Book Review: Toshack's Way - My Journey Through Football
Photo: Donostia Kultura, CC BY-SA 2.0
John Toshack cut a unique path through the footballing world as a player, player-manager and manager. Best qualified, he tells the story himself with the help of his co-author, Dan Sung.
The book begins with a foreword from former Real Sociedad, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich star, Xabi Alonso. The Spaniard was among a number of youngsters to which Toshack handed debuts during his illustrious career. Alonso speaks of how Toshack is considered a hero in San Sebastian, along with the others who played a part in La Real’s 1986/87 Copa del Rey success.
Toshack's story begins in his hometown of Cardiff with the Bluebirds. After 100 goals in all competitions, he moved north to Liverpool when the legendary Bill Shankly signed him in November 1970. Throughout the book, you can see Shankly's influence on Toshack. It's clear he learned a lot from the Scot and the book is dedicated to his former manager.
While he clearly loved Shankly, his relationship with Bob Paisley was less than perfect even though he remained at Liverpool until 1978. During his time at Liverpool, he helped the club win three league titles, an FA Cup, two UEFA Cups, a European Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
At 29, Toshack left Liverpool and dropped all the way down to the fourth division with Swansea. It was Toshack's first job as a manager although he combined his managerial responsibilities with playing until he left the club. Toshack's time at Swansea was like something from a Football Manager blog. Promotion followed promotion. Within four seasons they were looking down at the rest of the Football League from top of the top division. It didn't quite have the Hollywood ending. Nonetheless, a sixth-placed finish and relegation the following season failed to spoil a remarkable journey.
Winning trophies under Shankly and Paisley before going through all four divisions in English football would make a good story in itself. For Toshack, it's only the first four chapters. His managerial journey continues, taking him to Sporting Lisbon before the first of three stops in San Sebastian with Real Sociedad, including the Copa del Rey win that made its mark on a young Xabi Alonso.
After leaving La Real, he made the move to the Spanish capital. He won La Liga with Real Madrid before making his way back to the Basque Country. He completed a unique treble of winning the three domestic Spanish trophies with three clubs. The Spanish Super Cup came during his tenure with Deportivo de la Coruna. He had a year and a bit in Turkey with Besiktas. A Turkish Cup win prompted another call from Real Madrid.
There are more stops and more chapters on stints with Saint Etienne, Real Sociedad (yes, them again), Catania and Real Murcia before he returns "home" to manage Wales for over a decade. He only committed his full attention to the Dragons after unsuccessfully trying to manage his country alongside his Real Sociedad duties. While he was unable to qualify for any major tournaments with Wales, he and assistant Brian Flynn laid solid foundations. Eleven of the 14 players who played in the 2016 European Championship semi-final against Portugal making their debuts under Toshack.
Bringing players through is a recurring pattern throughout the book. Alonso and the Welsh debutants are the iceberg's tip. Iker Casillas was another. Toshack also signed Real legend, Fernando Hierro. Toshack clearly had a good eye for talent. He was never afraid to throw youngsters into the fray, something many managers from his generation [and this] weren't often keen to do.
After Wales, time remained for a spell with the Macedonian national team and another in Azerbaijan where he won their Super Cup. Then he left the continent for Morocco where he won the league and reached the semi-finals of the African Champions League. Recently, he had a brief spell in Iran. There's no guarantee there won't be a few more chapters added on or a second memoir written. For now, Toshack will be promoting this book. It should come as a surprise to nobody were he to pop up in some other far-flung destination taking charge of a team no one knew existed.
Overall, Toshack's Way is a very interesting read. I was born in 1984 while Toshack was in Portugal with Sporting. I remember him in charge of Wales, knew he had played for Liverpool and managed Real Madrid and Real Sociedad. I still had a lot to learn about the man and feel like I did. The main thing I took away from the book was the depth and breadth of his influence. He makes first or crucial contact with so many players we all know. Speaking of Football Manager, you could put an all-time Toshack XI up against any squad and expect a result.