Book Review – Basta: My Life, My Truth by Marco van Basten

Whether or not you followed Marco van Basten’s career, his is a name that is universal in football. Three-time Ballon d’Or winner, FIFA World Player of the Year, European Championship winner and scorer of arguably the best Euros goal ever, van Basten is synonymous with the beautiful game. Whilst my own footballing baptism just misses out on van Basten’s playing days, it’s impossible not to have heard of him and have seen at least one of his goals. My knowledge of him beyond this very basic level, though, is unquestionably lacking, so I was intrigued to read his recent autobiography – Basta: My Life, My Truth.

What becomes abundantly clear in the opening chapters is that despite van Basten’s successes, a serious ankle injury as early as 1986 significantly hampered not only his football but his life. A seemingly innocuous challenge in December 1986 was initially pooh-poohed following an X-ray, with a prognosis of ‘it’s nothing serious, just give it time’. Van Basten continued to play through the pain barrier, but fast-forward ten years, multiple failed surgeries, and van Basten’s only option was ankle fusion, which meant the end of his footballing career at the age of 31. Yet in the decade in which he played with an increasingly damaged ankle, he won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, three Serie A titles, two Italian Super Cups, two European Cups, two European Supercups and two Intercontinental Cups, as well as a string of individual awards that culminated in his being honoured as the world’s best player. Remarkably, his goal in the Euro 1988 Final that would become the image of the Euros for decades to follow came just months after the first operation on his beleaguered ankle. And van Basten actually credits that injury when remarking on the goal: ‘Since…that operation in November ’87, I had reduced mobility there and could no longer take on such a ball at full power. With a good ankle I would very probably never have scored.’ Of the shot itself, he is similarly philosophical: ‘As the cross came down, I thought, okay, for heaven’s sake just smash it at the goal. I haven’t got the energy to do anything else with it.’ It’s an eye-opening insight into one of the best goals of all time and satisfying to know that amateur players the world over who’ve found themselves in the same situation, thinking just smash it, aren’t entirely removed from one of the best players and one of the best goals in the world – albeit such shots up and down the country often end in Row Z – that’s where the difference emerges.

Van Basten’s autobiography takes readers through his early days, from Ajax to Milan, and on to coaching, management and his role at FIFA, but that early acknowledgement in the book of his ankle injury casts a shadow over everything. And the man himself ponders the question of what if? Van Basten’s successes nonetheless pit him as one of the game’s greats, but with the injury holding him back, it is fair to wonder if his career may have even gone to another level had circumstances been different. And there’s both a certain wistfulness and agony to van Basten’s questioning.

In general, he comes across in the book as fiercely determined and focused but also somewhat aloof and unyielding, not one to skirt difficulties or challenges or curb his opinion, which makes for an interesting read. As too do van Basten’s reflections on subjects such as the art of taking a penalty, the striker’s mindset in a one v one and young v experienced players. Similarly, his thoughts on Johan Cruyff, his teammates and clubs are all really compelling. And there is a certain style to the autobiography, in the way the narrative is structured and the short chapters, that makes it a really enjoyable reading experience.

One thing that particularly grabbed my attention was the mention van Basten makes of the years’ worth of records he kept right from his earliest playing days, and whilst there are a few brief snippers, I couldn’t help thinking how intriguing these would be in and of themselves. For now, however, van Basten’s autobiography will suffice, and it does so satisfyingly, giving a very clear depiction of the character of a man who reached the top of the game while carrying a debilitating injury. Whether you call it stubbornness, mettle or fortitude, or a combination of all three, van Basten secured much of his legacy with only one fully functioning foot. Just imagine his legacy if he’d had two!

Jade Craddock


(Cassell. November 2020. Hardcover: 352 pages)


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Book Review: Fierce Genius: Cruyff’s Year at Feyenoord by Andy Bollen

If you engaged a football fan in word association, throwing them the name ‘Johan Cruyff’, the most expected response would be ‘Ajax’, the club he successfully played and managed and with which he is most readily associated. You might also get a few replying ‘Holland’, ‘Total Football’ or ‘14’ the number famously worn by the Dutch legend, or even ‘Barcelona’, like Ajax a club he won honours with both as a player and coach. Some may even respond ‘turn’ as in the ‘Cruyff Turn’, which originated when he twisted Swedish defender Jan Olsson inside out during their World Cup game in 1974. What is highly unlikely is that any would be prompted to say ‘Feyenoord’ – the reason? Well, Cruyff’s farewell season in 1983/84, playing for the Rotterdam based club, despite the club winning the ‘double’ (Eredivisie and KNVB Cup), is largely forgotten about, amongst all else that Cruyff achieved. Andy Bollen’s Fierce Genius: Cruyff’s Year at Feyenoord, therefore, is a welcome window on this period about Amsterdam’s most famous footballing son.

In terms of the format of the book, Bollen does not simply focus on that campaign back in the early 1980s but provides a wider view as he looks across Cruyff’s career as player and coach in Holland, Spain and in America, as well as portraying something of his character and temperament. This means that the triumphant season at Feyenoord, is dealt with in just six chapters (out of thirty-one), with five focusing on the league matchdays and one detailing the Cup win. The emphasis of these six chapters is very much around match detail with description of the major incidents of the games, drawn it feels from the many videos available on YouTube, and incidentally well worth a watch to fully appreciate the genius of Cruyff. If there is a disappointment it is that those chapters on that season don’t contain more interviews and opinions from that campaign, whether that be coaches, players, administrators, fans or the media, to get more reflection and insight on an incredible achievement. Indeed it is not really until the final chapter, that more context is provided on the events of the 1983/84 Eredivisie.

However, that aside, this is a very informative and readable portrayal which Bollen relates with humour and as it evident from the writing, from the authors position as a fan of Cruyff. The chapters woven around the 1983/84 season take the reader from Cruyff the boy growing up in Amsterdam, through his first playing spell at the De Meer Stadion from 1964 to 1973, his five year stint in Spain with Barcelona, brief sojourns in the USA playing in the NASL and Spain with Levante, before a second spell at Ajax in which Cruyff delivered leagues titles in 1981/82 and in the following season. At the end of that campaign, in which Ajax also won the Cup, Cruyff was 36 and the expectation was that he would get a further one-year deal and retire at the club.

However, as Bollen details, this didn’t come to pass and instead Cruyff made the forty-odd miles journey from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, joining Ajax’s bitterest rivals, Feyenoord, capturing the ‘double’ for De Trots van Zuid and winning Dutch Footballer of the Year for himself. Once he retired from playing, Cruyff showed that his genius wasn’t just restricted to playing as coaching roles at Ajax and Barcelona brought national and European success taking and developing ‘Total Football’ to a new level, with his influence today seen for example in the managerial style of Pep Guardiola and a lasting legacy on the youth set-up and systems at both de Godenzonen and Barça.

For all the positives that Cruyff brought to the game, Bollen is balanced in acknowledging that the Dutchman had his faults and weaknesses. For instance, not everyone was comfortable with Cruyff’s continual drive for perfection or his stubbornness and sometimes forthright views, whether on or off the pitch, aimed at teammates, coaches, the media and football administrators alike. Indeed, Bollen recognises that this side of his character was undoubtedly instrumental in Cruyff lose a captaincy vote by the Ajax squad in 1973 and was no doubt influential in him not becoming coach of the Dutch national side.

The nearest Cruyff got to being an international manager was his time from 2009 to 2013 when he was in charge of Catalonia and which turned out to be his last job in the game. Sadly, Cruyff lost his battle with lung cancer and died on 24 March 2016 – the Fierce Genius was gone. He will though be remembered as long as football is played.

If you look at the greatest players in history, most of them couldn’t coach. If you look at the greatest coaches in history, most of them were not great players. Johan Cruyff did both – and in such an exhilarating style. (Former Ajax and Dutch international Johan Neeskens)

(Pitch Publishing. February 2021. Hardback 288 pages)


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1986/87 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final

Final programme cover

Wednesday 13 May 1987

Venue: Olympic Stadium, Athens, Greece.

Attendance: 35,017

Ajax (1) 1 – 0 (0) 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig

[Ajax scorer: Van Basten 21’]

Ajax: Stanley Menzo, Sonny Silooy, Frank Verlaat Frank Rijkaard, Peter Boeve, Aron Winter, John van ‘t Schip, Jan Wouters, Marco van Basten (c), Arnold Muhren (Arnold Scholten 83’), Rob Witschge (Dennis Bergkamp 65’)                           

Unused Substitutes: Netherlands Erik de Haan (GK), Ronald Spelbos, Petri Tiainen

Manager: Johan Cruyff

I. FC Lokomotive Leipzig: René Müller, Ronald Kreer, Frank Baum (c), Matthias Lindner, Uwe Zötzsche, Uwe Bredow, Heiko Scholz, Matthias Liebers (Dieter Kühn 76′), Frank Edmond (Hans-Jörg Leitzke 55’), Hans Richter, Olaf Marschall

Unused Substitutes: Torsten Kracht, Wolfgang Altmann, Maik Kischko (GK).

Manager: Hans-Ulrich Thomale

Referee: Luigi Agnolin (Italy)


This was the 27th Final of the Cup Winners Cup and the third final (and last) to be played in Greece. The Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus hosted the 1970/71 contest and replay between Real Madrid and winners Chelsea, with the Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki the venue for the controversial game between AC Milan, who lifted the trophy, and Leeds United in 1972/73.

The game was settled by a single first-half goal from Marco Van Basten after twenty-one minutes. It came from a move which started in their own half, with Frank Rijkaard carrying the ball forward. It was then whipped down the line after some short inter-play, with a cross that Van Basten met just on the edge to the six yard box to head across the despairing dive of Müller in the Leipzig goal. Overall, the game was not considered to be a classic.

The programme from the last Final in 1999 summarised the game under the following headline:

Ajax revive their traditions

The final is remembered because Marco van Basten took centre stage for the first time by scoring the winning goal. It was his sixth of the campaign and fellow striker Johnny Bosman, who missed the final contributed eight. Along with Frank Rijkaard, Jan Wouters, Aron Winter, Arnold Muhren, Johnny van’t Schip and Rob Witschge, they formed a team which coached by Johann Cruyff who was making his debut on the bench, lived up to the finest AFC Ajax traditions. A certain Dennis Bergkamp came on as a sixty-fifth minute substitute in the Athens final.

Their opponents were 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig, a solid if unimaginative team from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with an excellent goalkeeper in René Müller. They made unspectacular but solid progress, beating Glentoran FC of Northern Ireland 3-1 and, in the Second Round, raised a few eyebrows by eliminating SK Rapid Wien after extra-time. The draw gave them FC Sion in the quarter-finals, and they beat the Swiss 2-0. A curious semi-final against Girondins de Bordeaux produced two 1-0 away wins and victory for Lokomotiv in a penalty shoot-out.

The final in Athens was disappointing. Marco van Basten’s twenty-first minute header led the 35,000 fans to believe that the match would burst into life. But the East Germans spent the rest of the match confirming that they were durable and obstinate opposition capable of barring Ajax’s path to their goal but lacking the technical resources required for a come-back.

Two players from Ajax that night will be familiar to fans in England in Arnold Muhren and Dennis Bergkamp with both at very different stages of their career path. Muhren in this final was very much the senior-pro of the side. He had started his career at Dutch side FC Volendam in 1970/71, before signing on for Ajax where he won domestic honours as well as a European Cup in 1972/73. He stayed at the Amsterdam club until 1974, before transferring to FC Twente. After four years at the club, he moved to England to sign for Ipswich Town and became part of the side that won the UEFA Cup in 1980/81 beating ironically the Dutch side AZ Alkmaar 5-4 on aggregate. In 1982 he moved on again, this time to Manchester United and enjoyed success in picking up a FA Cup winners medal in the 1982/83 replay as United beat Brighton 4-0 in the replay. At the beginning of the 1985/86 season Muhren returned to Ajax and was instrumental in the club winning the KNVB (Dutch) Cup that season and the next and retiring from the game in 1989. On the international front he was part of the Netherlands side that won the 1988 European Championship In West Germany.

Whilst Muhren was in the back-end of his career, Dennis Bergkamp was only just starting. The 1986/97 campaign saw him made his senior debut for the club, culminating in a substitutes appearance in the Cup Winners Cup Final in Athens. Bergkamp became a legend at the club picking up domestic and European honours along the way and at by the time he left in 1993 for Inter Milan he had scored 122 goals in 239 matches for his hometown club. He had two season in Italy, securing a UEFA Cup winners medal in 1993/94 in a 2-0 aggregate win over Austria Salzburg. Bergkamp then became a Gunner in 1995 signing for Bruce Rioch’s Arsenal in a then record £2.5 million deal. The Dutchman was to stay at the club until he retired at the end of the 2005/06 season. During his time in London he won three Premier League titles, and three FA Cup triumphs (including a league and cup ‘double’ in 2001/02). As at Ajax he became a legend at Highbury and when the club moved to the Emirates Stadium, the first match played there was a testimonial for the Dutchman on 22 July 2006 between Arsenal and Ajax. Bergkamp played 79 times for the Netherland scoring 39 goals in an international career that spanned 1990 through to 2000.

Book Review: I am Football by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of most iconic names in football – something the man himself, famed for his limitless self-assurance, would surely not only corroborate but probably even propose. After all, this is the man who has referred to himself as a god and whose new book is titled I Am Football. There is no denying the fact that, in part because of this brazen chutzpah, Ibrahimovic has always been something of a divisive figure, both on and off the pitch, not only for spectators and media, but also amongst his own teammates and coaches, but the one thing that is unquestionable is his record.

Amongst other teams, Ibrahimovic has played for seven of the biggest clubs in football history – Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG and Manchester United. He has scored goals at for every team he has played for, in impressive quantities and important moments, racking up over 500 in total, and continues to do so at the age of 37 for LA Galaxy. He has won over thirty trophies with the teams he has played in, including league championships in four of the biggest competitions in the world (Eredivisie, Serie A, La Liga, and Ligue 1) as well as countless other individual awards. His records include being the only player to have played in the Champions League with seven teams (although the one black mark in his tally is the failure to win the competition), the only player to have scored in derbies in six countries and the only player to score in his first five league matches for Barcelona – records that neither the generation’s two leading players, Messi and Ronaldo, cannot match. And this book charts each of these milestones in Ibrahimovic’s journey from Malmo to Manchester United.

The chapters focus sequentially on each of the eight clubs he played for from 1999 to 2018, opening with a snapshot of his match, minutes, goals and assists stats, a picture and a Zlatan quote before an introduction to the context of each moment in Ibrahimovic’s career, which is followed up with images and quotes from the man himself, as well as contributions from teammates and coaches before a concluding assessment on his time at each club. It’s a really appealing and easy-to-read approach. But what really sells this book and makes it stand out from the crowd is the incredible design and finish of it – it’s clearly been lovingly and artistically put together, and rather than your average hardback sports autobiography, this has the appearance and gravitas, dare I say it, of something more akin to a bible. It is a book that visually grabs you and makes it clear its subject matter is intended to be viewed as something special, extraordinary. It’s a format that very much fits with a man who wants to make his mark, to turn heads, but it’s more than just a gimmick, it is genuinely a really stylish, well-packaged and put together creation, that, to my mind, suggests a refreshing, contemporary direction that sports books could take in the future to really develop the genre. Huge praise therefore must go to the creative and design team behind it, which includes Graphic Designer Sebastian Wadsted and Project Manager Martin Ransgart. There is nothing especially overly fussy or fancy inside the pages, just simple but hugely effective use of colours, spreads and imagery to create a beautiful, minimalist, sleek look. Even the way, the statistics – or rather Zlatistics (their word, not mine) – are displayed in a comprehensive chapter at the end of the book is engaging and visually appealing.

In terms of the content itself, the range of voices, from the book’s editor to Ibrahimovic’s teammates and coaches to the man himself, make for a more complete read. And whilst I am not sure this book will completely change perceptions about Ibrahimovic, it certainly gives a more rounded view of the man – no person, after all, is completely one thing, but Ibrahimovic, for whatever reason, has often been cast as the villain. The contributions from his teammates, and to some extent his coaches, are perhaps the most telling in their breakdown of this judgement. These are the people who spent the most time with him, day in, day out, who knew him off the pitch and on it, and their assessments – from greats such as Thierry Henry and Andrea Pirlo – are all markedly similar: Ibrahimovic, they all effectively concur, is indeed a strong personality, but above all a special footballing talent and a team player on the pitch, and off it, he is a funny and likeable character – very different to the troublemaker he has often been portrayed as. There is no denying his ego, many of the quotes from the man himself ooze it, but while some call it arrogance, the contributors tend to see it as self-confidence – a requisite for success. And success is exactly what Ibrahimovic has achieved throughout his two decades at the very top of the game. So maybe, as the title of the book suggests, he is, after all, football. There are definitely few who could argue with the Zlatistics.

Jade Craddock

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FIFA World Cup 2014 – Wednesday 25 June 2014

The morning after the night before…

Should we just ignore it? Should we not bring anymore focus on the incident? It’s happened, so let’s move on…

If only it was that simple.

As a parent, I would have been mortified if my son had bitten another child at nursery school and I would have made sure it only happened the once. When a 27 year old man does it for a third time, there is something pretty seriously wrong and it can’t be ignored.

For those not familiar with the other incidents, here goes:

  1. November 2010: Whilst playing for Ajax Suarez bites PSV’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder and is subsequently banned for seven games.
  2. April 2013: During the Liverpool v Chelsea game Suarez bites Branislav Ivanovic and receives a ten game ban.

Throw-in the racist incident with Patrice Evra and his penchant for diving and the character assassination is complete.

What would I like to see happen? Well for a start Suarez needs to seek some professional help as he has some behavioural issues. FIFA should ban him for a season and Uruguay should lose the points from the victory over Italy. In addition, Liverpool should terminate his contract.

But this is football we are talking about which is as morally corrupt as the organisation that runs it.

What has been an enjoyable World Cup so far, has been marred.