Book Review: I, Robot – How to Be a Footballer 2 by Peter Crouch
Peter Crouch’s How to Be A Footballer was one of the publishing hits of last 2018, notching shortlist nominations for both the National Book Awards and Telegraph Sports Book Awards. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Crouch’s publishers have been quick to make hay on the former England striker’s seamless transition into the literary world by bringing out a second book – I, Robot – How to Be A Footballer 2 – a little over twelve months later. It’s a rather unprecedented move in the world of sports autobiographies, which tend to be separated by years, or even decades (if at all), rather than months (Crouch’s strike partner Michael Owen waited fifteen years for the privilege), but such was the runaway success of Crouch’s first offering, in large part thanks to his dry wit and entertaining take on life as a footballer, in contrast to the often predictable, and dare I say it bland, rags to riches tales of old.
Book two is very much more of the same with regards to the format and tone. The chapters take a theme – Strikers, Nerves, Tackling, etc – and Crouch offers musings and anecdotes from his own experiences. I did feel a bit of déjà vu in the initial chapters and worried maybe this would be a case of the dreaded second-book syndrome, especially coming so soon after the first book, whose novelty and freshness had set it apart. The wit and playfulness are still there from the offset, but I felt the book grew into its own after a few chapters and once again gave that same sense of fun and humour as its predecessor. The chapter on referees particularly showcases everything that Crouch, and this book excels at, with the sort of relatable comic observations associated with the best stand-ups. Similarly, the chapter on the subs bench captures, with perfect wit, the footballer’s relationship to being a substitute. And what Crouch does so brilliantly is take apart the standard football clichés and discloses what really goes on in the minds and dressing rooms of modern footballers – sometimes, there is an I in team, especially, according to Crouch, if you’re a striker. In truth, a lot of what Crouch says isn’t shocking or revealing – nobody wants to be a sub, strikers can sabotage goals for other strikers, some players feign injuries, there’s nothing wrong with 4-4-2 – but footballers have become so accustomed to being part of the diplomatic PR machine that oftentimes the reality is masked behind commercial savoir-faire. Crouch’s honesty, therefore, is a breath of fresh air. And yet, even as he throws playful jibes at his team-mates, it all feels exactly that – playful and harmless. He’s not a footballer with a grudge and this is not a book with an agenda – it’s purely an open, light-hearted, savvy take on football from the inside and it is great fun to read.
Although the book touches on all the main aspects of the game, there’s one glaring omission in the current climate – VAR. I suspect, given that the book published in October, when it went to print, there was little chance to observe the new technology in all its ‘glory’, but it would be interesting to have Crouch’s thoughts on this. Perhaps, that’s lined up for Book 3? To my mind, despite the success of this second book, I think a third in the same vein may be pushing it, but personally I’d love to see a book in the mould of the recent Ask a Footballer (James Milner) with Crouch fielding questions from fans on all manner of football-related queries. But, for now, Crouch has certainly struck gold for a second time with I, Robot. His publishers may have to change the subtitle of the book for the paperback release to How to Be a Footballer and Also A Best-Selling Publishing Sensation.