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Seven must-read football books to get you through self-isolation: Pirlo, Mourinho, El Clasico

The Premier League, along with the FA and the EFL, recently announced that all football will be postponed until 30 April at the earliest. 

That means no top-flight football, no Champions League and no Euro 2020 this summer either. My friends, we could be without the beautiful game for a long time so long as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the UK and the rest of the world.

The hours usually spent on weekends and weeknights watching football have created a vacuum that few of us are sure how to fill, but in an attempt to find a solution we are creating lists of football-related things you can do to pass the time. This writer has collated some of the most compelling and thought-provoking football books out there to get you through this.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Indeed, there are countless numbers of football books that are equally deserving of your attention, if not more. The ones you see here are mainly based off my own reading.

Seven must-read football books to get you through self-isolation:

The Special One: The Dark Side Of Jose Mourinho – Diego Torres

In 2010 when Jose Mourinho, considered the best coach in the world at the time, joined Real Madrid, the biggest club in the world, it was generally accepted that the two would form an all-conquering alliance that would sweep all before them. Instead, after three years together, they split up in acrimony.

Spanish journalist Diego Torres revealed the reasons why in his explosive book about the Portuguese manager’s time at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. We find out what inspires Mourinho’s footballing philosophy, why he purposely antagonises certain players, and why he wasn’t the right fit at Real. It also provides a precursor for his downfall at subsequent clubs Chelsea and Manchester United.

This book is always held up by football writers as a brilliant piece of journalism, and yet it only has a rating of 3.5 on Goodreads. Trust us, though: this will absolutely get you through long stretches of boredom.

How Mourinho went from the cutting edge to a jaded coach

The Bottom Corner – Nige Tassell

If I tried to sell non-league football to you, I would probably do a terrible job of it and you likely wouldn’t want to hear it anyway. But The Bottom Corner by Nige Tassell will almost certainly make you fall in love with the lower reaches of the sport.

Tassell’s book is all about the romance, commitment and desperation of the non-league game, as the author follows a number of clubs below The Football League, including Tranmere Rovers, FC United of Manchester and Forest Green, across an entire season, as well as catching up with some former Premier League cult heroes such as Julio Arca and Barry Hayles.

This is one of the most enjoyable reads I have ever come across, delving into non-league football’s idiosyncrasies away from the bright lights and overhype of the top flight.

Behind The Curtain – Jonathan Wilson

We could probably list any of Jonathan Wilson’s many brilliant books – including his most recent, The Names Heard Long Ago, which is typically excellent – but I have chosen Behind The Curtain: Travels In Eastern European Football.

This was published all the way back in 2006, but it still holds up almost a decade and a half later. Wilson travels all over the eastern side of the continent to find out what has happened to the sport since the fall of the Berlin Wall and why a once considerably successful region has since crumbled in the face of corruption and mismanagement.

We are actually almost as far away from the book’s original publication now as the book’s publication was from the fall of communism in Europe, so it might be time for a sequel…

Englischer Fussball – Raphael Honigstein

German football writer Raphael Honigstein has produced some wonderful books such as Das Reboot and Klopp: Bring The Noise, but his first book deserves far more attention than it gets.

Released in 2009, Englischer Fussball: A German’s View Of Our Beautiful Game does what it says on the tin: we get a German take on the English game. Honigstein picks apart the many maxims and truisms of English football, while offering some provocative viewpoints that stimulate the reader.

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Living on the Volcano – Michael Calvin

The world of football management is largely closed off to the rest of us. We don’t see what happens behind closed doors, how coaches go about about their business, and we certainly don’t get to see how their minds work

Michael Calvin’s third book, Living on the Volcano: The Secrets Of Surviving As A Football Manager, is about as close to finding out as you are going to get. Through a series of interviews with managers at varying levels of the English game, the award-winning writer gains a unique insight into the inner-workings of a manager’s psyche. Coupled with his superb writing, this is the definition of a must-read for football fans.

I have no qualms about saying this is the best book I have ever read – period, not just football wise – and it features possibly my favourite passage ever:

I Think Therefore I Play – Andrea Pirlo

Every Christmas people open their stockings to find the latest autobiography ‘written’ by a footballer looking to cash in on their name. It’s usually filled with cliche, dreadful banter and not nearly enough insight into what actually made them good at what they do. Inevitably, they end up as bestsellers.

Andrea Pirlo’s cleverly titled effort not only bucked that trend, but it even blew away the very best biographies in the sport. Masterfully written, the book contained a tremendous insight into his mindset as a footballer and plenty of quotable nuggets. Take this, for example:

“Being part of a team that belongs to everyone makes me feel good. A lot of the time, it’s better than sex: it lasts longer and if it falls flat, it can’t just be your fault.

“Take someone like (Parma striker) Antonio Cassano. He says he’s slept with 700 women but he doesn’t get picked for Italy any more. Can he really be happy? I wouldn’t be.

“That shirt, with its Smurf-like blue, gives you a whole new image across the world. It takes you to a higher level. Much better to be a soldier on the pitch than in the bedroom.”

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Fear and Loathing in La Liga – Sid Lowe

best football books of the decade

There are hundreds of books on individual clubs, leagues and competitions, but there are far too few tomes on famous rivalries. Among them, it is no exaggeration to say that Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid is likely the best.

Focusing on the intense rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain, Lowe does a magnificent job of interweaving the two club’s respective histories, which are bound not just by football, but also by decades of Civil War politics and all the baggage that entails.

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