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Off The Ball

Football's published players

Mario Basler Buchpraesentation 2005
© Getty Images

Many pro players are notoriously coy about their plans for life after hanging up their boots, often simply due to their complete focus on the next match or the prospect of silverware. However, there is abundant evidence that writing can perfectly well provide a productive occupation after – or in some cases during - a successful playing career. And the phenomenon seems to span the globe, with unearthing plenty of examples of literary footballers in Europe, South America and Asia, a small selection of which we review here.

Let’s start with Germany, the self-styled ‘Land of Poets and Philosophers’, which gave the world Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, Bertolt Brecht and Heinrich Heine. Former Germany internationals appear particularly fond of committing their innermost thoughts and reminiscences to paper, although the style and genre is a shade less Faust or The Sorrows of Young Werther, and more in the popular mass-market direction of Me. Success Comes From Within or Super Mario.

Since hanging up his gloves, Oliver Kahn has proved a particularly prolific contributor to the global literary canon. The former goalkeeper has penned three tomes so far, Number One, the follow-up Me. Success Comes From Within, and his most recent work, You Can Do It! How To Get What You Want. The general thrust is an examination of the qualities needed never to lose faith in one’s own abilities, and how to achieve your goals. The World Goalkeeper of the Year in 1999, 2001 and 2002 certainly does not lack the pedigree to ponder on the subject of motivation and achievement.

The muse seems to flutter down on German goalkeepers fairly often, evidenced by Jens Lehmann’s It's Mad Out There on the Field and former Hamburg shot-stopper Uli Stein’s Half-time. A No-holds Barred Memoir.

If that's not racy enough for you, one of the German game’s more controversial figures has the remedy. Super Mario by UEFA EURO 1996 winner Mario Basler lovingly details an incident-filled career and names names of friends and foes alike.

Murder in England, anti-racism in FranceThe English game has traditionally produced a steady stream of literature by-lined with names from the professional ranks. Former Manchester United skipper and current Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is the author of three novels, Striker!, Sweeper! and Defender!.

Striker! tells the tale of player-turned-coach Steve Barnes, who unwittingly becomes the chief suspect in a murder enquiry after the death of a young player at fictional outfit Leddersford Town. "Steve's not TS Eliot or Samuel Becket, but the book's a damn good read," commented Reggie Sharp of its publisher Paragon Press.

Across the English Channel, the French are thoroughly well known for their cuisine and fashion, but perhaps less so for a host of articulate pro footballers who have committed their thoughts to paper. Even while he was still playing, Lilian Thuram took up the cudgels in a passionate fight against racism. In 2008, the 1997 French Player of the Year founded the Fondation Lilian Thuram - Éducation contre le racisme (Lilian Thuram Foundation – Education against Racism). The title of Thuram’s book Mes étoiles noires (My Black Stars) is self-explanatory, as the man who made a record 142 appearances for France examines black personalities who have shaped history, from Lucy the hominid skeleton through to US President Barack Obama.

At a mere 1.64m, Ludovic Giuly is exceptionally small by professional footballing standards, but it has not stopped the France international from pursuing a highly successful career. In just a single season with Barcelona, he collected winners’ medals in the Spanish championship and the UEFA Champions League. His forthcoming book Little Big Man details his struggle for acceptance within a modern game which often places strength, height and athleticism over ability.

All in a good cause
The literary urge among the greats of the game extends far beyond the boundaries of Europe. Argentina stalwart Juan Pablo Sorin rates as a footballing intellectual. After his first call-up to the senior Albiceleste squad, he opted to travel to the training base by bus, in order to finish a book he was reading in peace.

In 2005, left-sided utility man Sorin published *Grandes Chicos *with the aim of raising money to help build a school and hospital in Pampa de los Guanacos, an impoverished community of 4,500 souls in Santiago del Estero province. The player successfully persuaded a host of famous Spanish-speaking authors to collaborate on the project. Sorin’s extra-curricular passions extend beyond writing: the 34-year-old hosts his own Late Night Show for a boutique radio station, discussing trends in literature and music.

On the other side of the world in China PR, FIFA Women’s Player of the Century Sun Wen rates as one of the most accomplished writers in the footballing world. After hanging up her boots for the first time in 2003, she joined the local evening paper in her home town of Shanghai as a full-time reporter and correspondent.

We could go on and on, as our brief review merely scratches the surface of the vast cadre of written work produced by current and former players. However, even on the basis of the efforts described above, there’s no doubting the many facets to the talent of some of the sport’s best individuals, nor that there are productive and fascinating artistic livelihoods to be had once a playing career draws to a close.

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