Vialli holds back secrets of the dressing room

Randall Northam continues to work his way through the Bookie Prize shortlist, and here deals with The Italian Job which has nothing to do with Michael Caine

Gianluca Vialli decided against writing a straightfoward autobiography because it would have meant telling secrets from the dressing room and he didn’t want to do that. Instead, together with London-based football writer Gabriele Marcotti, the former Chelsea manager and Italian international striker has written a book about the differences between Italian and English football. Although there it includes one secret about how he was let down by his agent when he joined Chelsea.

How much in The Italian Job is Vialli and how much Marcotti is anybody’s guess. When the author says he has done a “bit of research” you guess it is Marcotti, but who interviewed the managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi is anybody’s guess.

Was it Vialli with tape recorder and note book? Only the authors, managers and publishers know, and they haven’t told us.

I was going to stop reading on page 3, after the beginning of the chapter“Veronica, Mary and Me: a footballing love triangle. But I’m glad I didn’t. The book is a perceptive look at the different cultures of English and Italian football and by the end you get the feeling that Vialli prefers the English way.

But Mary and Veronica, honestly… Apparently, one football culture is like a “faithful, bubbly and comforting woman” wearing “high street jeans and top” and you wish she could spend a “few more hours in the gym” and wear some make-up. Your intimacy is usually brief but intense: she never holds back and uses every ounce of her body to please you.

Veronica, on the other hand, is “drop-dead gorgeous” using her beauty to “intoxicate and manipulate”. She’s “impeccably made up and elegantly dressed” but she “disappoints you, she ignores you and she cheats on you… but you have to go back to her.”

I’m assuming Mary is English football and Veronica is Italian. Does that mean that Spanish football is called Carmen and hand-rolls cigars on her thigh to keep you happy? And does Scottish football deep fry Mars bars to keep you hanging on?

Had I been the publisher that chapter would have found its way to the bin. It made reading on an act of faith. It could only improve from that beginning, and it does.

The book – you can’t say Vialli because you can’t be sure – is good on things like the nature of the footballers in both countries. He quotes Wenger as saying that an English footballer will run into a brick wall for the manager, whereas an Italian will say “why don’t you show us first how its done?”

The book argues that the English see football as a game whereas the Italian players sees it as a job, although how much longer that will last now that most of the big clubs have few English players you can only imagine.

It also examines the way England tosses aside managers after giving them time to fail whereas the Italians sack more quickly but recycle the talent.

There is even a chapter on the media, which strikes me as illuminating. It quotes Eriksson as worrying what to tell his England squad when his liaison with Ulrika Johnson was splashed all over the papers. “They burst out laughing, They said – Boss, why should we care about this? “It genuinely did not matter.”

Read our other reviews of books featured on the William Hill Sports Book Award shortlist:
Book’s a winner, but two years too late
William Hill’s response
Owens falsely accused in Hitler Games book
Runner sprints away from the facts
Heavyweight tome knocks out book judges