Global Growth of the Round-Ball Religion ; CHRISTMAS BOOKS ++ Continuing Our Sport-by-Sport Guide to the Most Stimulating Festive Gifts from the Realms of Sports Literature ++ World Football

Article excerpt

There have been two significant developments in football publishing in the last decade. One is the rise in instant celebrity memoirs, a specialised branch of the boom that followed the staggering success of Being Jordan by Dwight Yorke's ex, aka Katie Price. This resulted in swaths of the Amazon being cut down to facilitate the largely dull and embittered recollections of England's World Cup failures. The exception, Stephen Gerrard's heartfelt My Autobiography (Bantam, [pound]18.99), is also the only one not destined for the pulping factories.

The other, more interesting phenomenon, is the growth in literature dedicated to the global game. The Premiership has become multinational, the Champions' League all-pervading, and television broadcasts league matches from the Netherlands to Argentina. This has stimulated a thirst for knowledge about the game beyond these once insular shores, and a desire to put our football in a broader context.

The latter is done brilliantly by Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti's The Italian Job (Bantam, [pound]17.99), an examination of the contrasts between the Italian and English approaches to football. Aided by revealing interviews with the leading management figures (Ferguson, Capello, Wenger, Mourinho, Eriksson, Lippi, etc) the former Chelsea manager and Italian international looks at all aspects of the sport and roughly concludes the English game is more fun, but it is because the Italians take football so seriously that they are better at it. And the wind is a problem in England.

Not that this put off 2,125 foreign-born players who had plied their trade on these shores by the end of last season. The vast bulk of them arrived after the advent of the Premier League but, as Nick Harris uncovers in The Foreign Revolution: How overseas footballers changed the English game (Aurum, [pound]14.99), the home of football was laying out the welcome mat more than a century earlier. The discovery that Walter Bowman, of Canada, Accrington Stanley and Ardwick (now Manchester City), was the first overseas player is but one of many curiosities in a book which combines deft story-telling with an appendix to thrill any anorak listing every one of those adventurers/mercenaries in triplicate.

A significant number of those players came from eastern Europe but Jonathan Wilson, like Harris a contributor to these pages, is more interested in the ones that stayed at home. Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football (Orion, [pound]16 hardback, [pound]8.99 paperback) is part travelogue, part expose, part social and football history lesson, even partly a coming of age memoir, journalistically at least. …