Bobby and Jack Charlton: Two special brothers

JONATHAN Wilson’s latest book is another compelling read, underlining his place among the best historians of the game. Two Brothers is the bio of Bobby and Jack Charlton, both members of England’s triumphant 1966 World Cup team. It’s a story that has been told before, but never as comprehensively.

Jack is no longer with us and Bobby has dementia, a cruel condition that has hit so many of the Charlton brothers’ contemporaries. Wilson provides a well-rounded picture of their lives, but he also narrates the story with greater objectivity than most previous writers. Bobby, for example, comes across as a somewhat awkward character, a worrier and a pillar of the establishment. This persona doesn’t make him especially popular with some people, although nobody would ever deny that he is one of the greatest players ever produced by England.

Of course, Bobby’s life was not without its tragedy and Munich 1958 would have shaped his personality from a young age. Bobby was/is a Manchester United man through and through, a human being with values, morals and standards. Little wonder that he didn’t get on too well with George Best and even Denis Law. Bobby straddled post-war austerity Britain and the swinging sixties, but he looked very out of place in the latter. Best was the epitome of the 60s playboy, but Wilson presents an honest assessment of the Northern Ireland international, reflecting on the player’s self-pitying and lack of loyalty as well as his part in United’s early 1970s decline.

Bobby’s football career ended in 1973, although he had a brief flirtation with management. Jack, by contrast, was more suited to running a team. His career with Leeds United was every bit as interesting as Bobby’s at Old Trafford. Jack initially clashed with Don Revie, but was shaped into a formidable centre half. While Jack was all about function, Bobby “our kid”, was about form. Jack may have won a third of Bobby’s 106 England caps, but he played in a Leeds team that was every bit as good as Matt Busby’s third great United side of the mid-1960s. The Charltons’ England careers ended in the heat of Mexico in 1970.

They both retired in 1973, but few worried what would come next for Jack. Indeed, his managerial career ebbed and flowed according to his own designs, and he would later win the hearts of the Irish people in taking the Republic to the World Cup in 1990 and 1994.

Bobby, meanwhile, took a more ambassadorial role when it came to football, but his elder brother could never be as tactful or careful. Although Bobby was always respected for his football and place in the game, Jack was liked because he was straight forward, painfully honest, gregarious and amusing.

A decent book had to be written about Bobby and Jack Charlton and the only regret is that neither could add their own contribution to the story. Those that had the good fortune to see them play in their pomp will delight in recalling their colourful careers. Once again, Jonathan Wilson’s ability to illuminate is there for all to see, even if we are only too aware that Bobby and Jack have been household names for over half a century.

How Red Bull took flight in football

THE Red Bull football franchise is not popular among certain fan groups, and yet there are far worse activities going on in the game the masses should be worried about. The Austrian drinks company may not sit comfortably among other club ownership models, particular in Germany, where RB Leipzig have upset the 50+1 model, but they should not be roped into the same bracket as clubs that throw cash around signing big name players.

Karan Tejwani’s book, Wings of Change (Pitch Publishing, 2020), provides some insight into the Red Bull world. Anyone visiting Leipzig will be aware of the friction between the followers of traditional clubs like Lokomotive and Chemie and RB, but it is hard not to be impressed by a club that has brought Bundesliga football to the eastern part of Germany once more. Advocates of the 50+1 system have a legitimate point, but the German Bundesliga is somewhat dysfunctional in that Bayern Munich have won the title for nine consecutive seasons.

However, new kids on the block are never welcomed in any walk of life, especially if there is money behind their surge to prominence. What Tejwani’s book reveals, or at least confirms, is that Red Bull’s move into football has a strategy, a long-term approach and has been carefully formulated to cover most bases. In other words, it is about player production and shrewd transfer activity. It’s important to remember, though, the Red Bull clubs have benefitted enormously from the financial backing of Dietrich Mateschitz’s energy drinks company.

The system created by Red Bull has produced a cadre of football coaches and technicians that are influencing European football. For example, Manchester United’s current interim coach, Ralf Rangnick, was director of football at Leipzig and then went on to coach the club. He has left a mark a number of managers around Europe, such as Jesse Marsch (Leeds), Julian Nagelsmann (Bayern), Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea), Marco Rose (Dortmund), Ralph Hassenhüttl (Southampton) and Jürgen Klopp (Liverpool). What’s more, Red Bull clubs have produced or nurtured coaches like Niko Kovač, Oliver Glasner, Adi Hutter and Achim Beierlorzer.

The Red Bull football empire is like a multinational company and that’s why they are so unpopular, even though other German clubs, such as Bayer and Wolfsburg have corporate backing, and three of Bayern’s shareholders are Adidas, Allianz and Audi, all giants of Deutschland AG. Critics would say Leipzig and Salzburg do not operate in the spirit of the environment in which they operate.

This book may not give you the inside track (that is another book to be written at some point), but it does explain why the likes of Leipzig and Salzburg have been so successful, and it is not purely down to money, although hard currency does give you options in life. In a football world where the elite are steam-rollering the rest, the Red Bull project provides an alternative, even if some would claim Leipzig are just a trophy or two away from joining the top bracket. There’s much to admire, but you sense that RB Leipzig will never be accepted in Germany as one of the gang. A worthwhile read and one that can be absorbed fairly quickly.