I’ve long commented on the lack of availability of translated versions of non-English sports books. So many interesting stories and insights that those of us who sadly don’t speak French, German, Spanish etc. miss out on. Thankfully this seems to be changing with a growing number of Italian football books getting an English translation – perhaps building on the success of Pirlo’s excellent book a few years ago.
2021 saw two such books which were of massive interest to me. Firstly, and I’ve tweeted repeatedly about this one, Arrigo Sacchi’s book on the great Milan ‘Immortals’ team was published in English by the excellent Backpage Press. A brilliantly interesting and enjoyable book, it shed a light on his tactics, his players, Berlusconi and Italian football of the late 80’s.
Even more recently, deCoubertin Books has published the autobiography of the A.S. Roma and Italy legend Francesco Totti. The uncrowned 8th King of Rome, Totti played and scored for the Gallorossi more times than any other player (indeed he even got more Serie A goals than any other footballer since the 1940s). He was club captain for 20 years and played a pivotal role in Italy’s World Cup win in 2006.
Totti was a player who could make anyone fall in love with football. A number 10 in the most perfect sense of the phrase. In an era of great playmakers in Italian football, he stood out for his consistency, the quality of his passing and his demeanor on the pitch. He operated as a world class playmaker, a world class goalscorer and a scorer of world class goals. On top of this, his commitment to Roma at the expense of even greater fame and fortune endeared him not just to the red half of Rome but to fans around the world. Players who stay at single club for their whole careers, particularly international stars, are so rare that they achieve a unique place in fans’ imaginations.
Gladiator is a relatively typical autobiography in terms of format and structure, recounting Totti’s life story and peppered with insights into players, managers and others who played a big role in Totti’s life. The book dives deeper into some select areas including Roma’s Scudetto victory, Antonio Cassano’s entertaining time at the club and Italy’s World Cup win in 2006. It also highlights specific times in his career when his destiny nearly changed – being offered a contract first at Milan, Bianchi trying to sign Litmanen and rejecting the chance to become a Galactico in Madrid. Unsurprisingly his departure from Roma as a player (he remains as a director) is also covered in depth The choices of areas to focus on are well made and the book remains interesting throughout.
Most fascinating to me is Totti’s own description of his talent. From an early age he knew just how good he was. At each point of his early career, his experience reinforced to him that he was in fact better than almost any other player in Italy. Yet somehow this knowledge didn’t lead to his destruction but instead gave him the confidence to emerge as a leader and club captain at a very young age. In the book he manages to capture this understanding of his ability without the arrogance of a Zlatan Ibrahomivic but without displaying false modesty either.
The book also captures what he means to the city of Rome (the red half at least) and the price that love had on Totti personally. Repeatedly in the book he laments (but doesn’t whinge) about not being able to enjoy living in one of the world’s great cities because to walk around outside is to be inundated by hundreds of fans. He shares some funny anecdotes which capture the intensity of his celebrity in the city.
For any fan who smiles when remembering Totti at his peak, this is a must-read. If you made it this far without watching the YouTube video montage of his greatest pieces of skill scroll back up right now. The book is coauthored by one of Italy’s foremost sportswriters, Paolo Condo, and translated by Anthony Wright and published (in English) by deCourbtin books.