Ah Sócrates. Not the philosopher of course, but rather Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira; the genius Brazilian attacking midfielder who scored 22 times for his country and around 300 times between teams in his homeland and one year abroad at Fiorentina. Away from the stats, Socrates lead a fascinating life. He grew up under the shadow of a military junta after the 1964 coup d'état. In later years, while being a heavy drinker and smoker, he also became the lynchpin of his national team in both the 1982 and the 1986 World Cups. He even had his own signature move; the blind heel pass. And so why the title Doctor Sócrates? Well, he earned a degree in medicine at the same time as playing professional football. Incredible stuff.
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Football and alcohol have a synonymous relationship when certain players come to mind. Adams may not be the first one you imagine, it’s likely to be Gazza or Best, but he’s up there. A prolific footballer spending 20 years at Arsenal as centre-back, he won a raft of club and individual awards and accolades. In the 1980s, his real battle off the pitch with alcoholism began, and in 1998, after a number of public incidents and a stint behind bars, he published his autobiography, Addicted, which garnered a great reception. Sober is the follow-up and details his journey from the mid 90s up until today; the impact Arsene Wenger had on him, retiring from the field of play and moving into management and most importantly, how he set up Sporting Chance – a charity that helps sports men and women suffering with any and all types of addiction. A very open and honest portrayal.
Different Class is the incredible story of Laurie Cunningham, the first black footballer to play for England (West Brom and Leicester) – and who later on became the first Englishman to play for Real Madrid. Before his death in a car crash at 33 years of age, he shone as a left-winger of remarkable natural talent. But he was also a very outgoing and charismatic man known for his love of culture, fashion, music and cinema. He loved to get out and see the city he was living in, away from the other footballers. He rose to the top of European football at a time when black players were few and far between and racism was rife in the stands. And he did it all with an enigmatic persona and flair to match. A fascinating character and story.
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The Odd Man Out
While doing some research I came across this book and I’m not an Aston Villa fan at all, I had never heard of Ron Saunders, to my shame, but here he is as the protagonist in quite a sensational book. It really is something else. To think that Villa were once the champions of what was then the First Division (1980-81) and two time Football League Cup champions (1974-75, 1976-77). Ronald Saunders, a man famed for a fantastic six year stint as a striker for Portsmouth in the late 50s to mid 60s, had just been fired as manager of Manchester City when he was offered the job at Villa, who were a Second Division team at the time. What followed were six extraordinary years with Aston Villa in turn followed by another five extraordinary years managing Villa’s bitter enemies Birmingham and West Brom. You couldn’t write this stuff.
Touched By God
This is at once as much a biography of Maradona in 1986 as it is about the World Cup winning Argentinian team of the same year. Maradona was their fulcrum and their superstar. He scored five and he set up another 5. One of his goals was the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal and the other was one of the greatest goals of all time (Maradona in total control of the midfield turning on a sixpence between two England players and speeding towards the opposition goal, drawing in a defender with the ball glued to his foot then exploding past him with a sudden burst of speed, dragging the ball by another defender and finally slotting it under the oncoming goalie). In typical Maradona fashion, he goes into great detail about the preparations and run up to the campaign as well as behind the scenes of each game, the players, the manager, every little thing is covered and done so in his forthright and unapologetic manner.