In between playing Football Manager, watching football and generally immersing myself in a footballing life, I pretty regularly dip into footballing books as a way of both unwinding and furthering my life consuming interest.
So in the interests of being vaguely useful, and with FM16 coming out very soon indeed, I’ve decided to write up this quick piece on some of the tip top books I’ve read in the genre and how they can give you food for thought for FM.
Some will be directly applicable in game, others won’t be. But hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading the books included here – irrespective of their direct usefulness or otherwise.
Note: We’re aware that Iain Macintosh has a brand new book about FM coming out (after he managed to work on one previously). We’ll be reviewing that in full once the postman co-operates with our demands of on time post.
The Football Manager set texts
Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson – Practically the sacred text for anyone interested in tactics, Wilson’s history remains the starting point for anyone wanting to understand how different football formations evolved across the world. Get the most recent version to ensure the book doesn’t end where the first edition paperback does, which is on England’s thoroughly depressing defeat to Croatia ahead of Euro 2008 at Wembley.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis – Again, another pretty obvious one to read for sporting fans. Though it is about the fortunes of the Oakland Athletic baseball side, the principles behind Billy Beane’s success are essential for anyone considering trying to make their way as one of the game’s underdogs. See also Malcolm Gladwell’s David vs Goliath for a non-sporting twist on things.
The Number’s Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally – One of the major influencers for the arrival of “Moneyball” thinking in football, The Number’s Game is an essential for anyone looking to analyse a squad with a statistical emphasis. Chapters on the value of keeping a clean sheet and on the multiplicative effects of poor players on the overall performance of a starting XI stand out as particularly important.
Soccernomics/Why England Lose by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymeriak – Soccernomics is a broader examination of trends in football that include on and off pitch performance. Chapters on England’s problem with the middle class, Guus Hiddink’s managerial record and penalties as game theory are interesting, but the transfer chapters are most important for FM players. In conjunction with The Number’s Games expanded research, Soccernomics helped form the basis of Alex Stewart’s Moneyball transfer rules for The Set Pieces and are worth reading in full.
Books to inspire managerial approaches
O, Louis by Hugo Borst – Hugo Borst’s book on Louis Van Gaal is strange but an interesting insight into the madness of the Dutchman. In between musings on Borst’s obsession with the man, you’ll get a clear look at Van Gaal’s approach to management on the pitch and how he deals with things off it.
Another way of winning by Guillem Balague – More straight up than the Van Gaal book, this analysis of Pep Guardiola’s career up to his pre-Bayern sabbatical gets into his approach at Barcelona. Clearly a brilliant man, his commitment to the game and to trying to cover all angles is so intense that it ultimately compromises his health. An understandable attention to detail for any Football Manager obsessive, right?
Invincible by Amy Lawrence – Examining the Arsenal side that won the Premier League title without losing a match, Lawrence’s book is a great insight into how a squad and manager comes together to achieve a goal. Showing how Wenger’s boasting the season before about the side’s quality undermined them, Lawrence also capably shows how Wenger helped mould a squad that was equal parts youthful vigour and experience to achieve what seemed impossible. Occasionally hagiographic, it’s worth forgiving because of the overall quality of what’s within.
Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography – Fergie’s second autobiography is far less interesting storywise than the first; Fergie the pub landlord is a much more interesting to read about than Fergie the icon. There is, however, plenty in there about how to manage. Anecdotes about dealing with problem players, how Spurs crumbled before him and about key matches will help you focus on the less tactical element of the game (as some would argue Alex Ferguson regularly did).
Miscellaneous managerial assistance
The Outsider by Jonathan Wilson – I could easily have recommended Wilson’s book on Clough, on Eastern Europe or on England elsewhere, but this book on the history of the goalkeeper is fascinating. Looking at its evolution and different styles of keeper, it’ll help you to understand how the game really does build up from the back.
The Nowhere Men by Michael Calvin – Want an insight into the cut throat world of scouting? Michael Calvin’s book offers it, showing you how men across the country and world scrape for a living in the hope of discovering the next great hope. If you’ll learn anything from this, it’s about how far and wide your resources have to go to pick up talent. But you’ll also pick up lessons about protecting talent and how to look solely at players (and not the teams around them) when scouting.
I think, therefore I play by Andrea Pirlo – If you’re looking for an insight into what your creative midfielder is thinking, then this is the book for you. Pirlo’s thoughts on how and why he plays the game in the manner he does is an excellent route into understanding the motivation of most creative players. Equally, his frustration with Park Ji Sung will give you an idea of how effective an old fashioned man marking job can be on a creative type.
The Ball is Round by Phil Goldblatt – This is basically your football history reference book and what the phrase “weighty tome” was saved for. An exhaustive history of the game across the world, it’s a great way of supporting your understanding of the cultural factors driving stylistic differences.
Calcio: A history of Italian football by John Foot – John Foot’s history of Italian football is all over the place in terms of narrative, but it’s a deliberate attempt to naturally weave together the differing themes, teams and names. It doesn’t always work, but it remains interesting throughout and helps explain the key underlying themes of Italian football.
Fear and Loathing in La Liga by Sid Lowe – Phil Ball’s Morbo is the best general history, but Sid Lowe’s history of the Real Madrid/Barcelona rivalry is one of the best football books ever written. Mixing his academic credentials to a delightfully readable writing style, it will surprise you as often as it informs you.
Tor – An easy to read examination of the history of German football, Tor spends more time on the history of clubs than the other books in the list but to interesting effect. Rafa Honigstein’s new book on German football is another one worth keeping your eye on.