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The Italian Job by Gianluca Vialli

Release date: 04th August, 2007
Publisher: Bantam Books

List Price: £7.99
Our Price: £3.99
You Save: £4 (50%)
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When the legendary Bill Shankly famously claimed that football was a matter more important than life and death, he served to highlighted the game's significance years before it was more formally recognised. At the risk of relying upon weak clichÈ, football has become more than a game. Sitting close to the heart of contemporary popular culture, it is watched by millions, possesses the power to unite and divide those who follow it and frequenctly provokes the most powerful human emotions.

As Vialli states in his opening lines, "football is love and passionÖ Those who live this sport - whether as fans or players, club officials or referees, mangers or groundkeepers - end up helplessly in love". He insists that a love of football can be similar to that expressed for an irresistible woman. It is this unconditional love that creates mutual understanding, linking supporters from around the globe and, in this instance, creating an immediate bond between author and reader.

Despite this, however, The Italian Job suggests that average fans rarely take time to consider broader questions posed by the beautiful game.

While it may be true that Accrington operate best in a Christmas tree formation away from home, why this is the case, or how this has come about, are issues seldom explored by supporters. The nature of football, from its underlying values to its consumption and appreciation, varies throughout the world, but how do the characteristics of different countries affect the game within these footballing nations? This books attempts to answer such questions.

As a player, Vialli was a flamboyant, charismatic winger. As a writer, he comes across as both intelligent and inquisitive, and with the aid of Times columnist Marcotti, formulates a valid critique of the differing approaches found here and Italy.

The idiosyncrasies of the British game are explored in detail (from the perpetual hunger for attacking football, to the blind loyalty of fans and inherent drinking culture), before its proposed shortcomings are identified. The authors argue, for example, that sub-standard skill levels brought about by a lack of investment in specific training regimes have blighted England's performance on the world stage.

The Italian Job'' strength is twofold: Marcotti is engaging and accessible, whilst Vialli commands respect, given his position as a former player and manager of the highest calibre. Indeed, Vialli's time within the game has left his personal phonebook looking like an A to Z of football's biggest names and Mourinho, Wenger, Eriksson and Capello are among the book's more celebrated contributors. This gives the writing not just depth and variety, but adds significant credence to many of its arguments.

Nevertheless, at times it over-extends itself by attempting to draw definitive conclusions from what is ultimately a personal investigation and some of the book's sweeping generalisations appear misdirected.

As we ready ourselves for the start of a new season, Vialli and Marcotti provide a different angle from which to examine the lives of players, managers, fans, referees and media operating within football. Their analysis of how the Italian national side has drawn strength from crisis within its domestic game to ensure success on the world stage is particularly though-provoking. With proceeds from the book going to cancer research, reading it offers an excellent alternative to early-season discussions about whether your club's new programme layout cuts the mustard.


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