The Football Men, by Simon Kuper

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The Independent Culture

It might seem perverse for someone who makes his living writing about and interviewing footballers to say: "I do believe that you can access truths about the game by speaking to Arsène Wenger, if he feels like telling you. I don't believe you can access them by speaking to Wayne Rooney."

But every football reporter who has endured the tortuous process of attempting to set up interviews with players and then trying to extract anything of interest from the ensuing conversations will smile wanly in recognition.

Simon Kuper is a refreshing antidote to the current media obsession with "getting the nannies [nanny goats = quotes]", however banal, from players. He doesn't mince his words: talking of past greats, he dismisses Bobby Charlton as "a dullard", Michel Platini "a weak character" and Pele "a talking puppet".

More recent galacticos receive equally short shrift: Thierry Henry is described in 2009 as "almost completely clapped out", an observation amply justified in the following year's World Cup.

The theme that runs throughout this collection of Kuper's newspaper articles over the past 13 years, supplemented by some pieces written specially for this book, is that footballers are by and large ordinary souls, whose special talent doesn't make them special people.

What is exceptional is Kuper's insightful view of their world and the managers who attempt to control it. Whether defending Wenger's purchasing policy at Arsenal or explaining why Fabio Capello was, and continues to be, an inspired appointment for England, his judgements are often revisionist, always well argued.

If you're looking for sleaze and sensation, this isn't the book for you; but if stylish profiles written with wit and humour are your thing, you won't be disappointed.

Published in hardback by Simon & Schuster, £16.99