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Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: "#2Sides" by Rio Ferdinand with David Winner

"What a player he's been! He fulfilled all his early promise and made himself a fantastic player --- the best defender in Europe without a doubt. A Rolls-Royce on the field, he was always a smashing guy off it as well."

--- Harry Redknapp, manager of Queens Park Rangers, page vii.

"My Dad didn't care much for football. He was more into kung fu. But I played every day, every weekend, every hour. After school I'd be outside messing about with skills, or kicking about on the estate... We might have been on a council estate in south London but our outlook was international. A guy called Stefan had all the latest videos from Serie A in Italy, which was the best league in the world at the time. So we'd troop over to Stefan's house, watch Italian football then go out and try to replicate what we'd seen."

--- Rio Ferdinand, "#2Sides: My Autobiography," page 2, published by Blink Publishing in October 2014 with a list price of £20. Also available as a Kindle edition at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Rio Ferdinand has always been a great personality on and off the pitch. I knew his life story would be a quality read. What surprised me was how detailed, compelling and concisely presented this book turned out to be.

Ferdinand and David Winner, his co-author, went to great pains to provide us with a realistic, objective and detailed account of life as a top professional footballer. They discussed controversial social/cultural issues such as race, gay footballers and black coaches, respectively, that take this book far beyond a mere autobiography.

Let's take a look at the contents.

Organized Format

There are 29 mostly concise chapters, two sections of pictures, a detailed index along with a foreward by Harry Redknapp. This book is a fast read and also one, unlike many biographies, that is not too taxing at 263 written pages. In my opinion, it is just the proper length to keep the reader engaged while covering all facets of the protagonist's life.

Writing Style

This book was ghostwritten by the author and journalist, David Winner; however, it is safe to assume that the protagonist, Rio Ferdinand, made significant contributions. This book has the seasoned craftsmanship of a gifted journalist along with a more personal tone from a well-respected star athlete telling his unique story. This literary pairing produced a blunt, provocative, entertaining, truthful and no-holds-barred account with quotable material on nearly every page.


There were two sections of pictures along with a back-page montage from key moments in Ferdinand's playing career. My favorite images were of Ferdinand with President Nelson Mandela and another with Sir Alex Ferguson and the Barclays Premier League trophy.

An Education on His Many England Managers

Since my main focus at The Soccer Translator is on coaching education resources, one of the most intriguing chapters for me was Ferdinand's excellent observations about his various England managers. This analysis, which we usually don't see until a player hangs up his boots for good, provides the reader with a rare inside look at how different men handled the pressure of being the Three Lions gaffer.

On Glenn Hoddle:

"Glenn Hoddle contributed  a great deal to my football education. He painted mental pictures so we could visualize the game in front of us. He also had a knack of simplifying things and breaking things down." Page 75

On Kevin Keegan:

'If you were Italian, or Brazilian, or French, you'd have 30 caps by now, the way you play.'  I thought: 'Well, you just spoke about the World Champions, the European Champions, and one of the best teams in the world... But I can't get in the England squad!' Suffice to say I didn't get on too well with Kevin Keegan as a coach." Page 76

On Howard Wilkinson:

"He was like a school teacher or army sergeant. He had us doing set pieces the morning of the game in a field next to the hotel and all he wanted to talk about was set pieces. 'Set pieces win games,' and then he'd tell us the percentage of games won by set pieces and... well, I'm afraid he lost me completely." Pages 76-77

On Sven-Goren Eriksson:

"Tactically he was very unimaginative: 'I want you to go here; I want you to go there. I don't want my centre-backs running with the ball. I want you to get to the ball, pass it here.' But he was also charming and had a good, human side which created a nice atmosphere in the squad and meant we always wanted to play for him." Page 77

On Steve McLaren:

"(He) was a much better coach than people give him credit for... One problem, I think, was he was just too pally with the players. There wasn't the distance you normally get between players and managers, like we had with Ferguson." Page 78

On Fabio Capello:

"I think Capello was the manager who disappointed me the most... He'd coached the AC Milan team I'd loved as a kid... I thought: 'This is going to be great.' And... what a let-down! He had us playing the most rigid, basic 4-4-2, with no deviating allowed under any circumstances... Capello's attitude was 'I'm the boss and you'll do what I say all day, every day.' " Page 81

On Roy Hodgson:

"History may judge that Roy Hodgson's most lasting achievement was to lower expectations of the national team to a more modest and manageable level. Then again, modesty isn't the point of international football." Page 83

Other Notable Quotes

On the current crop of young footballers:

"I really worry that youngsters coming into football today are overprotected. Compared to the generations who went before, they're treated with kid gloves and surrounded by cotton wool." Page 5

On Manchester United:

"If you haven't got that element of nastiness, that single-mindedness, that will to win at all costs, if you've not got that, then Manchester United isn't the place for you." Pages 27-28

On Sir Alex Ferguson:

"Fergie set the tone; we took our cue from him. When we beat Chelsea in Moscow, it didn't feel like we'd achieved what we set out to achieve. Not at all... Within about an hour of us lifting the trophy, the gaffer was saying: 'Right, next season... let's make sure we're back here next season.' " Page 31

"He was a master of psychology, knew how to get the best out of every player and created an unstoppable winning mentality." Page 91

"That was Ferguson's genius: he had you wanting to prove something to him... Another important thing was that he backed his players through thick and thin..." Page 99

On a difference between foreign and English players:

"There's an old-school idea in English football that you have to play on whatever. A lot of foreign players, if they get injuries, that's it: they shut down and down tools. We say: 'Look at them, the flipping pansies, they just play one game, it's a big game we need them to play and he's not even going to hurt himself a little bit to play.'  We're a bit more stupid; we think we're 'Braveheart.' It's your personal pride." Page 40

On a new sports medicine treatment to heal his nagging and painful back injury:

"They injected a sugar formula to stiffen the ligaments. No cortisone, no drugs; just a sugar to strengthen the ligaments that attach the bones together in my spine. It was almost like an immediate 'Eureka!' moment. My back suddenly felt secure again." Page 43

On Racism:

"My Mum's white. My Dad's black. I see things from a white perspective and black perspective..." Page 45

"I was shocked by how much sympathy there was for (Luis) Suarez. Huge numbers of people in the media and social media were saying; 'Poor Suarez, maybe there's nothing racist about it...' People paid lip service to the idea that racism was a bad thing. But they obviously didn't have a clue what racism actually was, or how its victims felt." Page 49

On John Terry's racist abuse directed at Anton Ferdinand:

"Anton, the innocent party in all of this, had his career damaged and was subjected to death threats, bullets in the post, and unending racist abuse... Some of the elder statesmen among black British footballers were conspicuous by their absence in terms of speaking out publicly... The FA was confused and indecisive... There's one point I'd like to stress... Anton actually urged the police and Crown Protection Service (CPS) not to prosecute." Pages 52-53

On a manager's key role:

"I think you need a leader. That's the manager and he leads... In my experience, the way a manager sets up his team --- from a psychological point of view --- is massive." Page 105

On his physical balance:

"A lot of the way I moved on the field might have come from doing gymnastics and the ballet... I think it gave me a slightly different awareness of my body from other players." Page 109

On gay footballers:

"My general feeling is that I don't think someone coming out as gay would destablise a changing room at all... Society has changed and football is a part of that." Pages 120-121

On David Moyes:

"As a human being I think David Moyes is close to perfect... No one could have worked harder... Moyes never solved some of the footballing problems he faced... He tried to impose a vision but never seemed to be completely clear what that vision should be." Pages 128-129

On Louis van Gaal:

"The players at United now tell me Van Gaal is strong and determined and clear in his methods. 'I am training the players not in their legs but in their brain, in brain power.' I think I could have learned a lot from Van Gaal." Page 146

On black coaches:

"A lot of black players and players coming to the end of their careers do feel they'll be denied the opportunity to coach. But maybe the problem is different. Management and coaching tends to be a 'friend' business. If you're a mate of someone, you'll get a job. The deciding factor is if you or your agent know a chairman." Page 162

On his off-the-field business activities:

"The main thing for me is that it's a good experience, learning about business, media, PR and so many other things. I never had time to go to college --- but I'm learning my way." Page 188

On Paul Scholes:

"Paul Scholes was quite simply the best player who played for Man United. It was just a dream to play alongside him. He was just a great, great player." Page 190

On Frank Lampard:

"Frank's one of the hardest working professionals I've ever met --- always doing extras, always working on his shooting and that's why, later, he scored so many goals. We were good mates, but more importantly Frank was my driving force, my best workforce mate." Page 194

On Twitter:

"Through Twitter I was able to show my real personality and real life... Being on Twitter has been amazing for me and has allowed me to connect directly with fans to avoid any misleading stories or rumors." Pages 205-207

On fatherhood and his wife, Rebecca:

"You don't get a book that tells you how to be a parent. No one tells you how each kid should be fathered... The responsibility of having to take care of someone else is a nice thing to have... One of the great things about Rebecca is that she's not one to talk about football. She doesn't care about it... She's never been interested in fame or anything like that or the WAG lifestyle." Pages 218-219

On Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi:

"Leo and Ronnie are fantastic examples of guys who are motivated by something else: passion for the game, the desire to improve, and the determination and hunger to work hard and improve to make it happen. I think both of them have incredible determination, but show it in different ways." Page 221

On retirement:

"Retirement is an important subject but it's hardly every talked about. It is almost taboo... Most footballers have a 'Peter Pan' lifestyle and the end of their career comes as a shock." Page 236

On his BBC TV commentary work during World Cup 2014:

"One crucial aspect was research. If you don't do your preparation, if you don't find out everything you can about teams, players and coaches, you leave yourself wide open." Page 249

On youth development and coaching:

"We have to be thinking about the Under 14s and 15s as the Germans and other top countries do... We don't need to have an inferiority complex towards any football nation. We've got players who are as quick and as strong and able as anybody... Every coach at every (English) level is doing something different. We have too few coaches, and those we have are not as well qualified as they should be. Spain has 25,000 coaches with A, B and (UEFA) Pro Licenses. Germany has 35,000. We have 6,000." Pages 252-254

On Harry Redknapp:

"When I was a teenager at West Ham, Harry Redknapp gave me the confidence to go out, be myself and try anything on the field. He gave me freedom and convinced me I was going to be a first-team player." Page 259


Ferdinand and Winner have penned a candid, timely and important autobiography that no doubt will produce much conversation and analysis. Rio Ferdinand is a rare athlete who walks the talk and still maintains his dignity along with a firm sense of honor. "#2Sides" will make a welcome addition to your sporting library.

Please Note

I have received a complimentary review copy from a representative of the publisher, Blink Publishing. I was not financially compensated by the co-authors, publisher or any other party who would benefit from a positive review.

About the Authors

Born in Peckham in 1978, Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) began his football career at West Ham United, making his Premier League debut in 1996. Following a transfer to Leeds United, where he reached the Champions League semi-final, Rio became an integral part of a Manchester United side that won six Premier League trophies, and a Champions League title. He also won 81 caps for England, captaining the side on a number of occasions. He currently lives in London with his wife Rebecca and three children.

David Winner (@dwinnera) is a writer and journalist whose books include Brilliant Orange: the Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football and Stillness and Speed, the biography of Dennis Bergkamp.

Promotional back cover text courtesy of Blink Publishing. 

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

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