The triumph and tragedy of football’s forgotten pioneer
Dominic Bliss, 2014, Blizzard Books
My only knowledge about Torino F.C., or Il Grande Torino as they are also known, before reading this book, was that they lost a team in an airplane crash. All airplane crash are a tragedy, of course, but the actual dimension of an event like this one is only able to understand, when you know the people to whom it happens to. After the second world war the soccer history started more or less around 1950 again, with the World Cup in Brasil. Around that time nearly all countries in Europe had restored their national league systems and when the European Cup competition was created 1955 the best teams and players became global legends. For the teams from before or directly after the second world war, it is hard to get any information and therefore their successes stay in obscurity and are not really taken serious when counting championships and cup wins today. That was also the case for me with Torino, who won their last Italian Championship 1949.
Therefore I was very interested, when I read about the book of Dominic Bliss telling the story of the Torino team and even more of his coach, who was ahead of his time in many ways. The book describes the whole life path of Ernö Egri Erbstein, an Hungarian Jew, who mainly worked in Italy and becomes one of the first coaches in Europe to change from the 2-3-5 system to 3-2-2-3 but in a more dynamic and offensive way then the WM system, which was introduced by Chapman. Erbstein did not only developed a new playing style but he also broke ground in youth development, scouting and nutrition of his players. His systematic approach to improve the team year by year made them win five Italian championships in a row and the team became one of the national monuments of the new Italy after the war. But not only his merits as a coach were unique, his whole life, including that of his family in an anti-Semitic Europe is an adventure itself, which could have ended in tragedy even before he would have had the chance to form that big team.
The book itself starts very slow and has its lengths when describing the playing career of Erbstein in detail but I assume that is a necessary part of a biography to explain the development. Later, especially during the second world war and the Torino team the pace of the story is very good and entertaining and the end of the book is very moving. I am not ashamed to say that my eyes where filled with tears reading about the crash and the funeral afterwards, after following the construction of this team step-by-step in the chapters before.
The nice thing about the book is also, that it can be easily read as a history book, with a soccer story. The background information and how the situation in Europe and Italy at that times is tied into the story makes it clear that a lot work went into the research.
I greatly appreciate that the author made me aware of another black spot in my knowledge of soccer history and I can only recommend the book for everyone who wants to learn more about one of the greatest teams of Europe directly after the war.
Tactics & Game philosophy: 1/3
Next book: Feet of the Chameleon (March 17th)