A book covered in infamy upon its release. Murray initially chose to state Socceroo captain Lucas Neill as the leading mercenary against coach Pim Verbeek, then upon threat of legal action, grievous bodily harm and stigmata elects to withdraw the statements. The book really did not get much better than the confusing episode that preceded it in my attention.
Lets begin with the accusatory statements that the copy I read retained. Just the quick way the incident is skimmed over, one paragraph enough apparently for one of the most dramatic stories to come of the 2010 World Cup campaign, left me amazed. Surely such an incident was worthy a chapter, some attempt at corroboration? In reality we do not know what is truth and what is not – if there was not some truth to it why did Murray put it in in the first place? If there was why did he retract the statement so willingly and declare he had falsified them? Absolutely ridiculous yet pretty standard for a book that has no idea where it is going or what its purpose is.
There is a positive, and to not afford Murray his due for this would be wrong. Murray has chosen to highlight footballers and teams that he believes are the best ever. His choices open the mind of the casual observer such as myself up to learning of names such as Di Stefano and Garrincha who were greats of the game yet escape mainstream notoriety such as Maradona and Pele. Maradona and Pele are indeed profiled, and worthy praise is afforded them, however Murray steers clear of players such as David Beckham or Wayne Rooney. To him these latter day notables are notable for more than simply being great footballers, but also a product of the English style of play that he regularly turns his nose up at through the book.
As a footballing purist it is absolutely with an educated eye that Murray passes judgement on the English game, while also holding up that which has been played in Eastern Europe and South America. Murray though labours the point and many others over and over again, so much so that the reader spirals in and out of deja vu. The tragedy that was the Hungarian national teams failure to win the final of the 1954 World Cup must be explained in agonising detail multiple times according to Murray. Psychologists at the ready, Murray (born László Ürge in Hungary) has still not reached 'closure' on this boyhood heartbreak 57 years later. This is not the only repetition.
Diego Maradona is Murray's choice as the greatest footballer of all. Murray waxes lyrical about his stardom back in Argentina, his struggles at Barcelona, his adoption as a Neapolitan, and of course his heroic leadership of Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986. But Murray admits to the star of Maradona being tarnished with his drug abuse and of course the 'Hand of God' goal on his way to lifting the 1986 World Cup. Murray provides a well balanced and thoughtful analysis of the latter incident. Next chapter however has Murray running through an explanation of every World Cup ever held, the highlights and star players. Come 1986 what do we read? A well balanced and thoughtful analysis of the 'Hand of God' incident, again.
There are also contradictions from one chapter to the next further confusing the reader and making it clearer again the book was written in a patchwork format and without central purpose. One chapter Murray criticises heavily the moves in 2003 and 2004 to remove the ethnically tied clubs from being part of a national league, as to him this was a slap to those who kept the game going all the years. Yet in the next chapter Murray is singing the praises of Frank Lowy for his leadership in bringing about the A-League – hang on Les you cannot have it both ways?
Except that you will derive enjoyment from learning sporting history otherwise unknown as a sporting nerd the book serves little purpose and receives Marbles - just.
Cover image thanks to fishpond.com.au