In the company of football’s modern masters
Simon Kuper is one of England’s most astute football writers, and one of the leading commentators on the global game. The Football Men: Up Close with the Giants of the Modern Game is, at one level, an anthology of wonderful essays he wrote for various publications. At another level, it is an intelligent, witty, riveting anatomization of the game and many of its biggest stars.
Don’t be fooled by the subtitle. Kuper does not – fortunately – believe in gathering sound bites from players, who nearly always only offer anodyne, predictable quotes, and curate their images behind the veil of publicity managers and spin doctors. He is open in his admission that you can learn nothing about football by talking to Wayne Rooney (and equally frank in his admission that you can by talking to Arsene Wenger).
Instead, Kuper goes into the backgrounds, the contexts and, most importantly, the play itself to offer fascinating portraits of the modern legends. From Zinedine Zidane to Lionel Messi, from Zlatan Ibrahimovich to Fernando Torres, Kuper’s unblinking eye misses nothing, and his writing goes straight to the heart of his subjects, often showing them in ways that they had never been seen before.
It’s not merely the players, though. True to its title, The Football Men also talks about managers (the ones on Wenger and Jose Mourinho are alone worth the price of admission). And if Kuper is rather harsh on Diego Maradona, some readers will understand why.