Book Review: Pat Nevin’s happy accident

PAT NEVIN was a terrific player in his prime; skilful, cheeky and determined, and he also seemed to have a great attitude. He was far from the stereotypical one-dimensional footballer and this made him very much a child of his time. He was an 80s man if ever there was one, in his dress sense, his interests and his awareness.

Nevin’s autobiography, The Accidental Footballer, underlines what a fascinating and curious character he has always been. He wasn’t like any of his peers, he was eclectic in his tastes, notably his music, and dressed at the cutting edge. He must have seemed strange to his team-mates, but he’s still around today – in demand, talking sense and always coming across with intelligent views.

His book highlights everything we might have expected about Nevin. He was relatively unknown when he signed for Chelsea, although for Clyde, he was obviously highly-prized. As it turned out, Ken Bates proved to be a tougher negotiator than the Glasgow club’s Mr Dunn and Chelsea paid just £ 90,000 when Clyde were looking for half a million.

Nevin effectively replaced a Chelsea favourite in Clive Walker, announcing his arrival in a 4-0 drubbing of much-fancied Newcastle United, leaving half their team sprawling as he slalomed his way from one end of the Stamford Bridge pitch to the other.

You get the feeling Nevin’s Chelsea career might have produced more, but something went wrong across a decent squad in the mid-to-late 1980s and when, in 1988, Chelsea were relegated, he had already decided it was time to move on. It seemed the club also felt it was right to monetise their asset. It was nothing short of criminal that he did not get included in the 1986 Scotland World Cup squad, unfortunate that he never did win a major trophy, but Nevin rarely failed to entertain. Ironically, his greatest thrill seemed to be been making friends with John Peel, the legendary DJ, demonstrating that football may not have been the most compelling aspect of his life.

Football biographies are invariably disappointing, but Pat Nevin’s story is somewhat unique, refreshing and revealing. It’s an absolute must read.

The Accidental Footballer by Pat Nevin is published by Monoray.

The inside and essential story of Barcelona, a football tale of excess

SIMON Kuper’s latest offering, Barca, is one of the most engaging books about a football club and certainly the most revealing, without ever getting scandalous or mucky.

Kuper is, of course, a fine writer, one who knows the game and its mechanics. Not for nothing is he the co-author of that excellent work, Soccernomics.

So vital is this book that any reader will plough through it in a few days, it is compelling and destroys some of the myths about Barcelona. In short, it often portrays the Catalan giants as a somewhat shambolic organisation, one that allowed itself to be over-influenced by one player, Lionel Messi. The culture that was driven by Johan Cruyff has been eroded in recent years by desperate attempts to keep and afford Messi while allowing him to have free license.

Simon Kuper

Moreover, Cruyff’s legions of admirers will be disappointed by some of the nonsense around the Dutch legend. Nevertheless, it is eye-opening and a little sad to read that Cruyff appeared to be a guy with a giant ego and, invariably, a political agenda.

While Kuper’s story heads towards the club’s current crisis, the book was arguably written just a few months too early. Recent events have served to rubber-stamp the club’s decline and despite already preparing the reader for the fall of empire, when the book is revised, the whole Messi saga will make for interesting copy. Messi doesn’t come out of it too well, but how will he look in a year or two?

Barca is also a book for our times, explaining just how big-time football has floated towards the abyss. There are doubtless other tales to be told, and there would be no better narrator than Simon Kuper. An essential book.

Barca by Simon Kuper is published by Short Books.