German trialist by cutting up his suit in the dressing room make for particularly uncomfortable reading.
His penchant for getting into trouble ultimately led to a spell in Barlinnie prison. This was viewed as harsh by some but three previous convictions for assault prior to the McStay incident hardly stood him in good stead in court. However no one in the book offers any support for the SFA also seeking to impose a 12-game ban as its own punishment – a move that wholly soured Ferguson’s relations with the Association and all but extinguished his desire to play for Scotland.
It was letters of support from Everton fans, including one from a young Wayne Rooney, that Ferguson credits with keeping him going through those dark days and helped forge the strong relationship he has with the club to this day. Pattullo, like others who have taken a keen interest in his tumultuous career, could barely imagine him ever becoming a coach but there he is, an integral part of Roberto Martínez’s back-up team at Goodison Park. Heavens he’s even started speaking to the press occasionally. Maybe the autobiography will be next.
The man who said no to England
by Dave Thomas
Pitch Publishing, £17.99
Reviewed by Harry Pearson
From WSC 335 January 2015
Jimmy Adamson was born in Laburnum Terrace, Ashington, a few doors along from Bobby and Jack Charlton. All three would be Footballers of the Year. They shared character traits too; Adamson had Big Jack’s abrasiveness and Bobby’s tendency to aloofness. Unfortunately he didn’t have the charm of the former, or the diplomatic skills of the latter. The result, as lifelong Burnley fan Dave Thomas relates, in this illuminating and well told biography, was a career that promised much but ended in frustration.
Adamson’s childhood was brutally hard. His father abandoned the family at an early stage; his mother’s struggle to raise her children on her own ended in depression and suicide. Later he would suffer the horror of having his two children predecease him.
Whisked away to Burnley as a teenager after the north-east clubs took their traditional path of rejecting a local star, Adamson started as a winger but soon switched to half-back. Intelligent, tough, with a rare ability to pick a pass, he quickly became one of the stars of the team that took the League title in 1960.
As a coach Adamson was ahead of his time, a thinker and a tactician. After serving as assistant to Walter Winterbottom at the 1962 World Cup, he was offered the England manager’s job but turned it down to stay on at Turf Moor as player and eventually – after some backstage shenanigans to oust incumbent Harry Potts – the manager.
From Potts, Adamson inherited a side rich in young talent, labelling it “the team of the Seventies”. Unfortunately the economics of football had changed since his playing days and small-town clubs such as Burnley now struggled to compete with the big-city sides. The resulting financial pressures brought Adamson into conflict with Burnley chairman Bob Lord. Sitting in the head office of his butchery business in front of a large portrait of Winston Churchill, the man Arthur Hopcraft called “the Khrushchev of Burnley” was a self-made autocrat straight out of satire. (Indeed, one of the many entertaining nuggets the author has dug out is the fact that Brian Glanville wrote a sketch about Lord for That Was The Week That Was. Sadly it was never performed.)
As “the team of the Seventies” were dismantled to pay for ground improvements and fend off debt (and to line Lord’s pockets, it is alleged) the once close relationship between the two men descended into acrimony. “I wanted to build a team, the chairman wanted to build a stadium,” Adamson famously remarked after the split finally came.
Away from Turf Moor, Adamson never really settled. A spell at the side he had wanted to play for as a boy, Sunderland, ended after a couple of inconclusive seasons, the appointment at Elland Road in 1978 was fraught with problems from the off. By then alcohol seems to have blunted Adamson’s talent and exacerbated his prickliness. After Leeds he did not work in football again.
Adamson continued to live in Burnley, but was so bitter about his treatment by Lord he refused to go and watch even after his nemesis had departed. Thankfully he eventually made his peace with the club he had served so well. He received a warm and heartfelt ovation from Clarets fans on his return to Turf Moor. It gave some semblance of a happy ending to a life marred by rancour and loss.
by Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle
Reviewed by Dave Hannigan
From WSC 335 January 2015
Near the very end of this book, Roy Keane fondly remembers a night at Nottingham Forest when Brian Clough gifted him a £50 note for accompanying him to a charity event. For a 19-year-old neophyte in 1990, that was a substantial sum and the memory stuck with him. Yet, earlier in the narrative, he talks about telling his family they would all have to cut back after he departed Manchester United, by which time his personal fortune was, according to Sunday newspaper rich lists, well north of £20 million.
That sort of inconsistency is rife in these pages, as rife it would seem as it is in Keane’s personality. He hates publicity and craves anonymity yet for the past decade of his life, he has spoken out so often about so many topics that he’s the footballing equivalent of singer/shock merchant Sinead O’Connor. He’s livid at Alex Ferguson for criticising players and being disloyal but, as he trawls through his own managerial stints at Sunderland and Ipswich, he sticks the boot into those who he believes let him down.
If those sort of double-standards are infuriating, this is still a very entertaining account of the subject’s life since the publication of his first autobiography in 2002. Keane is forthright about most (crucially not all) subjects and, as fans of his fast-paced fiction will already know, ghostwriter Roddy Doyle has a wonderful light, comic touch. His handling ensures that this fairly crackles along while offering glimpses of life behind the scenes at Old Trafford, the Stadium of Light and Portman Road.
For all that though there’s something terribly dissatisfying here. Firstly, all the best gags lose their impact because you’ve already read them somewhere else. Secondly, several times you think Keane is finally going to open up about the demons that drive and torment him. Yet he doesn’t. Drink is discussed more than once but by the end of the book you are no nearer understanding the exact nature of his troubled relationship with alcohol.
Strangely for a memoir, he also swerves away from discussing his family. That may be his prerogative but when he makes references to the adverse impact of controversies on his wife and kids, you expect a little more substance about that side of his life. Surely, the very purpose of a serious autobiography is to show the man behind the lazy tabloid caricature.
Even if it is getting tiresome, Keane is still to be commended for having the guts to rail about Ferguson, the game’s most sacred sacred cow. Yet Irish readers in particular will be disappointed he hasn’t a single thing, positive or negative, to say about John Delaney, chief executive of the FAI, and beyond Keane himself, the most controversial figure in the sport in Ireland. Did the current Ireland assistant-manager pull his punches? Or is he learning to be smart when it comes to staying gainfully employed? Like so much else in this book, there remain more questions than answers.
by Rio Ferdinand
Blink Publishing, £20
Reviewed by Jonathan O’Brien
From WSC 334 December 2014
At the time of writing, media speculation was rife that Rio Ferdinand’s brief spell at Loftus Road would soon be brought to an end, with QPR reportedly left cold by the 35-year-old’s efforts since he joined them from Manchester United last July. Should the press scuttlebutt be true, it will be a somewhat shabby end to what’s been an excellent career. For all his intermittent inanity off the pitch, Ferdinand remains, alongside Tony Adams, the best centre-half produced by English football since Bobby Moore.
It’s hard to tell whether #2Sides would have been a superior book had Ferdinand employed a different ghostwriter (the one he did hire, David Winner, has taken an unconventional approach to the form, as we shall see). The title, a nod to his fondness for spending hours on Twitter, immediately makes the heart sink – and for the most part, the contents are similarly disappointing. In fact, it’s less a memoir and more a succession of disparate polemics on Ferdinand’s most cherished (or, in the case of John Terry, least cherished) topics, presented with few concessions to the concept of basic chronology.
Ferdinand has been a sufficiently voluble presence in the media over the years for you to more or less know in advance what his take on each subject will be. Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson are duly slammed. So is David Moyes for his miserable ten months as Manchester United manager, though in this case Ferdinand does leaven the harsh criticism with unstinting praise for Moyes as a person (as well as revealing that the alleged “Do it like Phil Jagielka would” exchange on the training ground never actually happened). The details of his now-terminal rift with Ashley Cole, ignited when Cole gave evidence in favour of Terry, are rendered in almost sorrowful terms.
But #2Sides suffers woefully from its utter absence of structure. No sooner has Ferdinand finished talking about the Terry racist abuse trial or the 2008 Champions League final or a title race, than we’re off into a digression about the restaurant he co-owns, or his favourite music (grime and corporate rock), or something equally thrilling. There’s even a chapter devoted solely to that Twitter account, entitled “5.7 Million And Counting”. It’s not up to much.
If you’re wondering why #2Sides has little discernible structure or cohesion, it’s worth mentioning that Winner has form for this approach. In Brilliant Orange, his award-winning 2001 study of Dutch football, the author gave the chapters random “squad numbers” for whimsical reasons. It worked very well on that occasion, but a number of his more recent books – Those Feet, Around The World In 90 Minutes – have been misfires, and so is this. Winner ghostwrote #2Sides immediately after finishing Dennis Bergkamp’s memoir Stillness And Speed, so there may or may not have been an element of racing to beat the clock.
By far the most substantial chapter comes early on, where Ferdinand explains his approach to the art of defending, going into fascinating detail about how he could “smell out” one kind of attacking danger and his long-time partner Nemanja Vidic could scent another. A penny for Tony Fernandes and Harry Redknapp’s thoughts if they read it.
The footballer who survived the River Kwai death camps
by Johnny Sherwood
Hodder & Stoughton, £20
There is a recent surge of interest in British footballers at war which may have deep and complex roots. These two titles appear coincidentally at the same time about two men whose war and lives bore remarkable similarities. Only one survived to tell his tale.
Johnny Sherwood (Lucky Johnny) was an embryonic professional at Reading, came home to a curtailed career and wrote a memoir, partly for therapeutic reasons, in later life. The manuscript was discovered last year by his grandson. Eric Stephenson (The Happy Warrior) was an established First Division player at Leeds United with two caps and was a member of the last England touring party before the war. His daughter Jan Rippin was just three when she last saw him and his death left an immense void in family life. Her loving tribute also acts as a means of easing pain.
A modern football audience needs to be alert to the difference between war books about men who happened to be footballers, rather than milkmen or lathe operators, and books about footballers who fought. These titles tread that line rather awkwardly at times because they are constructed more from the war perspective and their football content is a little sketchy.
Rippin’s account of her father is plainly written but nonetheless emotional, particularly in the latter half which deals with his war and death. She creates a picture of the kind of man we no longer seem to have: working class, inspired by books, chapel and political discussion and now memorialised in stained glass. Every last drop of available personal detail is squeezed out of the Leeds match reports but little else is conveyed about his life as a footballer. He was posted to Burma in 1942, rose to the rank of major and fought there until his death in action in September 1944.
In the very same week Sherwood came closest to death, being torpedoed and afloat in the South China Sea for 17 hours. Having been captured just days after landing in Singapore in 1942 he spent most of the next two years working as slave labour for the Japanese building the “railway of death” by the River Kwai. His fitness and status as a footballer enabled him to survive several dangerous moments and his memoir is utterly harrowing, with comrades dying horribly on every other page.
There are some footballing nuggets here and there, notably actually playing matches against the guards who treated them so badly and cautiously not winning too well. This example of football as a bridge between men, more remarkable than the Christmas Day truce match of 1914, would benefit, as would other incidents, from being highlighted in an accompanying commentary. Sherwood survived to briefly pick up his League career with Aldershot but the trauma from having played his part in what literary folk called “the greater game” stayed with him until his death in 1985.
by Matt Dickinson
Yellow Jersey, £20
Reviewed by Mark Segal
From WSC 333 November 2014
When a modern-day footballer steps out of line, you don’t need to go far to find a sports writer of a certain vintage bemoaning today’s young millionaires and stating with utter certainty that this would not have happened in “Bobby’s day”.
The Bobby in question is of course late England captain Bobby Moore, whose legend and legacy has ascended to a higher place in the years following his untimely death from cancer in 1993 aged just 51.
According to legend, not only was Moore gifted with fantastic footballing skills but he was also a model professional who knew and understood the responsibilities of being captain of your country. It’s these assumptions about Moore which author Matt Dickinson sets out to investigate in this new book. And it’s a task he completes in some style.
Employing a straight chronological format, Dickinson guides the reader through Moore’s formative years as the shy youngster from Barking breaks into the West Ham first team. The book then centres on the middle years of the 1960s when Moore becomes a triple Wembley winner, first with West Ham in the FA Cup and Cup-Winners Cup and then finally with England in the World Cup final, before detailing his slow decline.
While Moore’s exploits on the pitch have been widely documented – except maybe for a bizarre nine-game stint for a small Danish team in 1978 – the strength of the book lies in the way Dickinson has been able to go beyond football and find Moore’s real character.
While Moore would often be the one instigating nights out with team-mates he was always more comfortable in the role as an observer rather than a performer. Former colleagues and friends alike describe a man who you thought you knew but actually didn’t. His private nature almost acted as a shield against whatever the world might throw at him. This detached nature is perfectly described in the beautifully written chapter about his death, as his second wife Stephanie speaks of the horror on his face as she broke down in tears after being told the disease had spread and there was no cure. Bobby never liked to make a scene.
While all the usual characters from his playing days turn up in the book, Dickinson also uses interviews with some of the journalists who followed Moore’s career at a time when players treated journalists as friends who they could confide in. He also speaks to both of Moore’s wives and also friends from outside football which all helps to provide a more rounded description of a difficult man to categorise.
The way he was ignored by football after his retirement is also discussed with the author believing a mixture of class snobbery, Moore’s lack of self-promotion and links with some of the East End’s more notorious characters all contributed to a managerial career which amounted to short spells at Oxford City and Southend.
Sadly, friends describe how as he entered his 50s Moore was finally beginning to come out of his shell and open up a bit more. Unfortunately, this new and relaxed Bobby was not given a chance to flourish. The passages about his final days make for difficult reading.
As a West Ham fan growing up just a few miles from where Bobby Moore was born, I was always going to have an interest in this book. Dickinson’s achievement has been to honour the memory of Moore while also allowing us to understand that he was far from perfect.
The story of
by John Harding
Empire Publications, £16.95
Reviewed by Mike Ticher
From WSC 332 October 2014
If you had to choose one player to encapsulate the Edwardian football world, you would be hard pressed to do better than Billy Meredith. In an extraordinary career, which ended in 1924 FA Cup semi-final defeat at the age of 49, the celebrated Welsh winger was central to many of the era's key moments.
He scored the winner for Manchester City in the 1904 FA Cup final, then won the League with Manchester United in 1908 and 1911, and claimed another Cup winner's medal in 1909. He was with United when Old Trafford opened in 1910, and back with City when they moved to Maine Road in 1923.
But Meredith's greater significance lies in his turbulent relationship with clubs and the football authorities, and his key role in setting up the Players' Union, the forerunner of the PFA. In 1905 he was suspended for a year after the FA found him guilty (in a closed inquiry) of trying to bribe an Aston Villa player to lose the final game of the season. Incensed by City's perceived failure to support him, Meredith spilled the beans on bonuses the club had been paying in breach of the recently introduced maximum wage. The case devastated City, sparking the departure of Meredith and several others to United, and cemented Meredith's hostility to the hypocrisy of the system, as well as personal bitterness over money that would last until he died, a poor man, in 1958.
The suspension helped drive Meredith to re-establish the union, which collided head-on with the FA in 1909, when the whole United team was suspended for refusing to sign contracts that effectively meant disowning the union. Its fledgling power was broken, but its structure survived to give birth to the PFA, which finally defeated the maximum wage and the iniquitous retain-and-transfer system in the early 1960s. As the postscript to John Harding's book notes, it was not until the Bosman ruling that Meredith's full vision of contract freedom was realised.
As if all that were not enough, Meredith was also involved, though not implicated, in the 1915 fixed match between Liverpool and Manchester United, for which eight players received life bans – the final scandalous blast of United's years as a "rebel" club of stubbornly confrontational players.
Harding's groundbreaking biography was first published in 1985, and has worn well with little amendment. Without over-elaborating, he sketches a rounded portrait of Meredith's complex personality, rooted in his Methodist upbringing in the mining village of Chirk. Meredith's rigorous attitudes to fitness, work, industrial solidarity, Welsh nationalism and alcohol (he was a teetotaller, despite running pubs in retirement) are neatly teased out in that context.
But there is still room for a fascinating broader picture of Manchester football in a tempestuous phase of its development, and thoughts on how Meredith's playing style meshed with the tactics of the day – in curmudgeonly old age he scorned the new-fangled ways of whippersnappers such as Stanley Matthews.
Meredith complained that the Edwardian FA treated the professional footballer as "a mere boy, or a sensible machine or a trained animal". Harding's work is far from a dry polemic or hagiography, but a timely reminder of how the players' struggle to overcome that contemptuous attitude began.
My life from left field
by Kevin Sheedy
Reviewed by Mark O'Brien
From WSC 332 October 2014
Paul McGrath and Tony Cascarino's autobiographies are renowned as two of the most caustic and revealing footballing books in recent times. Their former Republic of Ireland international team-mate Kevin Sheedy has written his life story now but anyone expecting soul searching in the same vein as Back From The Brink or Full Time is likely to be disappointed.
Sheedy's story is told in a fashion that could most politely be described as "breezy". From a youngster at Hereford to a bit-part player at Liverpool before becoming a key part in the all-conquering Everton side of the mid-1980s – then rounding off his playing career at Newcastle United and Blackpool – it's all dealt with in the same cheery, almost matter-of-fact fashion.
It's quite an old-school approach, even throwing in some "any other business" chapters near the end, where Sheedy gives his opinions on the perils of social media facing today's young players and picks a best XI from his former Everton and Ireland team-mates. Among that throwaway page-filler then it's a shock to come across a section which deals with his recent treatment for bowel cancer. A more modern style might have made that the touchstone for the whole book, reflecting on his career in the light of the grave news of his illness, but maintaining the light-hearted tone Sheedy concentrates instead on a nurse pulling back the sheets following his operation and declaring: "Oh my god, they've cut your cock off!"
He comes across as a thoroughly nice fella then, but it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. While Evertonians have probably read just about everything it's possible to know about Rotterdam and the League wins under Howard Kendall, Sheedy was privy to the break-up of that great side and the start of the club's decline and it would have been illuminating to know more about that process. He was in fact part of an infamous incident that is seen as emblematic of the chaos that reigned at Goodison during Kendall's second spell in charge, when he had a fight with Martin Keown in a Chinese restaurant. He brushes it aside though, blaming his behaviour on the fact that he was unaware that the players had been buying him glasses of wine when normally he only drank it with soda. Seems plausible.
He tells his own collection of Jack Charlton anecdotes too – the Ireland manager left him out of a squad altogether for a match and then added insult to injury by trying to send him on as a sub – and the Italia 90 section is probably the best bit of the book.
The title, by the way, refers to an incident at Goodison in March 1985. Sheedy lashed a free-kick past Ipswich's Paul Cooper and into the top-right corner. When ordered to be retaken he simply placed it in the top left. So good he did it twice. Unfortunately though, once is more than enough when it comes to reading his book.
by Roy McFarland and Will Price
Reviewed by Charles Robinson
From WSC 331 September 2014
Following a home defeat to Reading and a couple of beers, the young Tranmere Rovers defender Roy McFarland goes to bed. A couple of hours later he is woken up by his mum with the news that "there's two men downstairs to see you, Roy, and one of them is Brian Clough". The other, of course, is Derby County assistant Peter Taylor. As McFarland enters the kitchen in his striped pyjamas, "looking like a convict", he finds that Clough has managed to charm Mr and Mrs McFarland, and the deal is already halfway done.
Roy is unconvinced and harbours hopes of playing for his boyhood club, Liverpool, but soon he will win two Championships with his new team, as well as 28 England caps in an international career cut short by injury. This is a player not unaware of his worth, not to mention stoical and unsentimental. Coming from a solidly affluent working-class background, McFarland initially rejects trials at Wolves and Tranmere, throwing away the invitation letters and instead taking up a job as a trainee accountant at a local tobacco company. The reader is left to wonder whether the game was in the young man's blood from the beginning, but any reflection has to wait as McFarland's career takes off.
And it really does take off. After signing as a professional with Tranmere on his 18th birthday, within a year he is captain of second-tier Derby, albeit for one initial game. In his second season the Rams are promoted and, already, McFarland can sense the "wind of change" blowing through the club. Soon, he is a Championship winner and England regular. Throughout, McFarland's affection for Clough and Taylor, but especially the former, is evident, even as Clough descends into alcoholism, a subject that McFarland doesn't shy away from and relates in the strictly matter-of-fact tone that characterises the whole book.
The event at the heart of McFarland's story is the resignation of Clough and Taylor in October 1973. His insider view gives a fresh perspective to an incident which still breaks the hearts of Derby supporters and, evidently, McFarland himself. As the news filters through, he admits that his emotions were "all over the place", thinking it "the end", only two days before England's 1-1 draw with Poland that meant they failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. However, he simply resolves to get on with the job under new manager Dave Mackay, and soon after wins another Championship and more England caps.
The final chapters detail McFarland's rather unspectacular managerial career, the highlights being a play-off final with Derby in 1994 and promotion with Burton Albion in 2009, having taken over from a Derby-bound Nigel Clough. As well as the short paragraphs and tales of dressing room "banter" that pockmark such autobiographies, the cliches and constant footballer-speak do grate. Like many of the matches detailed here, even McFarland's wedding is "a great success", and wife Lin puts in "a monumental shift" while giving birth to their first child. Nonetheless, the fascinating story of McFarland's rise largely alongside Clough and Taylor is enough to see Derby fans and Cloughie completists through to the end.
by Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato
BackPage Press, £9.99
Reviewed by Joyce Woolridge
From WSC 329 July 2014
Reading this autobiography of a playmaker nicknamed "Mozart" is like going to the opera: some bloke comes on and sings very loudly in Italian at you for a couple of hours, it's all very dramatic and enjoyable, but you don't always know quite what's going on. In no discernible order, its voluble and intelligent subject, who "has an opinion about everything and I'm not ashamed to express it", launches into an erratic, extended and idiosyncratic monologue. There are even (mostly much needed) footnotes to explain some of the passing references, although glossing ultras as "the self-styled, most passionate, vocal and committed supporters" was probably unnecessary.
Many of Andrea Pirlo's lines do sound as if they could have come from, say, Don Giovanni. When his ten years with AC Milan end with the gift of a pen (how many domestic footballers are presented with something to write with when shown the door?) he declares: "Still, I raised a smile because I know how to laugh, long and loud." (Cue ear-splitting Rabelaisian guffaws.) Various club presidents and managers memorably strut the stage. Marcello Lippi theatrically denounces the Italian dressing room: "Bunch of bastards, bunch of spies"; Antonio Conte hurls water bottles at Juve bellowing: "It's time we stopped being crap."
The reader is never in doubt that the text was originally in Italian, making it refreshingly different from the prosaic platitudes of the standard British footballer's life. True, the highly charged style occasionally strays into Swiss Toni territory: "When you're in love, it's time you need. When the feeling's gone, having an excuse can help." Again, no British footballer could ever get away with statements such as Pirlo's lament after Alex Ferguson "unleashes" the ferocious Park Ji-Sung to shadow the Italian midfielder in a Champions League tie: "He's essentially a man without blemish, but he ruined that purity just for a moment… a fleeting shabbiness came over the legend that night."
However, usually the purple prose fits the subject matter perfectly. Pirlo's visceral reaction to losing the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul will delight not only Liverpool supporters. Not for him the mealy mouthed "gutted". After this "mass suicide where we all jumped off the Bosphorus Bridge… I no longer felt like a player… But even worse, I no longer felt like a man." Walking up to take the first penalty in the 2006 World Cup final shootout is "barely 50 metres. But it's a truly terrible journey, right through the heart of your fear."
Certain footballers' preoccupations transcend nationalities. Pirlo's favourite pursuits, we learn, at some length, are mickey-taking, PlayStation ("after the wheel, the best invention of all time") and wine, albeit from his father's vineyards. With a grand flourish he turns down €40 million (£32m) to join Qatar's Al-Sadd, preferring instead one last bow for his country in the 2014 World Cup. As he says earlier: "Take someone like Antonio Cassano. He says he's slept with 700 women in his time, but he doesn't get picked for Italy any more. Deep down, can he really be happy?"