Handy Read: Pastries, sex, bread and Pardew

HANDY READ! FFT.com's round-up of the best football columns to while away the minutes

"What is truly important is being happy now. I know I haven’t given 100 per cent physically or mentally to this game. At best, I gave 50 per cent. Maybe a tiny bit more in the good years. But so what? Thanks to my talent, I live like a king, I play football and I have a great time.

"If I had wanted to give 100 per cent, I would have stayed at Real Madrid, sacrificed lots of things, done my very best and I probably would have succeeded. Instead, I’m here at Sampdoria and I love it."

The wise words of Antonio Cassano, who has opted out of the Champions League rat-race and is currently thoroughly enjoying himself at middling Samp. Cassano, once the most expensive teenager in the world, hasn't quite lived up to that potential but he doesn't give a hoot, as he explains in his new book – reviewed by Gabriele Marcotti in today's Times.

Cassano: Is he having a laugh? 

With his enjoyment of football for fun rather than profit allied to an unswerving devotion to sex and food (on nights before big Madrid games he'd smuggle a laydee into his hotel then scoff four or five post-coital pastries), he may serially irk the likes of Fabio Capello. But he's happy, and having read Marcotti's review of what sounds like a joyous book, we're happier too. Isn't that what it's about – fun?

Which is sort of Paul Wilson's point in The Observer when, er, observing that – despite the stories last week that the recession is hitting attendances – English football is still very well attended.

Wilson quite rightly goes on to say that while the bloated midweek Eurofests may be underattended, the clubs with the fewest unoccupied seats at the weekends are the ones who have made the most effort to attract belt-tightening fans, from Bolton's free beer to Bradford's ludicrously cheap season tickets.

Even so, Wilson goes on to acknowledge that Germany is still a cheaper place to watch top-flight football – it's a tenner to watch Bayern – and, perhaps not uncoincidentally, Bundesliga attendances are higher those in the Premier League.

And no wonder when newly-promoted upstarts like Hoffenheim can top the league at their first go, with training sessions open to the fans. The Guardian's Jamie Jackson draws a line between this open-door policy (which is the norm in Germany) and the impenetrable eight-foot gates at the training ground of, say, Crystal Palace. Have the Germans got it right once again?

One man certainly not getting it right – by his own admission, and to the fiscal benefit of his local church's collection plate – is Sunderland boss Roy Keane. The Telegraph's Rob Stewart is the latest to have a humorous crack at Keano's face-fuzz... although there's something about that spellcheck-friendly first paragraph that makes us hungry.

Keano: Not having a laugh 

Keane has openly discussed leaving his post, which would leave him in the same job market as Alan Pardew, whose record at West Ham is analysed by Sam Wallace in The Independent ahead of tonight's game against Liverpool (Mascherano and all).

The argument is that West Ham are significantly weaker now than when they faced the Merseysiders in the 2006 FA Cup Final, and who would have predicted that when a billionaire bought the club?

West Ham are now just one of maybe 15 top-flight clubs less concerned with upward mobility than avoiding the drop. That's partly financial, but it's also because the top flight is unusually displaying some of the entertaining openness which comes as standard in the Championship, where Times columnist Rod Liddle turns his gaze today.

Liddle urges his readers not to give their undivided attention to a division which features captains berating younger team-mates and lauded forwards protecting their facial features. And you know what? He's right. There's a wonderful world of football out there. So keep on looking...

Any suggestions for the next round-up? Keep them coming to FourFourTwo.com editor Gary.Parkinson@haymarket.com


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