INFTH Book Review: The Football Men

The Football Men, isn’t really a Simon Kuper book. There’s no complex mathematical formula used to support its ideas and there is little mention of wars or dictators either.

Nevertheless though, Kuper’s unusual book bears all the hallmarks of a product of one of this era’s great sports writers. It’s well written, clever and funny, sure to keep even a reader jaded by the inept autobiographical skills of footballers hungry for more.

A collection of profiles, the book doesn’t have to be read in any specific order, however, it is organized chronologically; starting with profiles written in the late nineties, and ending with some only months old.

Detailing the lives and professional travails of some of football’s most well regarded people, The Football Men seeks to understand the man within the player- what sort of person exists behind the veil of jerseys, names and numbers.

Interestingly, Kuper doesn’t limit his research to just players- profiles of well known managers, stadium architects and even film directors are all included.

If one criticism could be levelled about the content in part one, it would be that the profiles felt, well, a little out of date. Of course, in picking up the book you accept that what is about to be read won’t feature cutting edge commentary on the very current affairs of footballer, but rather that the book will be a refreshing chance to review past perspectives, and gain an even more thorough insight on the players mentioned.

There are of course, times when Kuper clearly gets it wrong in his profiles- pronouncing the 2008 Champions League final as Drogba’s farewell match for example, or his predictions that in the mid 2000s, Michael Owen was entering the peak years of his career. However, there were times when a momentary salute to Simon Kuper’s expert divination had to be in order- he tipped Ruud Van Nistelrooy for success before he started banging in the goals for Manchester United, and foresaw the departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea several months in advance of the Portuguese’s acrimonious exit.

Some certainly, might find it dull to read rehashed, out of date descriptions of the game’s stars, and I too entered with similar apprehensions. However peculiarly though, the book and its subjects still took on a place in an intriguing and thought provoking plot, one that wasn’t the slightest bit tarnished by my knowledge of the eventual ending. Simon Kuper manages to turn well documented stories into captivating versions of his own, accounts of players’ lives that are complemented well by his wisdom and insights.

Revealing talks with Sven Goran Eriksson and Lothar Mattheaus are complemented by a stunning evaluation of some of English football’s giants. It is here, in part two, where Kuper’s narrative becomes reminiscent of his earlier works- the writer draws logical and intelligent conclusions based on his knowledge of the social and economic background of  players, as well as their actions in later life.

A very funny writer, Kuper’s natural humor becomes more obvious in this book than perhaps it could in his more complicated theses- something which adds an extra dimension to the writer’s already very accomplished style. Thankfully, Kuper doesn’t fall into a trap frequented by too many profilers scattered around numerous fields- despite his obvious occupation with the life of the footballer, Kuper manages to deliver intelligent, unbiased opinions on the subjects of his writing, castigating Ashley Cole for instance, while at the same time eulogizing the many virtues of Arsene Wenger (okay, I did say unbiased but we all know Kuper is a sucker for stat lovers…).

Where the book moves into the realm of uniqueness previously explored in Kuper’s past works, is in its descriptions of ‘the other football men.’ A film director, a statistics expert, an architect, a professor and Franz Beckenbauer- the five men detailed by the book’s fascinating third part. Unlike coaches, players or even referees, these ‘football men’ are of a much less fashionable variety, and good, well researched reporting on them can be difficult to find. Certainly, no one could accuse the book of being poorly researched, and Kuper is probably the perfect man to go out and discover football’s less illustrious characters. Before reading, I had heard of none of the men listed apart from Der Kaiser, yet afterwards I felt like I knew them all quite well.

For a fan just getting into the game, or for ones who wish that a fifty year addiction was possible to break, this book can contain appeal. An introduction for some, a rehash for others, there is no question that The Football Men is worth a look.

Buy The Football Men on Amazon


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