Think of the sports rivalries you know: Ohio State-Michigan; Duke-North Carolina; Yankees-Red Sox. All rivalries that have written chapter after chapt...moreThink of the sports rivalries you know: Ohio State-Michigan; Duke-North Carolina; Yankees-Red Sox. All rivalries that have written chapter after chapter into the history books, and will continue to write chapters. All of which continue to inspire passionate debate.
None of which hold a candle to the rivalry that is Real Madrid versus Barcelona, the sporting world's premier rivalry. In Elliott Turner's concise history of the first 100 years of the Spanish soccer giants' rivalry, he discusses the social, political, and economic aspects that defined both the rivalry and the teams individually. At its core, the rivalry speaks of a division, both real and imagined, that exists between Castilian Spain (as represented by Real Madrid) and Catalonia (represented by Barcelona). It's a rivalry defined by identity and by power struggle, and Turner does an excellent job of painting the picture, and introducing the characters - the legends on the pitch (DiStefano, Kubala, Cruyff, Raul) and in the board room (Santiago Bernabeu plays a massive part in this rivalry) - that came to define their teams and the rivalry.
At less than 150 pages, The Making of a Rivalry does suffer from being too short. There's a sense that Turner is rushing through the history of this rivalry, and perhaps that's by design. This great rivalry does deserve far greater coverage, and other books have been written on such a topic; Turner is keenly aware of that, and simply adds his objective take on it, even if he does reveal his Real Madrid loyalties in the introduction to the book.
One final note: because the book discusses the first 100 years of the rivalry, it does end at the dawn of the 21st century. Therefore, the most compelling, and most heavily publicized era of both the rivalry and the respective teams is left out of the book. The era of Los Galacticos (Zidane, Ronaldo, Figo, Beckham, and Roberto Carlos, to name a few) at Real Madrid; Pep Guardiola and the transformation of Barca into a feared yet beloved juggernaut; the rise of Lionel Messi into the greatest player seen in several generations; and the rivalry gets heated - the war of words between Guardiola and RM's Jose Mourinho - and goes global. Millions of words have already been written on such. An objective overview of this brilliant, caustic, and controversial era must wait. And surely Elliott Turner will pen those words.(less)
A quick, painless read from one of the premier soccer journalists, maybe the best one working today. Personally, I would have enjoyed more profiles on...moreA quick, painless read from one of the premier soccer journalists, maybe the best one working today. Personally, I would have enjoyed more profiles on the managers and general managers - more Jose Mourinho, Mike Forde, and Ignacio Palacios Huerta, please - and less profiles on the players, who come across as crushing bores or neurotic twats. Honestly, we already know Lionel Messi will probably be the greatest player to have ever lived once he hangs up his boots, and we also know he's a terrible interview because he says very little of note. So why bother with the profile? Hmm...maybe Kuper's making a point: soccer isn't a game dominated by the players after all, but by the managers and the general managers pulling the strings and drawing up the formations and making the financial decisions.
This book, an oral history of the game Bird and Magic shared together, in their own words, is a fascinating look down memory lane, when Bird and Magic...moreThis book, an oral history of the game Bird and Magic shared together, in their own words, is a fascinating look down memory lane, when Bird and Magic reinvigorated the NBA and sowed the seeds for its' tremendous global growth. We get a look not just at their rivalry but their unexpected friendship.
Growing up, as an aspiring baller, Magic and Larry were the 2 basketball players I emulated; I wanted Magic's no-look pass and Larry's long-range bombing, along with their uncanny court sense, the ability to see the game unfold before them before anyone else could. Reading their words further solidifies the fact that the Bird vs. Magic rivalry was truly a wonderful time for the NBA and their fans. Both Bird and Magic revel in that, as their words demonstrate, and we will forever be lucky to have witnessed their brilliance and artistry. A terrific read for basketball fans everywhere.(less)
Among Andre Agassi's impressive accomplishments - 8-time Grand Slam winner, Olympic Gold medalist, nearly 800 career wins - we can now add "author" to...moreAmong Andre Agassi's impressive accomplishments - 8-time Grand Slam winner, Olympic Gold medalist, nearly 800 career wins - we can now add "author" to his list of accomplishments. It's his words, every single one of them in this book, and Agassi demonstrates a true gift for prose and pace. He even marvels at his ability to write a memoir; for someone who pretty much flunked out of school to pursue tennis, Agassi grew into a vocal and tireless advocate for education, a voracious reader, and now, the author of a best-selling memoir.
"Open" refers not just to the Grand Slam titles he's won, but to his desire to open up about his life and his experiences on and off the tennis court. In clear, intelligent prose, Agassi reveals how he grew to despise tennis, even as it brought him fame and fortune; essentially bullied and browbeaten by his demanding father to succeed at the game, tennis became a prison for Agassi, even as grew into becoming one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. In a breath-taking prologue, Agassi takes us inside his mind, deep into his thoughts, during his final run at the 2006 US Open, furiously coaxing his worn-out body into one more match. He takes into the solitary confinement every tennis player endures; in his words, Agassi reveals how tennis is truly a one-on-one sport, and players have no one on the court to turn to but themselves. It's the solitary confinement that wreaks havoc on a player, and throughout his career, Agassi struggled with tempering his inner demons, his doubts and his self-loathing. Yet when he's achieved more than anyone could ever expect, Agassi lets us in on the elation and triumph, however fleeting those triumphs were.
In the end, he realizes his life is more than just tennis, and that struggle he mentally endured was his search for a deeper spiritual meaning. We revel in his joy at the end of the memoir, as he relates the simple joys of marriage (to another tennis legend, Steffi Graf) and of fatherhood. He's come full-circle.
Open regales us with stories about his experiences with friends and rivals alike; he speaks more than fondly of the guidance and wisdom provided to him by his trainer Gil Reyes and his coach Brad Gilbert. Agassi's rivalry with Pete Sampras is discussed in detail, with amusing anecdotes peppered along the way - Sampras is astonishingly dull, and a colossal cheapskate, to boot. Other interesting anecdotes: Boris Becker is a major asshole, John McEnroe is less of an asshole than people think, and, most interestingly, Agassi's biggest concern during his early playing days was his thinning hair, which he compensated by donning a wig pinned down with one of his signature headbands. It's a compelling revelation, one that serves to break apart many of the misconceptions people have had regarding Andre Agassi. That "Image is Everything" ad campaign was something Agassi tentatively and reluctantly went along with. His "image," so to speak, was born out of anger and rebellion against tennis itself, and not because of some "bad boy" image Agassi needed to uphold.
Much has been made about his revelation that he briefly became hooked on crystal meth; Agassi doesn't gloss much about it, except that his brief addiction was the result of the combination of a lengthy string of failures on the court, and a failing marriage to actress/model Brooke Shields (Agassi acknowledges he and Brooke were probably doomed to fall apart as a married couple, but he speaks of her kindly). He knew the consequences, and nearly paid the price; when a random drug test reveals meth in his system, Agassi reveals how he concocted an alibi for his use, which the ATP accepted without punishment. For Agassi, this wake-up call, this second chance, was his new beginning, and what followed was a decade of excellence in the men's tour.
Most refreshingly, Agassi is blunt about himself and the game of tennis. He doesn't hold back his assessments of himself, the mistakes he made, the choices he should have made. His candor, combined with his gift for prose, makes Open one of the best memoirs around, in a market filled with memoirs and tell-alls. (less)
Kuper's follow-up to his brilliant Soccer Against the Enemy, co-written with economist Stefan Szymanski, is a thoughtful and often cheeky examination...moreKuper's follow-up to his brilliant Soccer Against the Enemy, co-written with economist Stefan Szymanski, is a thoughtful and often cheeky examination on how trends within the sport can be explained through economics. Three sections in this book are particularly brilliant: the chapter on how penalty kicks trends discovered by a Basque game theorist nearly won Chelsea the 2008 Champions League title against their bitter rivals Manchester United (United won in a memorable final) reads like a sly political thriller; Kuper coyly advised the reader to view the penalty shootout on YouTube to fully comprehend what the game theorist was revealing, which I did. Uncanny.
"Why England Loses" won't win over many fans of the Three Lions, but it does reveal one basic truth: England has consistently been one of the top teams in the world, but they're cursed with bad luck - what if Cristiano Ronaldo hadn't ratted out Wayne Rooney during the England-Portugal clash in WC 2006? Could England have possibly won it all?
The final brilliant chapter on which sport will dominate globally, the NFL or the English Premier League, details many of the uncanny similarities both leagues share with one another - devoted fan bases, extremely lucrative television deals, skillful merchandising and marketing, etc - but Kuper tabs the EPL for global domination. Why? In short, England was better at importing English culture (soccer included) than America was. More people play soccer around the world because of England's global influence in the late 19th-and-early 20th century; by comparison, Americans tried to import football to Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, with disastrous results.
In all, Soccernomics is that rare study that's both easy to relate to and fun to read. Recommended for fans of the sport, and even for those who can't understand what the fuss is all about.(less)