To start with I need to make a confession, I knew of this book from around the time it was conceived by its author Daniel Fieldsend. Daniel was the owner of the fantastic (but sadly defunct) blog Left Wing Soccer. I admired his writing ability but also the variety of areas of the game about which he wrote.
As we all know however, it can be extremely hard for any form of media to live up to expectations when you have been looking forward to something for a long time. This book not only met my expectations, it far surpassed them.
As someone who still plans to write a book of his own the first thing that struck me as I read through for the first time was the quality of the writing, Dan was always a good writer but in this book he has taken that to another level. The aspect of the book that I enjoyed the most was perhaps that it was not purely a football book but one that touches eloquently on culture and travel whilst always maintaining football as its central focus. To tie these themes together in a coherent manner is a feat in itself and one that Dan manages effortlessly.
Early on in the book Dan states that he could potentially have written a high percentage of this book without ever leaving Britain. Fortunately he eschewed this option in favour of painstakingly forming contacts at each club he visited and travelling from city to city by train, this attention to detail truly comes through in the writing.
Each of the twenty chapters focuses on a different club – with the exception of a single chapter concentrated on the transfer market – and each club is viewed through a specific lens depending on the nature of the contact that Dan had at the club. Themes such as scouting, youth development and economics feature strongly with each chapter offering a slightly different insight in to the nature of top level football.
For the purpose of this review I tried to sit down with the contents page and identify my own favourite chapter and it speaks to the quality of the book that I could not separate two. As a Scotsman the chapter on Athletic Bilbao and their connection to their region spoke to me, particularly with the emphasis on education at their academy to ensure that all young players understand the history of the region. The fact that Athletic Bilbao are able to maintain their Basque only policy whilst challenging for trophies in La Liga is testament to the ability of the club to produce talented and well rounded young players.
Whilst the chapter on Athletic Bilbao concentrated on the development and education of young players another of my favourites saw Dan visit Benfica to discuss their approach to sports science with the development of young players. That Dan was impressed with the approach at the club came through clearly in the writing and with the authors assertion that if European Football was a level playing field financially then Benfica would be one of the most successful sides in Europe.
Whilst those two short paragraphs may give you a taste of what this book is about it is impossible to do justice to the book itself. I have read a lot of football books over the years but this one is now firmly entrenched as my favourite, I have no doubt that I will return to read again and again.
If you have not yet then I would strongly urge you to purchase this book (available from amazon and all good sellers) confident that you will not regret the decision. Well written and fantastically well researched the level of insight in to each club is superb.