Christmas Books: Global growth of the round-ball religion

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There have been two significant developments in football publishing in the last decade. One is the rise in instant celebrity memoirs, a specialised branch of the boom that followed the staggering success of Being Jordan by Dwight Yorke's ex, aka Katie Price. This resulted in swathes of the Amazon being cut down to facilitate the largely dull and embittered recollections of England's World Cup failures. The exception, Stephen Gerrard's heartfelt My Autobiography (Bantam, £18.99), is also the only one not destined for the pulping factories.

The other, more interesting phenomenon, is the growth in literature dedicated to the global game. The Premiership has become multinational, the Champions' League all-pervading, and television broadcasts league matches from the Netherlands to Argentina. This has stimulated a thirst for knowledge about the game beyond these once insular shores, and a desire to put our football in a broader context.

The latter is done brilliantly by Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti's The Italian Job (Bantam, £17.99), an examination of the contrasts between the Italian and English approaches to football. Aided by revealing interviews with the leading management figures (Ferguson, Capello, Wenger, Mourinho, Eriksson, Lippi, etc) the former Chelsea manager and Italian international looks at all aspects of the sport and roughly concludes the English game is more fun, but it is because the Italians take football so seriously that they are better at it. And the wind is a problem in England.

Not that this put off 2,125 foreign-born players who had plied their trade on these shores by the end of last season. The vast bulk of them arrived after the advent of the Premier League but, as Nick Harris uncovers in The Foreign Revolution: How overseas footballers changed the English game (Aurum, £14.99), the home of football was laying out the welcome mat more than a century earlier. The discovery that Walter Bowman, of Canada, Accrington Stanley and Ardwick (now Manchester City), was the first overseas player is but one of many curiosities in a book which combines deft story-telling with an appendix to thrill any anorak listing every one of those adventurers/mercenaries in triplicate.

A significant number of those players came from eastern Europe but Jonathan Wilson, like Harris a contributor to these pages, is more interested in the ones that stayed at home. Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football (Orion, £16 hardback, £8.99 paperback) is part travelogue, part exposé, part social and football history lesson, even partly a coming of age memoir, journalistically at least. The sum of these parts is much more engaging than it sounds, with Wilson's romantic attachment to the old Eastern Bloc, founded when his parents forsook the Lake District for Slovenia for the family's summer holidays, surviving the mind-blowing degree of corruption which afflicts the region's football.

While clubs such as Ararat Yerevan flourished in their role as national symbols in a centralised Communist state, a very different football culture was briefly thriving in the home of capitalism, baseball and the NFL. Once in a Lifetime: The extraordinary story of the New York Cosmos (Atlantic, £8.99) ties in with, yet is distinct from, the entertaining movie of the same name released this year. Against the vivid backdrop of New York in the age of Disco and Son of Sam, Gavin Newsham entertainingly charts the remarkable rise and fall of football's Harlem Globetrotters and the NASL they illuminated.

Both Ararat and Cosmos appear in David Goldblatt's magnum opus, The Ball is Round: A global history of football (Penguin Viking, £30), but that is no surprise, as it features everything and everyone which has ever mattered in football. With more than 900 pages of text, an eight-page bibliography and 42-page index, this is a scholarly masterwork but also a highly readable one. The scope is astonishing. It is a book one would be proud to write, and it could replace an entire bookcase by itself.

Which might come in handy as a World Cup year has inevitably spawned a welter of related books. Among those worth keeping was 90 Minutes: The greatest moments from the World Cup (Merrell, £19.95), a photographic work. Robert Davies searched the film and television archives to find iconic images, then cropped them to create a series of intriguing images. Like modern art, it does not always work, but when it does, as with a shot of Zinedine Zidane's head, the effect lingers.

The less attractive aspect of the finals, their value as a cash cow to Fifa, is central to Foul! The Secret World of Fifa: Bribes, vote-rigging scandals and ticket scandals (Harper Sport, £18.99). The title of Andrew Jennings' idiosyncratic but deeply researched and quite shocking exposé says it all. It is a valuable but depressing book and enough of a detective story to avoid becoming too dry. Woe betide a Fifa flunky who presents it to Sepp Blatter for Christmas.