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"In any language, the whole world is united by a ball." --- Steve Amoia, World Football Commentaries

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Book Review: "MASTERS OF MODERN SOCCER" by Grant Wahl

Masters Of Modern Soccer by Grant Wahl
Image credit: Crown Publishing.

American soccer journalist, Grant Wahl, authors a seminal guide that provides seven insider perspectives into their craft as professional players, coaches and sporting directors, respectively. 

My Review in Brief:

Grant Wahl provided a detailed analysis through a series of illuminating, provocative and educational insider interviews. This book takes an important premise, the modern game, and how its protagonists experience their daily, weekly and annual reality. Legendary Italian manager, Arrigo Sacchi, often describes players as "interpreters of the game." In Masters Of Modern Soccer, we see how top professionals interpret their craft and subsequently translate it for our collective benefit.

--- Steve Amoia, World Football Commentaries.


1. Organized Format

2. Writing Style
3. A Few Notable Quotes
4. About the Author

"While all of us see the games on our TV screens or at the stadiums, what's going on in the minds of the players and the managers that informs what's happening in front of us? 

The people I chose for this book are exemplars of the modern game. Over the years, in interviews with players and coaches from around the world, it struck me that the old standby cliché for soccer ('the beautiful game') was rarely a phrase that any of the people inside the sport actually used when talking about it." 

---  Grant Wahl quoted on pages 250 and 251 from "MASTERS OF MODERN SOCCER: How the World's Best Play the Twenty-First-Century Game"published by Crown Publishing in May 2018 with a list price of US $27.00.

"The Beautiful Game" evokes nostalgic images of the Brazilian super side at World Cup 1970 who awed global audiences with their artistry, technique and collective brilliance. The game has evolved since then into a more defensive, faster, pragmatic, physically-enhanced and marathon-like environment of non-stop competitions. World football still has its beauty; however, financial realities have made the modern game more of a cut-throat business in ways that did not exist in past eras. 

Let's take a longer look at this book's educational and informative content.

1. Organized Format

There are six chapters, an acknowledgments section, along with a comprehensive detailed index. There are 252 pages of written text in the hardback version. The author took a logical approach in his presentation with seven detailed profiles: Five players (Christian Pulisic, Xabi Alonso, Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, Vincent Kompany, and Manuel Neuer,) a manager, Roberto Martínez, along with a sporting director, Michael Zorc, respectively. Juan Carlos Osorio also contributed his coaching insights during the analysis of Mexican football.

2. Writing Style

Wahl has always impressed me in his ability to tell a story along with a personal diligence to master the sport he covers. Unlike most premier world football journalists, he did not grow up with the professional game nor understand its nuances and history from an early age. That realistic disadvantage, which is common among American soccer journalists, creates the need for constant improvement to educate their domestic audiences and be taken seriously by foreign readers.

A Serious Pursuit of a Football Education 

The author clearly wanted to understand the collective viewpoints of his protagonists on a micro level. Wahl sat down with top professionals to dissect videos, and perhaps of equal importance, to learn from them as an apt student. In the case of Juan Carlos Osorio, the author convinced the Colombian manager to share detailed tactical strategies (which are concisely illustrated with schematic diagrams) that he implements with the Mexican National team. Not to mention a fascinating discussion with Profe Osorio about the reptilian brain. Osorio gives new meaning to the term, "deep thinker." 

The protagonists' level of trust with a sports journalist also was an integral factor to produce many salient observations about their craft. Usually, detail of this nature is left in the safety zone of "off the record." Wahl's contributors provided candid, well-constructed, thoughtful, and rarely seen analyses in the first person. The result of these discussions provided a significant educational aspect for fans, coaches, administrators and journalists alike. 

Attention to Detail

I also liked Wahl's generous usage of OPTA statistics to reinforce his points. These analyses provided an expanded examination of a particular topic and/or player in question. For example, an intriguing look at Manuel Neuer's statistics under Josep Guardiola versus Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich. These types of factual data reinforced the serious level of research by the author and his editorial team. The author, who is bilingual with English and Spanish, also ensured that a variety of players' and coaches' names (for example, Javier Hernández and Roberto Martínez, respectively) had their proper accent marks. That level of detail and linguistic respect complemented the international aspect of this project.

I would have liked to see a section, or perhaps a brief interview, with one of world football's leading agents. Namely, Mino Raiola or Jorge Mendes, respectively. Given the power of the transfer market in the modern game, a discussion with a super agent might have been illuminating from an insider's perspective. Such an addition would have been the cherry on top of the cake for this project. 

3. A Few Notable Quotes

On being able to use both feet equally well:

"Every day in training, even if it's just a simple passing drill, I try to do as many with my left as I do with my right... I think it just helps so much when you have two options [right and left feet] that are just as strong." --- Christian Pulisic quoted on pages 18 and 19.

On the essence of being a midfielder:

"When you go to close to your to your teammate, you don't gain any space for yourself once you receive the pass. So sometimes to run less is better, in my position. It is one of the basics of the midfielder. You don't have to go to the ball. The ball has to come to you. Then you know where the ball has to go. Because if you go too close, you are probably not in the right position to make that next pass. That's something you learn with the games and the years." --- Xabi Alonso quoted on pages 32 and 33.

On the qualities inherent in a modern striker:

"I prefer to have a little of everything. I can move with the ball and without it. I can jump. I can protect the ball. I can finish with my left and with my right. I can cross a ball. I can give an assist to another player. I can defend. In the best leagues in the world you play three or four tournaments per year. So training, recovery, staying healthy---that's even more important now. Europe isn't like Mexico or MLS. Here, you don't stop." --- Javier "Chicharito" Hernández quoted on page 82.

On players' emotions and the role of their brains:

"How do we deal with those emotions? And if we really believe in that, we talk about the amygdala and the limbic system. Some people say, 'That's crazy. That has nothing to do with football!' But it does. That's where previous information and memory connect with the emotions." --- Juan Carlos Osorio quoted on page 106.

On how formations evolve during a game:

"You can start in a formation, and during the game it evolves so much... I think a tactically mature team needs to be able to adjust, especially in possession, to the demands of the game. And then defensively, I think it really becomes a back three or a back five when you defend really low. Otherwise, it's still the same principle: You've got a certain number of people that need to control the counterattacks and a certain number of people that need to make it happen for goals. Where they are in relation to each other will roughly be the same whether you're playing in a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2. It's only the details that change." --- Vincent Kompany quoted on pages 146 and 147. 

On how a goalkeeper prepares to face a spot kick:

"It starts when he has the ball in his hands and he lays the ball on the ground. You have to see the position of the ball [on the penalty spot.] Sometimes it will be on left or the right, on the front or behind. Everyone has their own style. How do they go to the ball? How many steps do they take? What is the body language? Do they go fluently to the ball, or do they stop a little bit? You have to read the whole situation and watch everything. You can't turn around and go clean your gloves or something. It is psychological. It's about being able to read people." --- Manuel Neuer quoted on page 166.

On a modern manager's philosophy of player management:

"I have never believed in managing through punishment, or having the stick, or forcing a player to perform in a certain manner because I don't think you can achieve a dream that way. You can just reach your level, and that's it. And the more you turn away or you drop your awareness, the more players will drop their standards. I have always felt you need to trust the players to have the same aspirations as a team, and that becomes powerful. That can bring a momentum which can allow you to achieve things beyond a sum of individuals." --- Roberto Martínez quoted on page 190.

On how top clubs scout talent in the transfer market:

"It's just doing your homework, being diligent. There are about 10 scouts working here (Dortmund) in our office and another 5 regional scouts who are responsible for their country or region. That is my whole staff. These days you can't have manpower in every stadium in the world, so it's about the internet and watching many, many matches with our devices...

We have an old system as well, and we are giving grades like in school. And you go to these certain characteristics. Football characteristics. Then at the end you have a summary. It's not a computer system. It's more about characteristics that are important to us." --- Michael Zorc quoted on page 242.

4. About the Author
Grant Wahl. Image credit: Marina Zayra.
Image credit:
 Marina Zayra.

Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) is one of the world's leading soccer journalists. He joined Sports Illustrated in November 1996 as a reporter and was promoted to his current position of senior writer in October 2000. He is also a contributor to Fox Sports television, where he does insider segments, essays, and long-form video stories. Wahl's last book, The Beckham Experiment, was the first soccer book to make the New York Times Best-Seller List.

The biographical text was courtesy of Crown Publishing.

Please Note:

I have received a review copy of this book from a representative of the publisher, Crown Publishing Group. I was not financially compensated by the author, publisher or any 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. He has also contributed at AC Cugini Scuola Calcio, Beyond The Pitch, Football Media, Italian Soccer Serie A.com, Keeper Skool, and Soccerlens (Sportslens), respectively.

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