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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for Forbes.com and Soccerly.com and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


TANGENTS

Book Review – “Soccer Men” by Simon Kuper, published by Nation Books

Written by on October 6, 2011 | 5 Comments »
Posted in History and Books

Anyone who spends a lot of time reading about football and researching football on the internet will surely recognize the hook.

Start off an article with a reference to Jonathan Wilson and his book “Inverting the Pyramid” and then go from there.

Wilson’s work on “Inverting the Pyramid” was outstanding but you would be hard pushed to find references to his first book “Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football.”

It was a very different work than “Inverting” but all the same, an excellent read. When I read Wilson’s first book it had a very similar feel to Simon Kuper’s “Football Against the Enemy” which was published in the mid-nineties.

“Football Against the Enemy” stands as a landmark book and one that has heavily influenced other writers and bloggers.

Kuper followed up with “Ajax, The Dutch, the War: Football in Europe during the Second World War” about a decade later – another terrific read albeit one that it seems few others seem to have read.

For Kuper name recognition – in North America anyway – came with the publication of the 2009 book “Soccernomics” with Stefan Szymanski.

“Soccernomics,” rather like “Freakonomics,” lined up much of the conventional wisdom surrounding football and by data collection and statistical analysis it poked holes in much of what had been passed off as fact.

With “Soccernomics” Kuper reached the pinnacle and now his name is used as a sure-fire hook when introducing an article.

His latest book “Soccer Men” takes him back to his roots as a football journalist with articles written for various publications over the last decade or so.

What the book reminds us is that in terms of profiles of players and the ability to get beyond the clichés and marketers image-making there are few better than Kuper.

His introduction provides a well-deserved nod to a book published in the late 60s and one I remember struggling to read as a teenager. “The Football Man – People and Passions in Soccer” by Arthur Hopcraft was not the usual type of football book.

Looking back it was probably the first “proper” football book I ever read. Back then – and it continued this way for another two decades – football books fell into one of two camps.

The first was the football annual – something close to a book version of tabloid football reporting. Glossy pictures, goals, saves and now again players dressed up in ridiculous costumes mostly focused around different hats. Find a pop star to pose with and that was even better.

The other type was passed off as an autobiography. Each followed a template and none provided you any insight into what life was really like as a professional footballer.

Hopcraft took a very different route and decided that the game – like life – can be interpreted many different ways and the interpretation is heavily influenced by the role you play.

Hopcraft started with the players and the managers but also expanded his profiles to club directors, referees, the amateur player, the press, foreigners and even the fans.

Like Hopcraft Kuper articles have not looked to “facts” garnered from interviews. Yes, there have been some conversations but mostly his pieces are based on observations, research, and an ability not to believe that just because someone is very good at football that it makes them a special person.

Because the book comprises articles from newspapers and magazines it makes it a very digestible read.  Ten minutes to spare and there is no reason why you can’t spend the time enjoying Kuper skewer Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard.

The Lothar Matthaus chapter was particularly enjoyable but Kuper reaches far beyond the puncturing of some egos with his stiletto-type style.

He stakes out positions and given that many of the articles were written years ago it is interesting to see what he got right and what did not go the way he thought.

Updates to the original pieces are included at the end of most chapters.

Fans of Kuper will enjoy having so many of his fine articles collected in one book while for those new to his work there will never be a better opportunity to discover what you have been missing.

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5 responses to “Book Review – “Soccer Men” by Simon Kuper, published by Nation Books”

  1. Soccerlogical says:

    I am writing the second part of “Soccer Men” entitled “Men of Soccer Men”, with chapters on John Terry’s dad selling cocaine in the bathroom and Rooney’s dad and uncle conspiring on illegal betting activity.

    I’ll keep you posted!

  2. rdm says:

    Finally ordered Soccernomics and to qualify for “SuperSaver free shipping!” decided to grab this one too. Anytime I get to hear someone skewer Ashley Cole or Steven Gerrard using actual facts and not made up “internet-isms” is good enough for me.

  3. Tim says:

    i got this book on the day it came out and i am half way thru it…love it…so far my fav has been the article on Rivaldo……loved soccernomics and can’t wait for his next..

  4. Paul WooHoo says:

    My first introduction to Kuper was his excellent “Soccernomics” book. I’m definitely going to buy this one and have it shipped to me and probably check out the older books Bobby mentioned in the article.

  5. brklynstrr says:

    this book rocks…the chapter on the England players biographies is hysterical…

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