Book Review: Basta – My Life My Truth (Marco van Basten)

I first became interested football back in 1990 and a big part of that was down to my older brother.

In those days he was a huge fan of Marco van Basten, he had a Holland strip and we would both end up getting AC Milan jerseys. I, too, was instantly drawn to Van Basten.

My brother had a VHS tape of the top Serie A goals of 1991-92 and Marco featured heavily. Then I remember the best player just seemed to disappear and retire in 1995 after spending two years on the sidelines due to an ankle injury.

So I was eager to purchase his autobiography, twenty-five years after his retirement from playing and learn more from one of my first footballing idols.

First off, I really did enjoy Basta. It took me just three days to get it all done. You do come away from it feeling you now knowing a great deal more about the man and not just the myth of San Marco.

Most of the chapters are pretty short, almost like polaroids into the key moments of Van Basten’s life. I enjoy that style as it doesn’t get to bogged down in anything boring or unexciting. Marco is extremely honest about everything that has gone on during his first fifty years – telling us about his family, financial troubles and his life after playing.

But the key elements (for me) are his playing career, his injuries and his relationship with fellow Dutch legend Johan Cruyff.

He writes beautifully about his time on the turf, that clearly was when he felt at his best. There’s a chapter dedicated to what you feel is his favourite goal (not that volley at Euro 88).

It’s actually an overhead kick he scored against Den Bosch for Ajax. He tells us about what inspired that goal and how participating in other sports made it become an instinctive part of his game. He then analytically tells us what actually happened, all about his technique and what he was feeling as the ball hanged in the air waiting for him to connect with it from that unique starting point.

You get the feeling Marco really loved that goalscoring feeling and lived to be a striker. I doubt he has forgotten any goal he has scored, even as a youth!

When the world’s best player’s career is cut short at just twenty-eight years of age, then you can understand why that would devastate that him. Marco actually first injured his ankle at twenty-two, he was lucky to reach the heights he did. An ankle ligament injury wouldn’t probably wouldn’t have ended his career had he been playing today. A few botched medical procedures just curtailed him and that crippled him both mentally and physically. You can tell he was terribly angry, upset and bitter about what happened. Later on in the book he tries to look at the bright side, having still achieved so much, but you can always tell that the anger and bitterness isn’t too far away.

His detailing of his arrival in Milan and how different it was from the Dutch way of life is very interesting. How it was so much more professional and passionate in Italy. It takes you back to a time when Serie A really was the footballing pinnacle for every player.

Marco is always very loyal to his teammates. He doesn’t slate any teammate or even an opponent in this book. He is extremely complimentary, especially when it came to his teammates at AC Milan.

The same can’t be said when talking about coaches he had worked under. They were all fairly or very successful but he is quite dismissive of most of them. Arrigo Sacchi, Aad de Mos and Rinus Michel all come under fire as Marco believes it was always more about the players than down to the managers and tactics. He is also very honest about bringing some of these men down.

Fabio Capello comes away pretty unscathed but that might be down to spending less time playing under the Italian before his career ending injury.

Marco as the manager always seemed to self sabotage himself due to a fear of failure and self-doubt. He is still dismissive about the role and you feel better knowing that he won’t be a manager again (it’s too much for his mental health). But interestingly he did also seem to always have an excuse ready for a bad result as if to stop us judging him completely in that role.

The one man that he clearly adored and cherished working under was Cruyff. Throughout the book he tells us of always having Johan’s ear and how that was his mentor. They may have had a few disagreements but ultimately Johan Cruyff was and is Van Basten’s hero. When first coming back from ankle surgery, it was with Cruyff that he did his one on one training and that was just due to friendship! One chapter is titled Lord Jesus Cruyff.

The book has plenty of contractions, I think because Marco still hasn’t fully come to terms with what happened to him. For example, he tells us that he was happy for Ruud Gullit to become the superstar in Milan and with the Dutch National side as that took away any attention from him. Later also mentions that he doesn’t want people to forget his achievements or about him.

Marco van Basten is a very complex person. He liked confrontation, had a decent sized ego and always seems in search of finding himself. But I really enjoyed his book and getting to know how he ticks. For me, an autobiography should give you everything of a person – warts and all. You get that here and by the end my admiration for the man only grew.

Basta: My Life My Truth by Marco Van Basten is available at Waterstones.

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