'The Club'

Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 368 pages, $28. A belief that English football could become far more appealing — and more lucrative — animated David Dein's plans for radical change. As Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg of the Wall Street Journal relate in "The Club," Dein, former vice chairman of the Arsenal Football Club, and his associates looked to the promotion of American sports. Arsenal and other leading clubs launched the Premier League in 1992. They studied the National Football League exhaustively and pillaged its best ideas. Even if some innovations flopped, the new league heralded an age of transformation in English football. The late 1980s had been marked by ugliness and neglect — tragically in the cases of a fire in Bradford in 1985 and the deadly crush at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield in 1989. The game had become a national embarrassment, but it was transformed into one of Britain's most successful exports. Its broadcasting rights are now worth $3.5 billion a year, making it comfortably the richest football league in the world. Through interviews and astute analysis, the authors make it clear that the Premier League got lucky. Its arrival coincided with 15 years of strong economic growth, plus a boom in pay TV. But it also benefited from shrewd management. The only danger, the authors warn, is that the wealthiest teams are endlessly pushing for even more cash and power. The latest wrangling between the elite and those below them looks a lot like the maneuvering that prefigured the Premier League's formation.