Q&A with Paolo Bandini, author of "Welcome to the Blue Heaven," Jimmy Nielsen's new book | THE SIDELINE
It was officially announced last Tuesday that Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen has a new book on the market. Nielsen is not only a top shot-stopped in Major League Soccer (he won 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year), but a colorful character as well. So it only made sense that Nielsen would push for an English follow-up to his previously released book in Denmark.
MLSsoccer.com spoke to The Guardian's Paolo Bandini, co-author of Welcome to the Blue Heaven, Don't Bet Against the Goalkeeper, last week and covered a myriad of topics, from Nielsen's infectious personality to the gambling addiction that nearly derailed his life.
MLSsoccer.com: How did the connection between Jimmy and yourself come about, and what was Jimmy's reason wanting to put together a book at this time?
Paolo Bandini: I actually spoke to Grant Wahl, who I knew through Twitter in the way that we all know each other these days, back in the beginning and he put me in touch right away with Rob Thomson at Sporting Kansas City. I went down middle of last season to see a home game against New York Red Bulls, and we got to know each other a little bit then.
I was then back in Kansas City for the US men's national team game with Guatemala when Rob grabbed me at halftime and said, 'I was talking to our goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and he has this idea in his head that he'd quite like to write a book. He's done one before in Denmark, but he'd like to do one for an American audience. I was wondering if you'd like to speak to Jimmy about this.'
So Rob arranged for me to come down to training a week later and I met Jimmy outside training. Jimmy and I went to lunch and had a chat about everything he wanted to do. I guess we hit it off, because pretty much everyone who sits down with Jimmy Nielsen finds him an incredibly compelling guy. He's a very entertaining character, he's got a lot of personality, so he's a very easy guy to get on with.
Really, the emphasis of it all came from Jimmy. Having spent more time with him and talked about it ... there's always bits and piece out there, but no one really knows the full story. He felt like he wanted to update his story, and he didn't just want to do a translation, he wanted to tell this story again, reflecting where he is in his life now. He wanted to reflect the fact that Kansas City has really transformed his life.
MLSsoccer.com: What were the times, or particular subjects, that forced you to pry especially hard in order to get information out of Jimmy?
PB: Jimmy was very open with me throughout. I never found that Jimmy held a lot back from me. He's been very kind in some of the things he's said about me, for whatever reason he felt he could trust me straight away, that he felt very happy telling me things. But I think a lot of it is just that is who Jimmy is.
It's interesting, because he's spent a large portion of his life having to hide certain things and certain sides to his character from a lot of people. One of the areas we get to in the book, when he's finally confronting his gambling addiction, he goes to see a therapist and he spends time talking about how to discuss these difficult issues with friends and family, and what the best way to go about doing that is.
Maybe it's out of that process that, having gone through having a hard time talking about such difficult issues, having told your family in essence, 'I've blown everything we had, I've wasted all our money, we've run on the cusp of bankruptcy,' every other conversation after that doesn't feel that hard.
I think Jimmy is at a point in his life, with an outlook on his life, that he's very honest and very willing to talk about these issues. And in some ways, I think that's important to him. Especially the really hard stuff about the gambling, he doesn't want to shy away from, he doesn't want to hide that stuff because he wants to help people in any way that he can. He's a very generous spirited guy, and I think that he sort of feels that putting these things out in the open and talking honestly, it may strike a chord with even a couple of people and that would be a good thing.
MLSsoccer.com: How has Jimmy found his short time in America, and particularly Kansas City?
PB: If you talk to Jimmy about it, he can't say enough good things about Kansas City and America. Maybe it's one of the things we bonded over a little bit because I was only recently in the country. We both have this recent experience of arriving in the Midwest, and people are extremely generous.
He told me stories about how people would go and get him things and help him out in a day to day way when he barely knew them for ten minutes, and they were treating him like that. I had exactly the same experience. I had just come here and we moved into a completely unfurnished apartment, and people were emptying out their garages of stuff that maybe they don't need, but also they don't know us, and gave us all sorts of furniture and cutlery and pots and pans that were going to save us a lot of money.
Jimmy is a very optimistic guy, he has a very optimistic outlook on life. He found that sort of positivity in people, the way they received him. That's something that struck a chord with him and worked with his personality.
In terms of the way he's coming out and sharing his story, it's very true the American media maybe more than any other in the world runs with it, but they love a good redemption story. You can look at any of the big sports leagues and find athletes who have this, and who have almost built their fame more from having done something that is perceived as bad and have been able to come off the back of that.
I really hope that people aren't going to say this is a narrative, though, because Jimmy's isn't a narrative; he's a person with and interesting and it's worth reading on its own merit rather than it just fits into a narrative.