The best football books of 2008

Another year passes, giving us time to look back on the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, and all the terrifically exciting things you’ve missed out on over the past 12 months which you just can’t remedy.

Whether it’s the Led Zeppelin reunion or one of Didier Drogba’s surprise secret-millionaire cash handouts, there are probably numerous things that happened this year which we regret not going to, or being at, or having done.

Luckily, missing out on a great read doesn't have to be among your regrets because – with Christmas getting so near that the goose is on the phone to the Weightwatchers helpline – we’ve compiled a list of the books we liked best during 2008.

Next week we’ll bring you the best football books ever, which is handy if you’re searching for a last-minute gift. But first, this year’s best…

The most recent book to get a five-star rating in FourFourTwo was Jamie Carragher’s autobiography, cunningly entitled Carra: My Autobiography.

As someone who has never been shy to air his opinion on a matter – ask TalkSport – Carra was never going to tell a tedious tale about a tough upbringing, a happy marriage to a childhood sweetheart, and a “great bunch of lads in that dressing room”.

Instead he comments sharply on the lax attitude of some foreign imports who’ve walked alone through the door at Anfield; his well-documented love of the Liver Bird over the Three Lions; and the regimes of Kop managers previous and present.

Carra is compelling reading, essential not only for Liverpool fans, but for anyone who doubts that footballers care about the game like the fan in the stands.

"Hmmm... he needs to focus" 

Next up on the menu is Bamboo Goalposts, a timely look at the chaotic state of football and politics in China. It’s hardly a country famed for the sport, but Rowan Simmons offers fascinating insights on football’s role in government relations with Western countries back in the ’50s, along with his first-hand account of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

The country is now catching up fast thanks to innovations like the youth-nurturing China Now project, and rapidly developing Premier League T-shirt sellers of the future while clubs fall over themselves to establish a foothold in a potentially globe-crushing market. It’s a fascinating read, and in many ways a very important one.

From the future to the past, and the re-issue of Ferenc Puskas’s autobiography Captain of Hungary, kindly giving you another chance to read one of the true footballing greats.

Famously candid – this is the strictly left-footed player who once said “If you kick with both feet, you fall on your arse” – Puskas writes with humour and a refreshing lack of modesty about everything from the uprising in his home country through his first-team debut at the age of 16, right through to the glories of Olympic gold and the heydays of Real Madrid.

The Mighty Magyars team to which Puskas was so integral helped turn football tactics upside down, not least with their 6-3 desctruction of England in 1953.

Fans of formational analysis should check out Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson (a regular FourFourTwo contributor, but we're not biased – it was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award).

Wilson, a thoughtful and knowledgeable writer, guides you through the history of tactical innovation – and the all-too-common reaction to it, summed up by one Englishman blurting "They're the same players. The formation isn't important." That man was a journalist, and the year was 2004.

"And later, I'll hand you your arse on a plate" 

(Not all hacks are as lazy, and while we're on the subject of FourFourTwo contributors, a quick mention for Andy Mitten's 'More Than A Game' compendium Mad For It and Diary writer Scott Murray's day-by-day history Day Of The Match. Perfect stocking-fillers each, and we're not talking about Andy and Scott.)

Finally, something for those who expect more from a football book than tales about money-grabbing, car-swerving and adultery. When Friday Comes is a powerful yet human look at Middle Eastern football by James Montague.

Much like certain transfers, it actually ends up not really being about football at all; in this case, the focus is the region and its people, and the passionate and moving evidence of the astonishing universality of football.

Chewing casually on the local drug of choice, Montague documents his conversations with the national manager of Yemen and two former players, and also touches on Iraq’s success at the Asian Cup.

However, most of the stories are focused on his journey. And this is no self-consciously wacky travelogue on the back of a drunken bet: he’s nearly stabbed, clashes with riot police, and encounters a Hezbollah museum in Beirut shortly before it’s closed down for fear of a raid from Mossad. Funny, exciting and thrilling, with tragedy at every turn, it’s a deep but rewarding read.

So there you have it. We can’t change everything you regret from the past year – especially not in the Christmas party season – but now you’ve no excuse for missing out on the best reads of 2008... FourFourTwo excepted.

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