Tag Archives: Barcelona

Louis Van Gaal – The Biography


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


Barcelona – Stories Behind The City

From Barcelona 300[2]

Barcelona – Stories Behind The City
By Jeremy Holland
Summertime Publishing – £9.99

The author of Barcelona – Stories Behind The City, Jeremy Holland, was born in Los Angeles, which isn’t in the least surprising, as the writing herein is more Americana than a cryptic combination of such bands as Los Lobos and Bon Jovi. Now some might consider this a good thing, while others not so good. Personally, it’s American spelling that irks me beyond negotiation. It always seems wrong somehow. While certain terminology such as the horrendously over-used and horribly misused word, ‘awesome,’ makes my skin crawl to the point of literally want to vomit…

The only reason I mention the above within the context of this book review, is that one doesn’t normally equate a menagerie of Americanisms within the parameters of Barcelona literature. And while this may come across as pedantically besides the point, it does nevertheless influence (much of) the reading. Once this is fully realised/overcome/dealt with, certain segments of Barcelona – Stories Behind The City makes for entertaining reading.

To be sure, there’s a fistful of thought provoking one-liners scattered throughout the book that are particularly pleasing, of which the following three are more than deft examples: ”All of these guys have the gift of the gab and zero conscience” (‘CSI Barcelona’); ”Locals sit on shaded benches in the square across the street, legs crossed, reading newspapers, as a flock of escaped parakeets chirp in a powder blue sky” (‘The Sound of Barcelona’); ”Alex had been raised in a family of mathematicians, happiness and sadness weren’t quanifiable, so they didn’t exist. Same went for God or any other super natural being” (‘Barcelona Gothic’).

While my favourite short story ‘Monica & Juan’ – a depiction of family life, on the edge, on the nickel (now there’s an Americanism not oft used) in economically drained Spain – it’s ‘Running the Gauntlet’ that might in and of itself, reside as this book’s most powerful: ”As they crossed the slippery pavement of Las Ramblas, prostitutes manifested out of nothingness. They whistled. ”Hey, Papi,” they shouted. ”I suck dick.” Their toned muscles and prison hardened expressions in the glare of ornate street lamps, provoked more dread and loathing in the testicles than sexual desire.”

As stated on the back cover: ”Dubbed, ‘The Great Enchantress,’ by art critic Robert Hughes, Barcelona was seducing visitors long before the city’s rise to a tourist hotspot following the Olympic Games in 1992. Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell all once called the Catalan capital ”home,” while countless others have been charmed by the city’s character and splendour.

While Jeremy Holland’s literary offering may not (obviously) stand alongside that of Hemingway and Orwell’s, it’s still a worthy contribution to that of Barcelona’s ever growing magic and mystique.

David Marx

Arsenal – The French Connection


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


By Luca Caioli
Corinthian/Icon Books – £7.99

Having had twenty minutes off since the conclusion of an essentially disappointing World Cup (in which Spain were admittedly fab), football has returned with a vengeance. Well, perhaps not so much a vengeance as an assortment of extremely gifted individuals, bequeathing the masses with their unique, ubiquitous and undeniable talent(s).

Suffice to say, every football fan throughout the land will have his or her take upon whom such quintessential laudability be deftly placed. Tevez? Drogba? Walcott? The list is perhaps endless, but for me, I’d have to go with the whiz-kid sensation that was FIFA Player of the Year 2009 and European Footballer of the Year, Lionel Messi.

The twenty-two year olds’ stunning goal against a smug Manchester United in last year’s European Championship Final alone, warrants the above accolades; but so far as this very readable is concerned, the tiny Argentinean is beyond compare – with the possible exception of one.

In Chapter twenty-seven ‘Leo and Diego,’ author Luca Caioli writes: ‘’Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger has no doubts. ‘Messi is like Maradona but with a turbo attached to his feet […]. And Franz Beckenbauer: ‘ When we see him run with the ball we are reminded of Diego Maradona at his best, with good reason.’ Some do not deny the parallels, but they have words of warning for Messi. ‘Between Messi and Maradona,’ maintains Hector ‘El Negro’ Enrique, ’86 World Champion with Argentina, ‘there are two things they have in common: their running style and their speed. Diego has that run and that short sprint, which makes mincemeat of you, and it’s difficult to take the ball off Leo. On top of that, he doesn’t just shoot for the sake of shooting, rather, he looks for the far post and dodges from right to left like Diego. The bad thing is not that he’s compared to Maradona, but that Leo believes he is Maradona.’’

Herein, I have to disagree, for as much as a genius as Maradona once was, he’s also totally bonkers. Messi on the other hand, appears as calm and as level headed as your average geologist in a dodgy jumper. Nothing but nothing seems to faze him. For as much as he loves his football, he’s not a prize peacock like Beckham, nor an illiterate potato head like Rooney.

On the other hand, no author is going to write about anything remotely damaging in relation to their on-going career or relationship with their subject, especially one as high profile as Leo Messi.

And Caioli is no exception.

Upon reading this meticulously well-researched, down-to-earth and very timely book on surely the world’s greatest (current) player, I couldn’t help but feel I was reading the truth – which in this day and age of footballing frolics, tabloid titillation and sexual spin, is refreshing to say the least.

Like the player, Messi is an exceedingly cute little number.

David Marx