Sporting biographies are an obvious inspiration for footballers wanting to emulate their heroes’ success. Perhaps less expected, though, is one journeyman player’s attraction to a 624-page tome on foreign relations by the United States’ most divisive Secretary of State.
Although even Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic skills will not help Queens Park Rangers escape relegation from the Premier League, the London side’s former player Ryan Nelsen has selected the politician’s heavyweight work On China as his favourite adult book.
The choice is among the more surprising choices in a scheme using Premier League footballers to encourage children to read more. Every top division side picked a player to select his favourite book from both childhood and adult years.
For Nelsen, a New Zealand defender who left QPR shortly after the survey to become manager of Toronto FC in Canada, the choice may not be quite so surprising – he holds a degree in political science from Stanford University.
Nelsen was not the only player to throw in an unconventional choice, however – Wigan Athletic midfielder David Jones, currently on loan to Blackburn, opted for Adrian Galsworthy’s history book The Complete Roman Army.
He may have been aping the all-conquering Australian cricket team, who were urged to read Sun Tzu’s Art of War by their coach John Buchanan before the Ashes series in 2001 to use ancient war tactics for a sporting advantage.
Most of the other players chose books by or about sports stars, presumably in the hope that some inspiration rubbed off. Norwich City’s Jonathan Howson has chosen Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection by Rene Stauffer, Chelsea’s Ross Turnbull went for Rafael Nadal’s autobiography Rafa: My Story and Sunderland’s Adam Johnson picked Blessed by George Best.
When it comes to children’s books, there is no doubt that Roald Dahl is the footballers’ favourite author with seven of the 20 opting for his books.
The scheme has already been a phenomenal success in improving children’s reading standards, according to research published by the National Literacy Trust. It shows that 75 per cent of the pupils taking part improved their reading age by between six months and a year in just 10 weeks. Three out of four said they now read more because they know that footballers read – and half had joined their public library.
Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Clint Dempsey – who chose The Hobbit as his favourite adult book and Little Blue Truck by Alice Shertle as his top children’s book – said: “I encourage everybody to read as much as possible because knowledge is power and makes you a more rounded person.
“Not every story will interest you but when you find one that does it can be really fun to get wrapped up in the story.”
Pick of the bunch: footballers’ favourite reads
Per Mertesacker (Arsenal): A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng
Sylvain Distin (Everton) The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Gael Bigirimana (Newcastle United) Hinds’ Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard
Ryan Nelsen (ex-QPR) On China by Henry Kissinger
David Jones (Blackburn Rovers) The Complete Roman Army by Adrian Goldsworthy