Football Book Review: Mister by Rory Smith

mister book cover

England is the big underachiever in world football and an English manager hasn’t even won their own domestic championship since 1992. It wasn’t always this way. In his stunning debut book, Rory Smith charts the English managers whose progressive coaching methods were ignored or dismissed at home, so they went abroad instead to teach the game. Thanks to these men, in Italy and beyond, the coach is now known by an English word – “Mister”.

For England, the inventor of the game to have won one single trophy in its entire history – at home, at that – is pathetic. A lot of the blame for this has to go to successive Football Associations and the Football League for failing to learn from overseas coaches and teams.

Once upon a time, English coaches were in high demand and went around the world educating knowledge-hungry clubs and national teams with innovative new coaching methods.

Men like William Garbutt, a former Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers winger whose playing career was cut short by a knee injury.

Garbutt would spend more than two decades in Italy with Genoa, Roma and Napoli. He is fondly remembered in Italy and credited with being the original mister, a term for football coaches that has stuck in Italy ever since.

His focus was on tactics and physical supremacy. He also became the first coach in Italy to conduct paid player transfers. Vittorio Pozzo, Italy’s coach for its two World Cup triumphs in the 1930s, described Garbutt as “the most important man in the history of Italian football”.

Garbutt’s final title with Genoa in the 1923-24 season resulted in the first ever awarding of the Scudetto, the Italian flag champions wear on their shirts for the following season.

Have you ever heard of George Raynor? He was the first Englishman to lead a team to a World Cup final – Sweden in 1958 – who were halted by the 17-year-old Pele’s Brazil 5-2 in Stockholm.

What about Vic Buckingham? The man who laid the foundations of La Masia training academy at FC Barcelona and discovered Johan Cruyff while boss of Ajax Amsterdam.

Smith looks at some of Britain’s more recent managerial exports: John Toshack at Real Madrid and Real Sociedad, Terry Venables at Barça, and Bobby Robson at PSV Eindhoven, FC Porto and also FC Barcelona. And who is FC Barcelona’s longest-serving manager? Englishman Jack Greenwell, who built the club for nine seasons over two spells in its nascent decades.

Mighty Magyars Budapest

The Mighty Magyars are immortalised in this Budapest street mural.

The 6-3 victory of Hungary’s “Mighty Magyars” at Wembley in 1953 is commemorated in a huge mural in Budapest. This was England’s first home defeat to a team from outside the “Home Nations”. While the mister that day was Hungarian Gusztáv Sebes, the foundations of the Arancycsapat (Golden Team) were laid by Jimmy Hogan years before. The team should have gone on to win the 1954 World Cup but failed in the final against West Germany.

1953 should have also proved to be an epiphany for English football to evolve, modernise, accept that the continent had eclipsed it. The 1966 World Cup win in many ways helped sweep any talk of modernisation under the carpet and even today we get the same old tired excuses for England’s failure to perform in tournaments despite Premier League players working with some of the best coaching and playing talent in the world. So, while smaller nations like Denmark, Greece and Portugal have a shiny European Championship trophy in their HQs, England hasn’t even been in a Euro final.

Mister is a brilliant, necessary book for fans of football history, especially those from England. With the 2017 Under-20s World Cup win and triumph at the Under-19 European Championships, maybe – just maybe – English football is turning a corner.

Mister is available here on Amazon. Check out more football book reviews here.

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