The 50 Best Football Books Ever: 30-21
As we slide into the top 30, it's time for bed-wetting, Benedict Cumberbatch, LSD soccer, Dick Whittington and Triumph Stags...
30 Fear and Loathing in La Liga
Barcelona vs Real Madrid – Sid Lowe, 2013
Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Because you simply can’t read a proper book about Barcelona vs Real Madrid without a lengthy history lesson that digs up the roots of world football’s biggest fixture.
You might find it hard going at first, but stick with it: there’s so much to be fascinated by in each club’s humble beginnings; of General Franco and the Catalan resistance; of Madrid’s mercurial Alfredo Di Stefano; of Barça’s brilliant László Kubala and his escape from Hungary dressed as a Russian soldier; of how each club swiped those last two players from under the others’ noses in similarly grubby circumstances.
As Lowe digs deeper you’ll find valuable interviews with legendary representatives on either side of the divide – see Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, Zinedine Zidane, Hristo Stoichkov and Raul to name but a few. Yet these are all just characters in a much greater story, one in which each side has grown to despise and yet need the other to further validate its ideals; Barcelona the club of Catalonian pride, Real Madrid the glitzy, powerful galactico-collectors with a record 11 European Cups to their name. It’s the globe’s greatest game for a reason, and this brilliantly researched book explains how. Joe Brewin
Tony Adams with Ian Ridley, 1998
“For an autobiography to work,” explains writer Eamon Dunphy, “the subject has to be willing to discuss his faults. The footballer must show himself to be real and flawed.” Addicted was the first such autobiography. Adams talks with breathtaking honesty about the two addictions which have dominated his life – football and alcohol.
His career encompassed both the “win or lose, we're on the booze” culture of the ’80s and the mineral water/steamed broccoli of Arsene’s Arsenal. His harrowing account of his descent into alcoholism (including bed-wetting and clothes-soiling) drew criticism from those with weaker constitutions. The majority were simply dumbfounded by what they read, and concurred with Wenger’s comment: “Tony, I’m amazed you’re still actually with us.” Jon Spurling
28 I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2013
Modern footballer autobiographies follow a pretty standard shtick. Player outlines tough childhood (ideally where ball is only friend), player gets picked up, player nearly gets cut, player works hard, player gets success, player lightly coats off rival without revealing too much.
I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic is different. The Manchester United striker revels in his role as pantomime anti-hero, but goes deeper than mere Marmite pastiche. The searing honesty of how his relationship with Pep Guardiola disintegrated at Barcelona – which notably details how fragile that seemingly unshakable ego can actually be – is refreshing, as is how an unforgiving upbringing spending time between an overworked cleaner mother and indifferent alcoholic father shaped everything that followed.
Yes, author David Lagercrantz has since admitted he has embellished much of the content, but don’t let that detract from what is a fabulous book. Think of I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a movie biopic based on someone’s life – Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk The Line or Benedict Cumberbatch’s star turn as maths genius Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. It might not be historically accurate, but it captures the essence of the person better than any straight biography could ever wish. Andy Murray