Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics Hardcover – May 15 2008
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'A masterful work, It's all deliciously nerdy - a cross between a coaching manual and a social history - and if its publication helps foster a flowering of interest in the tactical and analytical side of the game in this country, it could be the best thing to have happened to English football in years.****' TIME OUT - Book of the Week 'Facts and stats, plus anecdotes, interviews and Wilson's deft touch with football-speak, give colour to a subject that can be a little dry and all-too confusing for those watching (and often those picking the side).' GQ 'For a detailed analysis of how a single striker became the norm throughout football, you had better read Jonathan Wilson's excellent new book about tactics.' -- Patrick Barclay SUNDAY TELEGRAPH '[A] fascinating history of tactics, a book that is guaranteed to enhance your football watching; your team may still lose, but you'll have a far better idea why they did.' INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 'This must surely go down as one of the most revelatory sports books of the year, as well as one of the best, who would have thought that a book charting the history of football tactics and strategy, from the 1870s to the present day, could be so engrossing and entertaining.' SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY 'Absorbing and informative' GUARDIAN ON-LINE 'A gloriously readable, eccentric and informative trawl through the changing tactical mindsets and formations that have helped shape the beautiful game.' METRO 'You will never read a more entertaining or erudite history of tactics' SUNDAY TELEGRAPH - Christmas Books 'This is a masterful piece of research and lives up to the claim to be nothing less than "a history of football tactics"... Facinating' SCOTSMAN - Books of the Year 'a fascinating analysis of the way the game has evolved tactically from the 1970s until the last season... as a summary of the first 140 years of football tactical history, it is hard to imagine a more readable or thorough effort.' IRISH EXAMINER
About the Author
Jonathan Wilson has been the Football Correspondent of the Financial Times, and currently writes for The Independent and Independent on Sunday. Behind the Curtain was his (very well received) first book.
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Wilson masterfully weaves together the stories of some of the most famous teams, the formation they used, and how they played. He writes with the eye for detail of a historian and the writing skills of a novelist. Social and political tie-ins are noted as well, such as the Central European soccer culture of the 1920s and 30's that had strong Jewish roots, the influence of the Brazilian military government in 1970, and of Dutch liberalism in the late 1960s and 1970s and the great Ajax/Holland side.
The quality of his writing far exceeds the norm for sports journalism, whether he's writing about Hungary in the 1950's, the France of Zidane, or Mourinho's Chelsea.
If you've ever wondered about the subtle differences among different formations, such as 4-3-3 vs. 3-5-2 vs. 4-4-2 vs. 4-2-3-1, and the variations within those formations and why they evolved, or for example the playing style of Argentina in 1978 vs. 1986, this is the place to come.
The book dates to late 2008, and includes insights about the formations and playing style of recent and contemporary sides (Roma, Man U, Chelsea, AC Milan, African Nations Cup 2008).
A caveat: "Inverting the Pyramid" is not a good place to start your quest if you lack a real commitment to learning the history, culture, personalities, and tactics of the beautiful game, all that has brought us to the 21st century. A basic familiarity with current international club and country football is probably necessary; if you don't know who Pep Guardiola is, or whether Brazil or Italy are more defense-oriented, you'll need easy access to a search engine.
But if you're willing to stop now and then to google "Cruyff" or watch highlights from the 1950 World Cup final, this book is an invaluable resource. Focusing each chapter on a country and era in which a particular tactical form was developed and disseminated, Wilson weaves anecdotes, articles, position diagrams, and much more into a thoughtful exposition of how and why approaches came and went. I was particularly fascinated in the differences in strategy as modernity -- in terms of professional salaries, health and nutrition, Fordist skill-based preparations, and so on -- have been taken up and discarded over the years.
I got this book from a British friend as a gift, and it's transformed my understanding of the sport. It will change yours as well, if you give it a good chance.
There are some real surprises in Wilson's account. Who would have thought that the Soviet Union would host football innovations? In the 1950s, intelligent Soviet coaches were emphasizing aggressive forward play and diagonal runs. By the 70s, Ukrainian coaches were developing the aggressive full field pressing style characteristic of much of the modern game. Usual descriptions of Dutch total football emphasize its attacking propensity but Wilson intelligently points out that this was predicated on aggressive defending, pressing, and playing a high line and aggressive offside trap.
I think Wilson does make one significant omission about something that has influenced soccer significantly in the recent decades - the development of goalie play. The nearly universal existence of big, athletic keepers with decent ball skills is certainly one of the factors that permits the modern pressing game.
As an American, who played high school soccer in a 2-3-5 in the 1970's, to understand how and why that system went out of vogue in Europe in the 1920's (!) was an eye opener. Further, the implications for the state of the game in the United States and the glaring need for the development of a national "style", for instance a fusion of Latin and Western European tactics, is appallingly obvious.