Neville's Red and tales of The Didi Man among pick of the year's football autobiographies

It is easy to deride football biographies and many reviewers do so with justification, although they sometimes forget that the target audience may be have chosen mindful of fans more concerned with reading a paean to their favourite superstar than any masterpiece of insightful sports literature.

Neither the picture-driven Steven Gerrard: My Liverpool Story nor the easy-reading Wayne Rooney: My Decade in the Premier League is likely to find itself in contention for any awards, yet between them they sold almost 59,000 copies in 2012, according to Nielsen BookScan, which made them the two most successful books in the football biography sector.

At least the 19,000 who parted with money for the paperback edition of Gary Neville's autobiography Red (23,000 if you include sales of the hardback version) had something to read.  Not only that, they had something to talk about too as the former Manchester United and England full back revealed exactly why the punditry career on which he was about to embark was right up his street.

Neville is a revelation: an English footballer with opinions that have not been sanitised by some faceless PR machine intent on rinsing out every ounce of colour. Were he German, Italian or Dutch, Neville's forthright views would be unremarkable. Think Jurgen Klinsmann, Gianluca Vialli, Ruud Gullit (indeed any number of Dutchmen) -- players who think for themselves and have no qualms about setting themselves apart as individuals.  To do so here, to step outside the intellectual base level of dressing room banter and bland post-match answers to correspondingly bland questions, is to risk ridicule.

It is why so many English footballers can appear to be shallow, one-dimensional -- even thick -- when in most cases they certainly are not.  Neville is the antidote.  He addresses issues in the game and assesses players and managers as he sees them, particularly the five England managers in whose teams he played.  And he makes no concessions to reputation or sensitivities.

The only disappointment is that he does not reveal much about David Beckham, the player to whom he was always supposed to be as close as any at Manchester United. Clearly Neville is also a man of honour and discretion, at least when it comes to his mates.

Of the books published for the first time in 2012, it is good to see the Fabrice Muamba autobiography, I'm Still Standing, occupying a high position in the charts after selling 18,000 copies in less than two months.

Neville Southall's engaging Binman Chronicles was another big seller, along with the paperback reissue of A Life Too Short, the heart-rending story of the German national team goalkeeper, Robert Enke, who stepped in front of a train while in the grip of depression.

Perhaps the surprise among the top 10 football biographies of 2012 is The Didi Man, penned by the former Bayern Munich, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester City midfielder, Dietmar Hamann.  Then again maybe not to anyone who has read his warm, witty, perceptive and human story.

Hamann's analyses of the managers for whom he worked are genuinely  illuminating, offering verdicts that often challenge perceived wisdom, while his recollections of the bizarre turn his life took after the breakdown of his marriage, when he took to drink and gambling and lost £288,000 in one night -- not in some swish casino but alone in his house, watching a faraway Test match because he could not sleep -- are gripping.

Interestingly he tells that story with no trace of bitterness, emphasising instead his belief that footballers should grow up and cope with their problems, just the same as anyone else.  He points to the death of Gary Speed and the outpouring of emotions that followed not in some sentimental way but to express a fear that some footballers, blinded to reality by the unreal world they inhabit, might be tempted to indulge in self-pity, forgetting the pressures and uncertainties that shadow the lives of people beyond their cosseted circumstances with no hope ever of aspiring to the wealth and privilege they enjoy.  It is a singular view from an intelligent man with opinions he is willing to express.  But then again, he is German.

The top 12 best selling football biographies and autobiographies of 2012:

1, Steven Gerrard: My Liverpool Story (Headline)
2, Wayne Rooney: My Decade in the Premier League (Harper Sport)
3, Red: My Autobiographyby Gary Neville (PB) (Corgi)
4, Fabrice Muamba: I'm Still Standing (TrinityMirror)
5, A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, by Ronald Reng (PB) (Yellow Jersey)
6, Neville Southall: The Binman Chronicles (De Coubertin)
7, Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning: The Biography. by Guillem Balague (Orion)
8, Scholes: My Story, by Paul Scholes (PB) (Simon & Schuster)
9, The Didi Man, by Dietmar Hamann (Headline) (to be released in paperback next month)
10, Scholes: My Story, by Paul Scholes (HB) (Simon & Schuster)
11, Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top: A Biographyby Philippe Auclair (Macmillan)
12, Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You: The Biography,  by Jonathan Wilson (PB) (Phoenix)

Thanks to Nielsen BookScan.

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