Thursday, December 23, 2021

Four books to read this festive season


Photo:  The cover of Arrigo Saachi's book, The Immortals.

It’s the off-season and the festive season, so what better way to spend your time than reading a few football books?

I’ve read four recently and I highly recommend them.

Number one is “The Immortals, by Arrigo Sacchi (with journalist Luigi Garlando).

“Who is Arrigo Saachi?” I can hear some of you say.

Well, that’s what a lot of people asked when he was appointed coach of AC Milan in 1987.

Everyone called him Mr Nobody, but he won the Serie A title in his first season at AC Milan and the European Cup in the two seasons after that.

Saachi never played football at a high level and one can understand the sceptism of the superstars under his control when he arrived at Milan.

His response was priceless:  “I never knew you had to have been a racehorse to be a good jockey.”

Saachi had the full backing of Milan’s owner, Silvio Berlusconi, the mega rich Italian media mogul who went on to be prime minister of Italy in four governments.

Saachi was a tough taskmaster and he introduced pressing and zonal marking to the Milan team.

He taught the players to move as one and his training sessions emphasised this to the extent that the team would often train by playing ‘shadow football’ without a ball.  This was to get them moving as one in rehearsed build-ups.

He was also famous for his ‘cage’.  He would set up a cage on the pitch at the training venue of Milanello measuring about 40m by 25m with walls about 2 or 3 metres high and a net on top.

Inside the cage, play went on non-stop in order to have the players working at peak intensity.

Saachi would be perched on top of the walls at one corner and he would issue instructions with a megaphone.

Crazy?  Possibly, but very successful. He won over all of his players with his methods, including sceptics such as Franco Baresi and Marco van Basten.

Van Basten eventually told him he preferred to play for Milan rather than Holland because it was more fun.

One of the ways Saachi convinced van Basten of his strategy was by organising a game of 4 v 10.  He picked his regular 4 defenders and told van Basten he could have 10 players but no goalkeeper.  The 10 did all the attacking and the 4 defenders just had to play the ball into the opposing half if they won possession.  The 10 were never able to score because the 4 defenders worked as a unit and used space and zonal marking to perfection.

Saachi went on to manage Italy (they lost the World Cup Final of 1994 in a penalty shoot-out to Brazil) and he had a second stint with Milan in the mid-1990s.

He has been ranked as the third-best football manager of all-time in one survey.

I won’t give away any more secrets and anecdotes from the book other than to say it includes some of Saachi’s training sessions and personal notes.  He kept a diary meticulously and there are some observational gems there for the interested coach and reader.


Photo:  Chapter 3 is about Darby's time in Tasmania. 

Steve Darby came to Tasmania in 1980 after a stint as assistant coach of Bahrain to coach Devonport City.

Born in Liverpool, he had obtained all the top coaching qualifications after injury ended his playing career as a goalkeeper, which actually included a youth game at Anfield, the sacred home of Liverpool FC.

Darby went on to become Tasmania’s director of coaching, and he also played in goal for University and South Hobart.

He had a successful stint as coach of White Eagles and then went to the Mainland, where his coaching career really took off, including in South East Asia.

He coached Sydney Olympic, the Australian Schoolboys’ team, and the Matildas, as well as being a FIFA instructor.

His career then took him to Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and India.

He was assistant coach to Peter Reid and Bryan Robson, two great names in English football, when they were in charge of the Thailand national team.

He also coached in India and one of the great players he coached there was Nicholas Anelka.  Darby found him to be a very nice player and human being and totally at odds with the way he has always been portrayed in the media.

In Antony Sutton’s biography of Darby, entitled “The Itinerant Coach:  The Footballing Life of and Times of Steve Darby”, Darby comes across as an astute coach and player manager who knows how to work in environments that can often be blighted by corruption, match fixing and nefarious behind-the-scenes manipulation.

Darby was always loyal to his players, called a spade a spade, and made sure he had the backing of key administrators at the clubs he worked for, which contributed to his successful coaching career and made him a much sought after coach in Asia.

He even worked for Everton FC in China, and that’s really saying something for a Scouser with Liverpool FC blood coursing through his veins.

I still keep in touch with Steve, who is back home in Liverpool.  Chapter 3 deals with his time in Tasmania, but there is much more in this book to interest those with a hankering for coaching.

When he names a dream team comprised of the best players he has ever coached, he includes one Tasmanian player.

I’m not going to tell you who that player is.  Read the book and find out.


Photo:  Being a footballer these days can be very complicated. 

James Milner is one of the current greats of the English Premier League and plays for Liverpool FC.

He is 35 now and in the twilight of his career, during which he earned 61 caps for England.

He has played for Leeds United, Swindon Town, Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Manchester City.

He has recently released a book called “Ask a Footballer:  My Guide to Kicking a Ball About”.

The entire book is in question-and-answer format, which makes for an easy read but gets to the nub of issues.

If you want to know about the daily training routines and lifestyles of professional players in the EPL, this is a book for you.

Milner deals with training, games, fitness, nutrition and medical issues that affect players.

It is unbelievable how players are now micro-managed by clubs.

For example, when they come in at half-time in a game, they are given a special concoction of fluids and nutrients tailored to their individual needs based on measurements of their first-half performance.  One thing doesn’t fit everyone.  Each player is given the things he needs, as per statistics and information compiled during the first half.

Gone are the days of oranges and a cup of tea at half-time.

Milner answers many relevant questions that all young players  -  and old  -  have probably always wanted to ask of professional players.

Do you get upset when you’re substituted?  Every player does.  Milner’s take on this is interesting, too, as he is now often in this situation as he is 35 years old.

Oh to be young again and playing.  Milner’s book would be a huge morale booster and a more than useful guide.


Photo:  Rob Shaw is a great fan of Tasmania's David Clarkson,w ho played for Brighton and Hove Albion in England. 

Rob Shaw is a sports writer for The Examiner in Launceston and his range of interests covers all sports, from football to AFL to rowing to mountain-bike riding.

His book, “Shaw Things:  Insights into Tasmanian, Australian and world sport (in declining order of importance)”, should be of interest to Tasmanian football followers.

I always see Rob at A-League games in Launceston and he has attended World Cups overseas and been at stadiums such as the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil so he knows about football.

He followed Tasmania’s own David Clarkson in England when Clarkson was playing for Brighton and Hove Albion.

Shaw has every match programme for Brighton during Clarkson’s stint there and the two still keep in touch.

Shaw’s fine sense of humour and his journalistic cynicism come through strongly in this book, as does his passion for sport and for all things Tasmanian.

Put it in your Christmas stocking.

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