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Friday, December 15, 2017

Book Review: "Brave New World" by Guillem Balagué

Image credit: Amazon.com.

Spanish football expert, Guillem Balagué, compiles a detailed look into the 2016-2017 season of Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur.

My Review in Brief:

Guillem Balagué provides a rare chronicle how a professional football manager works on a daily basis. This book provides an intimate look at Pochettino's precise routines on matchdays, training regimens, relationships with players and staff, how he navigates the demands of domestic and international competitions, along with his leadership techniques. "Brave New World" is a tremendous contribution to coaching education from an insider's perspective.


1. Format.
2. Writing Style.
3. A Translation Masterclass.
4. A Few Notable Quotes.
5. About the Author.

"I have a strange feeling embarking on this journey with you. I am very private, extremely so. But I hope that sharing this experience will be as exciting for you as it was for me. I want the reader to place him or herself in the circumstances of each moment. Because football is, or feels at least to me, a context of emotions." --- Mauricio Pochettino quoted in the preface.

"All of literature, Leo Tolstoy pointed out, comes down to one of two stories: a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. What you hold now comprises both of those two things. First, it recounts a journey, that of the 2016–17 season, Pochettino’s third at Spurs. But it is also the story of someone who has been a stranger since he left his home in Murphy as a teenage boy." --- Guillem Balagué quoted on page one.

"Brave New World - Inside Pochettino's Spurs" by Guillem Balagué, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, Ltd., in October 2017 with list prices of £20 and $28.99, respectively.

From an impromptu scouting visit at one o'clock in the morning by Marcelo Bielsa during his childhood, to the capital of world football in London many years later, a boy from a small town in Argentina ascended the heights of his profession at Newell's Old Boys, Espanyol, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bordeaux, respectively. He retired at the age of 34 and decided that coaching was next on the horizon. Pochettino first earned a Master's Degree in Sports Management before five years on Espanyol's bench, followed by his first spell in England with Southampton before his present position with Spurs.

Let's take a longer look at this provocative, informative and educational book about one of the Premier League's stellar management talents.

1. Format:

There are eleven chapters (one for each month), a foreword by Pochettino's wife, an introduction along with an intriguing epilogue with interviews from many of his players. There are also two appendices and the book has a total of 352 pages. There is also a generous offering of photographs from Pochettino's career and personal life.

One editorial choice that some readers may not like is the many references to Pochettino's time at Espanyol, to a lesser extent with Southampton, along with his early days in Argentina. While a diary form of writing (which I will elaborate more in the next section) allows one to reminisce months or years after events have transpired, this book focused on a season with Spurs. His important development timeline as a manager with the Spanish club and the Saints could have been placed into a separate section. Or perhaps discussed more at length early in the book where Pochettino concisely detailed his personal and professional biography with compelling anecdotes.

2. Writing Style:
This book was written as a diary by Pochettino, compiled and organized by Balagué, to create a compelling first-person account of the 2016-2017 season at Tottenham Hotspur. The author did a great job to present the reticent, yet intense, Pochettino, in significant detail. He took a "stranger" and made him appear as a close friend. I have reviewed many books co-authored by managers (Ancelotti, Conte, Cruyff, Sacchi, Simeone, Trapattoni et alia); however, this one had perhaps the most personal tone. Much of that credit goes to how the author decided to portray Pochettino to the reader.

Balagué's expertise in football goes beyond his notable journalistic skills. He is also a Director of Football at Biggleswade United. This role provides him with a unique perspective to understand a manager's job as an insider rather than as solely an informed journalist. Such an advantage, compared to other football journalists who can only view situations as outsiders, benefited the reader in a book focused on a manager's job.

This is a rare look at how a professional football manager works on a daily basis, juggles the demands of the Premier League, Cup ties, the UEFA Champions League along with the demands of international duty on his players. The Argentinean manager is a workaholic who puts in 15 hours a day and thinks about football for the other nine. 

Pochettino understands the demands, on and off of the pitch, placed upon the modern player and factors those components into his own management philosophy. He clearly recognizes, even if he loathes, that social media, mobile phones and other technologies create an ever lessening attention span. He motivates with words, images and conviction. He takes a personal interest in his players' lives and tends to the smallest of details. Pochettino's impressions of and conversations with rival managers, such as Conte, Guardiola, Mourinho, van Gaal, and Wenger, were also illuminating.

The ascent of Spurs as veritable title contenders, not to mention their current excellent form in the 2017-2018 Champions League, can be traced to their deep-thinking Argentinean gaffer. He is part psychologist, part motivator, part tactician, part New Age (he keeps a bowl of lemons on his desk to ward off negativity), part statistics geek (he could work at OPTA or www.whoscored.com), part Potrero (a street-wise crafty type of player) and most of all when the situation warrants, part ball breaker. Poche leads Spurs by his own disciplined yet flexible example. He is very much the epitome of a modern football manager.

3. A Translation Masterclass:
I had a special pleasure to review this book for a personal reason. One of the translators, Hugo Steckelmacher, was a colleague of mine many years ago at Soccerlens (now known as Sportslens). Hugo was a gifted young writer who was a favorite among many of our readers.

Marc Joss is an experienced football interpreter and translator. He has worked with Guillem Balagué for a few years along with Clark Football Languages, a leader in this niche, among other high-profile assignments.

Both translators brought Pochettino to life in English which might sound strange since Mauricio already speaks the language on a professional level. Not to mention that Balagué has near-native fluency in English. The author's decision to hand this project over to experienced translators was a proper one which greatly enhanced the end product.

The goal of translation is to make the protagonist appear to communicate accurately, colloquially and comfortably in the targeted tongue at a native level. In this case, British English. Joss and Steckelmacher presented us with a flawless translation which was also reinforced by the translators' subject matter expertise. As the author noted above, "...The best in the business."

4. A Few Notable Quotes:
On his character:

"He’s like the ocean in that he’s plentiful and strong, he flattens all that lies before him and he is relentless." Karina Grippaldi, his wife, on page xviii.

On what modern players lack:

"You simply had to anticipate Ronaldo’s movement. I did not need my coach to tell me. I know I had to use all of the tools at my disposal, those that I call ‘basic concepts’, the things you learn during your football education. A topic that the Spurs coaching group discuss nowadays and that worries us is the fact that footballers sometimes lack those ‘basic concepts’." Page 16

On his decision to manage Southampton:

"But, in truth, I did not want to join. Why? First of all because I didn’t know a word of English,
and second because I’d left Espanyol in November and planned to get my head in order and start studying English from January until June. I even had a teacher lined up. I wanted to devote weekends to the family and then be fresh to take on another challenge in five or six months’ time." Page 24

On coaching:

"A coach’s education begins long before his first match. We have to make a hundred choices a day and hope we get most of them right. But these decisions aren’t made in isolation: they are the offspring of our experience, our emotions and the circumstances." Page 74

On dealing with a Club Chairman (Mr. Daniel Levy):

"While we were watching certain incidents from the Monaco match for the third time, the chairman walked into the office. We were talking about the game and we showed him why we’d been left with such a bitter taste in our mouths. Part of our job is to show the chairman stuff that the fans don’t see, and which you can’t see on television. These are often the most vital things." Page 86

On the proper mentality:

"If you use football as a way of achieving other things (money, being in the press, enjoying perks, millions of Twitter followers . . .), if you like all that more than training or sharing moments with your teammates, if running or going to the gym bores you, if you don’t fancy taking care about what you eat or the amount you rest or if you don’t keep yourself in good shape, you should revisit your targets." Page 139

On not getting too close to his players:

"Falling in love with your players is a dangerous business. I don’t partake in such activities because it’s a concept that I save for my other half, not to mention that sooner or later you fall out of love. It happens faster in football than it does in life. The ideal scenario is to strike a balance between what the footballer needs and what I demand." Pages 173 to 174

On Harry Kane:

"I believe Harry Kane is the best player in the world in terms of mental strength, willpower and endeavour. He is completely focused on his football." Page 200

On his affinity for statistics:

"Dele Alli once again notched our first goal. He turns 21 next week and has better statistics than Cristiano Ronaldo had at his age: 26 goals and 14 assists compared with 14 and 13 for the Portuguese star. Another statistic: he’s been involved in as many goals (40) as Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham combined at his age and he’s the top scoring player (16) under 21 in Europe’s top five leagues." Page 233

On learning from Sir Alex Ferguson:

"I knew many details from Ferguson’s career and admired him for the way that he turned United into a successful team, while creating something different in world football. But when I met him, what impressed me most was not so much the CV, but his energy and aura. His character, his charisma engulfs you. I’d love to keep calling on his advice.... ‘You play two games each matchday,’ he told me. ‘The first is in the press. Never lose it’." Page 251

On the impression from his Chairman:

"We’re both striving for the same thing, that’s perfection. He’s a perfectionist on the field and I’m a perfectionist off the field... I want Mauricio to be the Alex Ferguson of Tottenham Hotspur and he has the most fantastic opportunity to be that." Mr. Levy quoted on pages 307 to 309.

5. About the Author:

Guillem Balagué is the author of Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Barca, Pep Guardiola and A Season on the Brink. A key fixture of Sky Sports' coverage of Spanish football since 1997, he appears regularly on live match coverage and presents the weekly round-up show Revista Bitesize. He is also the UK Correspondent for AS, the Spanish sports newspaper, writes weekly for Yahoo and has a monthly Special Show on Talksport. 

He is the Director of Football of the English football club Biggleswade United. Cristiano Ronaldo was named the Best Football Book of the Year at the 2016 British Sports Book Awards and Guillem won Influencer of the Year 2016 in the Football Blogging Awards. 

Promotional text about the author courtesy of Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Please Note:

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from a representative of Orion Publishing Group, Ltd. I was not financially compensated by the publisher, author, translators or any other party who would benefit from a positive review.

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Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and published The Soccer Translator from 2008 to 2015. 

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