Category Archives: Football

This Is Anfield

anfield

This Is Anfield –
The Official Illustrated History of Liverpool FC’s Legendary Stadium
By Mark Platt with William Hughes
Carlton Books – £25.00

It’s there to remind our lads who they’re playing for and to remind the opposition who they’re playing against.

Bill Shankly

With Liverpool FC at the top of the league for the first time in a while, it does have to be said, German manager, Jorgen Klopp, is clearly doing something (exceedingly) right. There again, when I lived in Berlin, he did win the Bundesliga back to back with Borussia Dortmund in 2011 and 2012.

So all told, he’s a more than qualified, and lest it be said, rather feisty manager to lead one of the finest teams in the land to some sort of silverware.

It’s just a shame his star wasn’t/hasn’t fundamentally been brought to bear in This Is Anfield – The Official Illustrated History of Liverpool FC’s Legendary Stadium. A fine and altogether lavish, coffee table book, which charts the development of Liverpool’s football ground from its initial establishment in 1884 (as the home of Merseyside rivals, Everton Football Club) right through to it being something of a Red fortress. A place where the teams of Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish developed Liverpool FC into one of the finest of premier clubs in world football.

Replete with more than 150 historic, rare photographs, This Is Anfield explores the football ground’s rich and eventful history, as well as a range of iconic themes forever linked to the stadium. Among them: the famous Boot Room, the Shankly Gates, the legendary Kop – not to mention of course, many a fabled, European night.

Its ten chapters – along with a section aptly entitled, ‘A Timeline of Anfield’s Significant Changes, Moments and Games ‘ – more than qualifies this robust book as being the real deal.

The Introduction alone, sets the record straight nigh immediately: ”From humble origins it has gradually risen and now looms large over the surrounding rows of back-to-back terraced houses that have been there as long as the ground itself. The towering stands dominate the local skyline and it’s become as much a symbol of the city as the Liver Buildings or St. George’s Hall […]. A swaying Kop singing along to songs by The Beatles in the mid-1960s and a portly policeman laughing out loud as the ecstasy of another title erupts around him a couple of years later.”

In fact, it reads more like a celebration of Anfield’s existence, rather than a mere literary nod to its existence. So much so, I’m convinced each of its 188 pages will undoubtedly bring something special to each and every fan; a book where there’s many a drop-quote-deliberation (which many might not actually know):

When the Kop start singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ my eyes start to water. There have been times when I’ve actually been crying while I’ve been playing.

Kevin Keegan

There’s not one club in Europe with an anthem like ‘You’ll never Walk Alone.’ There’s not one club in the world so united with the fans.

Johan Cruyff

Gerry [Marsden] told me that they used to play the top 10 records before kick-off at Anfield but when YNWA fell out of the chart, lots of people complained. So it carried on being played and just snowballed from there.

Anfield announcer George Sephton

Suffice to say, if there’s ONE name that is and shall forever be synonymous with Anfield, it is surely that of the legendary Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly. So it’s only right he should claim and be credited with the majority of quotes:

”We have great grass at Anfield… Professional grass!”
”The very word ‘Anfield’ means more to me than I can describe.”
”Anfield isn’t a football ground, it’s a sort of shrine. These people are not simply fans, they’re more like members of one extended family.”

Still are.

David Marx

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Arsene Wenger

arsene

Arsene Wenger – The Inside Story of Arsenal under Wenger
By John Cross
Simon & Schuster – £20.00

”If you eat caviar every day, it’s difficult to return to sausages” quips Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, in the third chapter of this rather refreshing, explanatory and all-round fascinating book, Arsene Wenger – The Inside Story Of Arsenal Under Wenger. Replete with numerous other pearls of wry wisdom, it makes for an idiosyncratically ‘inside’ read, that most self-respecting football fans have invariably come to expect from a top-flight, Premiership football manager.

To be sure, this is a book which encompasses an array of statistics, footballers, journalists and Wenger anecdotes, in an equally entertaining, and in the case of the protagonist himself, enlightening manner: ”Wenger watches Match of the Day but is rather dismissive when it comes to the points made by pundits. He is equally disparaging when it comes to radio phone-ins and football chat shows, and says he’s never looked at Twitter […]. ”The only thing I can say on social networks is anybody can insult anybody even if it’s not true, and that is maybe a weak point of the modern social networks. You can tomorrow be insulted by anybody without any defence […]. We have to live with that and maybe reinforce our solidarity and be stronger inside the clubs. And maybe this is a time as a manager to have stronger beliefs than ever, because you are questioned more than ever, and maybe that’s the new challenge we face”” (from the eleventh chapter, ‘Press Relations’).

Like so much of Wenger’s unique approach, the above is an honest as well as interesting take on social networks, many managers of whom – Louis Van Gaal springs to mind – would probably prefer didn’t exist; especially when one considers how downright crass and horribly unforgiving a great number of (English) football fans can be.

There again, with more than a thousand games in charge, the Frenchman has managed Arsenal since 1996. So he’s obviously doing something exceedingly right – which these eighteen chapters (excluding Introduction and Index) wholeheartedly investigate and purposefully reflect upon.

By shedding a prism of varying light that induces the reader into reading ever more, Arsene Wenger is indeed, a most thoughtful assessment of both his achievement(s) and legacy at the club.

Although for me, it’s the book’s managerial analysis that I found the most absorbing.

Once again returning to the third chapter, author John Cross, interestingly writes: The magic formula of management must be the elusive balance of being able to entertain and win at the same time. Some managers, like Jose Mourinho, will set up a team to win at all costs and then add in the flair later. Managers like Wenger begin their philosophy with entertainment and then figure out how to win later. They build from a base of scoring goals, creating chances and skill. He is one of the few managers who put winning and style on the same level.

Wenger, detailing his philosophy, said ”we are in a job where you have to win. But the truth is that the ambition of every great club must be to win and to win with style, and to think of the people who pay a lot of money to come to watch the matches. You always have to have it in your mind that you want people to wake up in the morning with a love of going to the stadium and for them to go home having enjoyed themselves. In fact, the real goal of professional football entails not just winning but also enabling people to discover the pleasure of watching something beautiful.””

With such an intrinsically pristine persuasion, is it any wonder Arsene Wenger remains the longest serving manager in the Premier League?

This irrefutably well written book by The Daily Mirror’s Chief Football Writer more than explains why. If you’re an Arsenal fan (in particular), you won’t be disappointed.

David Marx

Das Reboot

das reboot

Das Reboot
– How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered The World
By Raphael Honigstein
Yellow Jersey Press – £18.99

          Footballers are naurally superstitious.They tend to believe in the power of               routine, in repetitiveness. It’s how they’ve played their entire professional               lives. You do the things that work and discard those that don’t

Upon reading the 274 pages of Das Reboot, it’s easy to understand why Raphael Honigstein is the UK’s top expert on German football. Apart from being a regular columnist for The Guardian and ESPN, he’s also a writer with the Suddeutsche Zeitung. As such, he most certainly knows his stuff. So much so, I’m inclined to admit that these nineteen chapters will undoubtedly appeal a whole lot more to the initiated, than those for whom the countless trials and tribulations of The Bundesliga are not quite so apparent.

For instance, in the very first chapter (‘Angst 2014’) he already writes: ”Incessant tactical drills had them playing with the cohesion of a club team, a rare quality in international football where many of Low’s peers still believed that simply lining up the country’s best eleven players was all that was needed.”

In a round-a-bout kind of way, Honigstein does fundamentally write with an almost effortless tactical suave; which, along with an ultimately informed manner, somehow suggests he believes his readers are fantastically in the know. And hopefully they are! Of his first book, Englischer Fussball, The Times resoundingly wrote: ”[…] Honigstein explores, with erudition, originality and wit, the difference between what the English are and how others see them. This book ought to be widely read. I’d put it in schools.”

Might this be because there’s an openess amid the author’s writing? An endearing quality, that, by the time of ‘Two Thousand Zero Four,’ is recurringly aligned with that of a political peruasion. Two overtly potent examples being: ”The nation was running out of players, and casting envious glances at the multi-cultural make-up of World Cup 98 and Euro 2000 winners, France. Mayer-Vorfelder bemoaned the fact that Germany had lost her colonies after the First World War and thus couldn’t cope with the athletic style of her neighbour […]. Netzer famously wrote in 2003 that Ballack was ‘not predestined for the leadership role of days gone by,’ because the socialist GDR had been a country where ‘the collective counted’ and ‘the path for geniuses was blocked.”

Or better still, aligned with philosophical nuance: ”[…] in football, as in life, the most powerful lies are always the ones you tell yourselves.”

Das Reboot is an easy, as well as very enlightening, albeit idiosyncratic read. It’ll no doubt make for a very worthy companion to the aforementioned book about English football, whilst simultaneously retaining a haughty substance and quality of its own.

Unsurprisingly, the final chapter, ‘The Longest Goal,’ concludes on an almighty positive note – having interestingly regaled the reader with Germany’s World Cup Triumph against Argentina in 2014. According to Oliver Bierhoff: ”My worry was that they were subconsciously underestimating the game. We had had one more day to rest than Argentina. We had only played ninety minutes, and forty-five of that without expending much energy, whereas they had had to go a hundred and twenty minutes and to penalties against the Netherlands. Angel Di Marta, one of their most important players, was injured. We had everyone available. You can tell yourself that these things don’t matter, but in your heart of hearts you probably believe that they do. You might not even be aware that you’re feeling that way.”

Moreover, Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira (who didn’t play in the final due to an injured calf muscle) almost substantiates as much: ”I remembered to give the team some encouragement from the side of the pitch. Players feel it when the bench is alive.”

There really is no denying that; and perhaps Raphael Honigstin realises this more than most (of which this book is published proof).

David Marx

Louis Van Gaal – The Biography

gaal

Louis Van Gaal – The Biography
By Marten Meijer
Ebury Press – £7.99

I always had the feeling there was a lot more to the outspoken Dutch football manager, Louis van Gaal, than a mere menagerie of scowl tinged, dirty looks aligned with riotous quips and incendiary put-downs. The latter of which is particularly pertinent whenever the Amsterdammer is confronted by certain members of a staid and equally incendiary media – especially within that of The Netherlands.

An altogether boisterous and bemusing example of which can be found in the eleventh chapter (‘Van Gaal and the Media’) of this more than insightful read, Louis van Gaal – The Biography, where author Marten Meijer writes: ”When Voetbal International reporter Ted van Leeuwen asked a ‘dumb question,’ van Gaal gave the celebrated response,, ‘Are you really that dumb, or am I so clever?”’

Wry, witty and to the point, this overtly enjoyable/readable biography, tackles many, if not most of the idiosyncratic (although some would argue, dictatorial) behaviour patterns, that have long been associated with what many consider to be one of the greatest European managers of all time.

His current tenure at the helm of Manchester United may well prove this to be the case; although his managerial tactics – some of which have been ”developed by the Israeli army to track the movement of tanks on the battlefield” – at Ajax, AZ Alkmaar, Barcelona and of course, Bayern Munich, may have already placed him alongside the ranks of Shankly, Ferguson and Mourinho et al.

To be sure, there are numerous examples throughout this brazen biography, that do much to substantiate the tactical thinking behind the so-called ‘Iron Tulips’s’ footballing ideology. In chapter thirteen for instance (‘The Louis van Gaal Menu’), we stumble upon such discerning discourse as the following: ”I am ”two in one,” a harmony and a process coach. I build a relationship with the players. In that relationship it is clear what my vision is and how we can realise it within the team […]. I do not believe in war and punishment […] There is a certain distance between the players and me, and that is good. But players from 16 up to 35 make up the group. Some are still on their way to adulthood, so I fulfil a fatherly role. But I can also be a tormentor. I conduct myself according to the circumstances. But the precondition is that there has to be a relationship. That is why I rarely scold players; I am more emotional and direct. When you work in a punishing way, you correct someone based on his behaviour. But someone’s behaviour is part of his identity, so I don’t think that is useful. I rather look for solutions in communication. It may be necessary to penalise, but in the end the player has to want to make the right choice. Otherwise you get an unworkable situation.”

As mentioned at the outset, one wouldn’t normally akin such considered thinking with the feisty Dutchman, which is why Louis van Gaal – The Biography makes for such compelling reading.

Compelling, might I add, for all the right reasons.

David Marx

Fear and Loathing in La Liga

fear and loathing

Fear and Loathing in La Liga – Barcelona vs Real Madrid
By Sid Lowe
Yellow Jersey Press – £14.99

A raggle-taggle and somewhat discerning traipse through the long chequered history that is Barcelona and Madrid football clubs, this very readable book sheds all shades of sagacious light on what surely has to be, one of the, if not the fiercest of football rivalries anywhere in the world. Sure enough, football rivalry – an unwritten and relentlessly hopeless law unto itself – whether it’s Spurs and Arsenal, Ajax and Feyenoord, or Celtic and their former pet-hate, Rangers (the dystopia of the last, surely having been the most annoying and pathetic of them all, simply due to its fundamental myopic religiosity), has always made for colourful reportage, refereeing and downright thuggery.

 
Yet when it comes to the football rivalry between the capitals of Catalonia and Spain, it needs to be acknowledged that it is fundamentally politically based, rather than deeply entrenched within the tedious quagmire of blatant religiosity or out and out hoolganism.

 
To be sure: ”It’s Messi vs Ronaldo. It’s Catalonia vs Castilla. It’s the nation against the state, freedom fighters vs Franco’s fascists. It’s majestic goals and mesmerising skills, red cards and bench brawls. It’s the best two teams on the planet going face to face and toe to toe. It’s more than a game. It’s a war. It’s Barcelona vs Madrid […]. Only, it’s not that simple.”
Of course not that simple – these things never are; which is where this book comes in.

Fear and Loathing In La Liga – Barcelona Vs Real Madrid, is everything its title suggests and perhaps a whole lot more besides. Which is to say its nineteen chapters are as equally accountable as they analytical in their (at times, perplexing) persuasion. Absolutely no footballing stone between these two clubs has been left unturned – be it political or historical, due or undue. Or otherwise.
For instance, in chapter Two ‘The Night Before’ (nothing to do with the Paul McCartney song of the same name), the book’s author Sid Lowe – the English, Madrid-based columnist and journalist, who is a veritable authority on Spanish football – writes: ”’mès que un club is famous and it is everywhere: more than a club. It is not just a slogan, it is a declaration of principles […]. Francoism was transposed on to Madrid, the Catalan sociologist Luis Flaquer noting: ‘You couldn’t shout ”Franco you murderer” on the streets so people shouted at Real Madrid’s players instead. It’s a psychological phenomenon.”

 
Indeed it is. And continues to be, which in a roundabout kind of way, only partly accounts for some of its rumbustious and ever quizzical fascination: ”If the rivalry is partly explained by their success, their success is partly explained by the rivalry. Anything you can do I can do better. The relationship is symbiotic: they are necessary enemies, feeding off each other, trying to outdo each other. ‘Like cathedrals in the Middle Ages’ […]. ‘If Barcelona didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them,’ Madrid president Florentino Pérez once claimed […]. ‘Madrid and Barcelona are like two sides of a scale,’ says the Catalan midfielder Xavi Hernandez. It is impossible for both to be up at the same time, even when they’re both successful. Few recall that while Madrid won the first five European Cups, Barcelona won two league titles and the Copa de Generalisimo, a better domestic record than their rivals over the same period. Madrid’s triumph was Barca’s failure, for all their disputes at home, European competition that has marked them and continues to do so, acting as the ultimate arbiter.”’

 

With a selection of black and white/ colour photographs that date back to the thirties, these 406 pages constitute a very worthy footballing read. Replete with a varied, comprehensive Bibliography, Fear and Loathing In La Liga sheds more than interesting light on a quintessential rivalry that continues to intrigue and occasionally ignite, as well as inadvertently inform.

David Marx

Stillness and Speed

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Stillness and Speed
By Dennis Bergkamp and David Winner
Simon & Schuster – £20.00

I’ve always had a mighty keen in interest in Dutch football. Whether or not this is because I’m half Dutch myself, or, more to the point, because those who represent The Netherlands on the football pitch are surely among the finest players to have ever graced the game, remains yet to be clarified.

To be sure, Johan Cruyff may well be the finest football player ever, although those who have followed in his footsteps aren’t bad either. Players such as Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Marc Overmars, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robin, are names that leap forth nigh immediately when thinking of great Dutch players.

Although the name Dennis Bergkamp conjures up a whole lot more.

During his eleven years at Arsenal for instance – in which he made over 400 appearances – Bergkamp was often referred to as ‘the Dutch Master.’ And it’s utterly understandable as to why. Although if some explanation and definition were required, then get yourself a copy of this book.

Apart from being very readable, exceedingly well reasearched, and somewhat philosophical in approach, Dennis Bergkamp – Stillness and Speed (My Story) sheds oodles of inspired light, not only on the subject, but on the so-called beautiful game as a whole. Which, if nothing else, separates it from the unwarranted plethora of other (mind numbingly dull and what’s more, badly written) football books.

In the thirteenth chapter ‘Driven,’ there’s a great quote from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, which more than substantiates both of these issues: ”It is a spiritual thing. I am convinced of that. I believe you have two kinds of players who play football. Those who want to serve football like you serve God, and they put football so high that everything that is not close to what football should be is a little bit non-acceptable. And then you have those who use football to serve their ego. And sometimes ego can get in the way of the game, because their interest comes before the interest of the game. Sometimes the big ego is linked with what we call strong personalities, charisma. But most of the time, what people call charisma, is just big ego. I believe that Dennis was one of those who had such a high idea of the game and such a respect for the game that he wanted that to be above everything. I believe that the real great players are guided by how football should be played, and not by how football should serve them. If it becomes spiritual, it’s endless, and you’re always driven to going higher, and getting closer to what you think football should be.”

The above, as previously mentioned, is just one instance of what accounts for Stillness and Speed reaching a higher plateau of football writing. Like Bergkamp himself, this book is reflective of the need and the quest for perfection. Along with contributions from an array of his colleagues (the aforementioned Cruyff and Wenger, along with Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Ian Wright among others) there’s a number of insights into Bergkamp’s technique and all round approach to the game.

One of the best of these is in the chapter Louis, Louis’: ”We trained meticulously. Every detail, shooting, passing, everything had to improve. And everything became more tactical. Where should you run and why? ”Think, guys,” Van Gaal would say. ”Consider every move you make.” He gave us pointers, but during matches you had to do it yourself. He constantly hammered home that you had to be aware of everything you were doing. Every action had to have a purpose. I focused on what I was good at: being decisive. I thought a lot about tactics, about the position of defenders and about finding the opponent’s weak spots. I began to choose more intelligent positions by communicating more with the players around me. If a midfielder was marking me, I would play as far forward as possible, forcing my man to play between his defenders to make him uncomfortable. And if the player marking me was a defender, I would drop back to the midfield so he would feel out of place. I really loved approaching football that way, analysing my position like that. I was completely obsessed with being decisive. I was always watching my opponents, paying attention to details, observing the situation on the pitch. I constantly watched for opportunities to win the ball. All I needed was the slightest chance and I would rush at it.”

As Ian Wright once said, ”Dennis Bergkamp is the best signing Arsenal have made and ever will make.” And I can’t but help second that emotion.

This is quite possibly one of the finest football orientated books you will ever read.

David Marx

Arsenal – The French Connection

GCR[1]


Arsenal – The French Connection
How The Arsenal Became l’Arsenal
By Fred Atkins
GCR Books – £10.99

As the title, Arsenal – The French Connection – How The Arsenal Became l’Arsenal suggests, the ultimate theme of this book centre’s on the French influence and its collection of (sometimes sublime) players at the club. Although it does shed much light on the Premiership itself, as well as that of the French league, especially early on.

Thus making for a read that is both interesting and at times rather entertaining, albeit it questionably suffused in opinion. Already in the book’s Introduction, Gilles Grimandi writes: ”Glenn Hoddle, whose English is only on nodding terms with the basic rules of grammer spent four seasons at Monaco and somehow managed not to pick up any French at all, while Chris Waddle was at least willing to try during his time with Marseilles but still sounded like a GCSE student who’d been forced to study a language against his will as he stumbled his way through the oral exam.”

Isn’t this the name of the English game? None of its footballers are exactly renowned for having studied Einstein let alone a foreign language. And aren’t most football pundits, writers and Millwall fans more opinionated than most?
Hence the aforementioned description, as no matter how much one delves into the twenty-eight chapters of this very readable book – the final of which is simply entitled ‘Thierry Henry’ – one is relentlessly informed by way an amusing and oft provocative persuasion.

Drenched in the irony of the odd spelling mistake and quirk of English, Fred Atkins (himself a journalist who has covered the Tour de France, the Ashes and the Cricket World Cup, as well as a former student at the University of Strasbourg, where Arsène Wenger studied economics), has herein written a book that no doubt every Arsenal and serious football fan would relish reading. Not only does it include in-depth analysis of Wenger and every French player to have played for the club, it also asks how a stereotypically English team with a reputation for being boring and brutal, everntually evolved into a team that was a by-word for French va-va voom.

Personally, I believe – and I don’t think I am alone here – Arsenal have evolved into the Barcelona of England, which Atkins touches on in the final chapter: ”Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team from that season played a style of football never attempted before. It was relentless, high-speed and intricate all at once. Only players of the highest technical ability could cope with this so-called ”tika taka’ style. The passing had to be in exactly the right place all the time and the movement off the ball telepathic […]. Arsenal’s football during this era was a decent imitation and it was certainly wonderful to watch, but the players were never quite on the same level as Barcelona and physically they were significantly weaker. Guardiola had somehow managed to combine the Total Football of Rinus Michaels’ Dutch side, with the will to win and physicality of pre-Milton Keynes Wimbledon.”

Throughout said chapter, Atkins also asks to what degree Henry, who infamously left the club for Barcelona, was the greatest striker on earth. And if that isn’t enough to wet the curiosity, the book invariably touches on whether or not Nicolas Anelka was a sulking, money-obsessed mercenary or a misunderstood prodigy not really cut out for fame let alone loyalty; Emmanuel Petit’s disposition with regards a life pockmarked by tragedy; as well as the assorted demons inside William Gallases head – plus a whole lot more French induced business besides.

In fact, Wenger’s entire policy of ”If I give you a good wine, you will see how it tastes and after you ask where it comes from,” is all here. Every which way – from start to finish. Which in all, makes for a read that is as challenging as it is undeniably answerable to Arsenal’s current position in the Premiership.

David Marx