American Born Villan

Aston Villa, From Chicago to the Holte End of the World


Book Reviews

Das Reboot, by Raphael Honigstein: Engineering Germans Can Be Proud Of

Das Reboot by Raphael HonigsteinIf your interest in the game goes no further than England or America, stop reading right now. If, on the other hand, you feel your country’s national federation might have something to learn from German soccer’s remarkable transformation over the last couple of decades, you’ll find uber-pundit Raphael Honigstein’s Das Reboot: How German Soccer Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World more than worthwhile. (This despite the fact that its punny title doesn’t even scan if pronounced with a proper German accent!) I know this doesn’t have anything to do with Aston Villa—but we all need some distraction these days.

To most people, German soccer is as dominant as former England striker Gary Lineker’s joke suggests: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans always win.” But within Germany, prior to the 2014 World Cup, there was a belief that the national team wasn’t living up to its potential, with near-misses and early exits in major tournaments since their last World Cup win in 1990.

Click here to read the whole thing.


Football Cliches, by Adam Hurrey: End-to-End Stuff

At the End of the Day, It’s a Book of Two Halves

Football Cliches by Adam HurreyIf you watch a lot of soccer on TV, the commentary has a way of getting under your skin (after entering through the ears, obviously). And the blandishments of pundits, repeated ad nauseam, have obviously altered the way the common punter talks about the game. Sitting in the Globe Pub, I’ve heard cliches strung together with such practiced efficiency that I’ve Q-tipped the wax out of my earholes before realizing that “it was always going wide” or “they’re not going to win if they don’t take their chances” came not from the speakers above but from the table nearby. Continue reading “Football Cliches, by Adam Hurrey: End-to-End Stuff”

Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer, by Ian Plenderleith: This Book Goes to Eleven

Rock and Roll Soccer by Ian PlenderleithDid you know that Aston Villa legend Peter Withe spent one season in the NASL, playing in the inaugural season of the Portland Timbers? He wasn’t alone. Long before the MLS began to be eyed as a cushy retirement gig by international stars, American soccer was seen as a perfect summer job for European and South American pros.

Ian Plenderleith tells the whole story, with lots of great interviews from the players themselves, in Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League. He also makes a surprisingly strong case that the NASL was ahead of its time. (Other fascinating tidbits include the fact that former Villa forward Phil Woosnam was the NASL commissioner from 1969–1984, and that, in 1968, talks were underway for Villa to be bought by a U.S. team, the Atlanta Chiefs.) Continue reading “Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer, by Ian Plenderleith: This Book Goes to Eleven”

Red or Dead, by David Peace: Not for Everybody, but Great Art Seldom Is

Red or Dead, by David PeaceFinally, sports fiction has its own Ulysses, its own Moby-Dick—thankfully, the genre still awaits its Finnegan’s Wake. David Peace, who gave us the remarkable The Damned Utd, has again drawn on his obsession with soccer managers to create a stupendous, jaw-dropping novel about Bill Shankly, the obsessive soccer manager who ushered in the modern era at Liverpool. I’m not a Liverpool fan, but I am a fan of great literature and Red or Dead qualifies. It takes awhile to work its magic, but . . . well, read my Booklist review and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s not for everybody, but great art seldom is.

A 700-page, experimental novel about the coach of an English soccer team? A limited audience pretty much guarantees this won’t be a best-seller, which is a bloody shame—it’s a magnificent literary achievement.

(Click the link above to read the whole thing.)

The Damned Utd, by David Peace: Damn Good!

The Damned Utd, by David PeaceThis book has been on my to-be-read list ever since I saw the brilliant film adaptation starring Michael Sheen. Unfortunately, other books kept getting added to the list and I never quite got around to reading it. But with Melville House reissuing the paperback in advance of the publication of Peace’s Red or Dead (a novel about Bill Shankly), I was finally able to make it a priority. After all, now I was reading it for work! My review of The Damned Utd was just published today on Booklist Online.

What happens when a soccer coach—or football manager, as they’re called in England—takes over a team he despises?

(Click the link above to read the whole thing. I’ll share my review of Red or Dead next week.)

Why Soccer Matters, by Pele

Why Soccer Matters, by PelePele’s had his ups and downs, and, as is inevitable with a superstar in any sphere, has his detractors, too. But reading his new memoir, Why Soccer Matters, I was utterly charmed by him, by his self-deprecation and ability to remember what it was like to be the sport’s first global celebrity. (Maybe the charm is the work of his cowriter, Brian Winter, but, if so, well done.) Come to think of it, he never really explains why soccer matters, but I guess the answer is implicit: anything that can bring such joy to life is its own justification. My review appears in the April 1 issue of Booklist.

These days, it’s difficult to appreciate the fame of Edson Arantes do Nascimento—or Pelé. The soccer prodigy who helped Brazil win three World Cups became a global sports superstar at the dawn of the TV era, and like the Beatles, he was famous when there weren’t really rules for it yet.

(Click the link above to read the whole thing.)

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑