How Zlatan Ibrahimovic can make history as the 25th William Hill Sports Book of the Year

To those familiar with the literary standards normally associated with footballers' autobiographies, it will come as no surprise to learn that the William Hill Sports Book of the Year has yet to find a winner from that genre, even though the most prestigious of all sports book prizes is now in its 25th year.

That might be about to change.  Among the shortlist for the 2013 award, announced after the field of 17 named in the longlist was reduced to six, is I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the self-told story of one of Europe's most successful strikers.

Published in Sweden in 2011, the memoirs of the multi-decorated striker -- currently with Paris St Germain after a career that has brought him league titles in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain as well as France -- sold 500,000 copies in hardback within two months and subsequently achieved worldwide sales running into millions.

Ibrahimovic is not short of fans -- the rapture that greeted his four goals for Sweden against England in a friendly last year was proof of that -- but it was not so much his fame but the unvarnished nature of his story that captured the public imagination.

Now published in English by Penguin, it has plainly had a similar effect on the William Hill judges.

In essence, it is a rags-to-riches story of a boy from Rosengard, a deprived area of Malmo populated largely by immigrants, whose parents -- a Croatian mother and a Bosnian father -- drank and fought and split up when he was only two and left him at the mercy of ghetto life, where he clung to football and the possibilities it offered as a means of surviving.

He charts his career in the professional game with the same graphic honesty, revealing the sides of top-level football that tend to be kept secret.  With the help of David Lagercrantz, a Swedish journalist and author, Ibrahimovic tells tales that are sensational on one level but on another merely portray football in the raw, with no attempt to spare reputations, or to sanitise the truth.  Ibrahimovic is happy to admit that football has been good to him -- he has, after all, achieved much that he dreamt about as a poor immigrant, when he fantasised about marrying a pretty, blonde Swedish girl and living in a calm and ordered Swedish neighbourhood -- but neither does he pretend that the journey to success has been smooth, not least because of his own rebellious nature.

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be judged alongside the following before the winner of the 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year is announced on 27 November:

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong (Simon & Schuster), in which the Sunday Times journalist David Walsh recounts his refusal to let go of the story of Tour de France winner Armstrong's doping he suspected to be true as early as 1999 -- 13 years before the American was finally brought to justice.  Buy

Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang (Racing Post), in which the Financial Times writer Jamie Reid tells the true story of one of the biggest doping scandals in British racing history, when an attempt in March 1962 to nobble a horse carrying the royal colours led police to uncover the London gangsters behind a series of spectacular coups. Buy

The Boys In The Boat: An Epic True-Life Journey to the Heart of Hitler's Berlin (Macmillan), the story -- told by the American author Daniel James Brown -- of Joe Rantz, who turned to rowing to escape the sweat and toil of working class America in the 1930s and ended up winning a gold medal at the Berlin Olympics. Buy

The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete (Yellow Jersey Press), in which David Epstein, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, adds to the ongoing nature versus nurture debate by exploring the complex role of genetics in sporting success. Buy

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld (Bloomsbury), which is the result of the fearless exploration of India's illegal bookmaking industry undergone by Ed Hawkins, the Racing Post and Betfair cricket betting expert, which reveals the extent of match-fixing in international cricket. Buy

William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2013: The Longlist



Wide open field for William Hill Sports Book of the Year as 17-title longlist is named

As the man whose grand jury testimony brought down the most successful and celebrated cheat in the history of sport, cyclist Tyler Hamilton was out on his own among last year's contenders for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

The field for this year's prize -- the 25th since the award was launched in 1989 -- looks much more open.

The longlist for the 2013 'Bookie Prize' sees football, tennis, rowing, horseracing, athletics, cycling and ping-pong among the sports represented, and features writers and performers from France, the Netherlands, America, Britain, Spain, Italy and Sweden.

After the success of Tyler Hamilton's The Secret Race, there is another take on the downfall of Lance Armstrong in the shape of Seven Deadly Sins, which recounts the long campaign waged by another of those who helped expose the truth about the seven-times Tour de France champion's systematic drug use, the Sunday Times journalist, David Walsh.

But it will take something special, one suspects, to persuade the judges not to choose their winner from among the six football titles that make up more than a third of the 17-strong longlist.

These include two-times Bookie winner Duncan Hamilton's portrait of George Best, Immortal, as well as biographies or autobiographies of three more recent greats of the beautiful game in Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Echoes of the 2012 London Olympics are sounded by Games supremo Sebastian Coe's autobiography, Running My Life, and rower Katherine Grainger's heartwarming Dreams Do Come True.
Cricket, which has provided five past winners, is represented by Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy, in which the cricket betting expert Ed Hawkins exposes the corruption and match-fixing that has blighted the game in recent years.

Brough Scott's brilliant portrayal of Henry Cecil deserves its place on the list, in which this year's left-field choice is without doubt Guido Mina di Sospiro's intriguingly-titled The Metaphysics of Ping-Pong, a discourse on table tennis and much, much more from a American-based Italian journalist.

The full longlist is as follows:

Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top – A Biography, by Philippe Auclair (Macmillan). Buy

Stillness and Speed: My Story, by Dennis Bergkamp (Simon & Schuster). Buy

The Boys In The Boat: An Epic True-Life Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin, by Daniel James Brown (Macmillan). Buy

You Don’t Know Me, But… A Footballer’s Life, by Clarke Carlisle (Simon & Schuster). Buy

Running My Life: The Autobiography, by Seb Coe (Hodder & Stoughton). Buy

The Outsider: My Autobiography, by Jimmy Connors (Bantam Press). Buy

The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete, by David Epstein (Yellow Jersey Press). Buy

Dreams Do Come True: The Autobiography, by Katherine Grainger (Andre Deutsch). Buy

Immortal: The Approved Biography of George Best, by Duncan Hamilton (Century). Buy

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld, by Ed Hawkins (Bloomsbury). Buy

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Lagercrantz and Ruth Urbom (Penguin). Buy

Fear And Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona Vs Real Madrid, by Sid Lowe (Yellow Jersey Press). Buy

Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang, by Jamie Reid (Racing Post). Buy

Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius, by Brough Scott (Racing Post). Buy

The Metaphysics of Ping-Pong, by Guido Mina di Sospiro (Yellow Jersey Press). Buy

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, by David Walsh (Simon & Schuster). Buy

Domestique: The True Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro, by Charly Wegelius and Tom Southam (Ebury Press). Buy

William Hill spokesman, and co-founder of the award, Graham Sharpe, said: “As befits the 25th anniversary of the world's undisputed finest award for sports books and their authors, I do not believe we have previously seen a year produce such an abundance of top quality titles. The judges face their toughest task yet in initially creating a shortlist then deciding on a winner - which will have beaten a classic field to be declared champion”.

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year award is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize. As well as a £25,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a £2,500 William Hill bet, a hand-bound copy of their book, and a day at the races.

The judging panel for this year’s award consists of: broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

The shortlist will be announced on 25th October. The winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, at an evening reception at The Hospital Club in central London, on Wednesday 27th November.

The Sports Bookshelf will feature more about the contenders over the coming weeks.