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Gripping but very frustrating
on 31 August 2012
This is both a gripping and a deeply frustrating book.
In terms of its aim of lifting the lid on the hidden world of football it's very good and better probably than every Premier League autobiography. It's far most honest and open than is the case with almost everything else written from within football. There's much here on the shenanigans, the money, the mindset of players, their relationships with people outside football and about the playing of the game itself. Every fan will learn something from it.
But, in terms of trying to understand the secret footballer himself, the book is deeply frustrating. It's not so much the fact that he's anonymous but that so much of the detail is left out.
He talks a lot about money and about figures but at the same time is vague enough that you don't really understand whether he's very rich from his investments or broke from his tax bill (or both). Understanding the trajectory and nature of his career is impossible because he, understandably, doesn't give too much away in order to protect his anonymity. This means understanding quite where he's coming from is very difficult, as is understanding why he suffers from depression.
Indeed, building up some sympathy for the writer is almost impossible. He comes over as rather arrogant but I guess that's inevitable with any highly-paid, high-profile elite athlete. He seems to see himself as both an insider and an outsider within football culture but how that affects his relationship with his teammates is never as explicit as it might have been. His wife is virtually absent from the book, despite the talk about the impact of home life on performances. You get the sense that while he might not want fans to know who he is, his identity within the game isn't a secret. For all the discussion of his wages and his depression, he's holding back.
This is shame because there was the potential here for the best book ever written about football. It could have been a very open autobiography that told us everything about his personality, his life and the game itself. That was never going to happen though because he's still playing and wants to stay in the game.
What he's given us is very good but it leaves the reader with as many questions as answers. He's just had to leave too much out in order to protect his identity and, presumably, his reputation within the game.