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'Why we write' - Paolo Condo

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In April 2011, Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other four times in just 18 days: twice in Champions League semi-finals, once in La Liga, again in the Copa del Rey. Those 18 days descended into a strained, feverish period that defined an era for one of football’s most intense rivalries. Paolo Condo, a veteran Italian sportswriter, was there to see it all. His subsequent book, The Duellists, is a vivid portrait of two world class managers who to grew to resent each other over a short period, resentment that grew from their respective club's seemingly opposing ideologies, and the sheer weight of pressure they were both under. 

When I was a child, I remember that my favourite books at school were epic anthologies. I loved the stories of great kings, proud warriors, noble knights and terrible villains. 50 years before Game of Thrones, in some mysterious way I felt that my life needed to be dedicated to epic storytelling. And in this age of grey politics, characterised by short-termism and few inspirational leaders, my need is only answered by the great sports. The only places you can find the modern epic.

I covered domestic and international football (and much more) for La Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the biggest sports newspapers in Europe, for 30 years. I was always waiting for the perfect story, until one day it finally came. More precisely, it came over 18 days. When Real Madrid happened to be drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final in spring 2011, it quickly became clear that fate was playing a trick. Four Clasicos in 18 days, better than an NBA final. A Liga match, the Copa del Rey final, and the two legs of the Champions League semi-final. José Mourinho was on the Real bench, Pep Guardiola sat on the Barça one. The day before the third game, as I listened to José’s intense mind games and waited for Pep’s savage reply, suddenly it dawned on me: this was the Iliad I had always waited for. My song of ice and fire (and offside calls, of course).

“Why we write” is both an easy and a difficult question. It never occurred to me that I would be anything other than a writer, so it’s easy to answer by saying “writing is my life”. But at the same time, you have to be very brave – almost conceited – to think you could find the right words to describe (and analyse) the war of the worlds that unfolded over those 18 fantastic and terrifying days. And so it’s also a difficult question to answer.

My favourite sports book is Norman Mailer’s The Fight, a true story of the title bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa. Mailer was an extraordinary writer, and had the privilege of spending a whole month in Zaire, experiencing the build-up to the match and talking daily with the boxers and their staff. In a way, I was similarly privileged to spend those 18 days with Mourinho and Guardiola, and there are a lot of reasons why I think that José is the Devil (but the one from the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil: I love him), and Pep is the Warrior Monk. I explain these reasons in The Duellists, which in itself is a tribute to Ridley Scott’s first (beautiful) film. If you remember the film, Pep is Keith Carradine and José is Harvey Keitel. Can you think of any writer who could pass up a chance to write such a story? I’m not that writer.

The Duellists is available to pre-order on our site here.


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