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on 9 November 2008
this is quite possibly the best book on sports that i have ever read. Much more than a history of the tactical evolution of football, it is a fascinating account of why football has become the most loved and watched sport on the planet. it is comprehensive in its detail, but never less than readable and engrossing - i am currently on my second time through. it is very well illustrated with diagrams that explain the text. i cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who loves the sport and is interested in how it got to where we are now, or for that matter to anyone just interested in the history of the world over the last century or so - a great read.
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on 24 July 2010
I read this book during the 2010 Football World Cup and it really shows how little has changed with regards to the English attitude towards football. Some of the debate about the changes needed for the future development of English football. It offers compelling tactical insight into the game and charts the tactical developments since the advent of the game. A truly great book for those wanting to understand the development of tactics and for those looking for tactical innovations for Football Manager.

Great read and highly recommended
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on 19 March 2009
I would like to see all the UK's cliche-spouting, brain-deadening, parochial and myopic TV pundits suspended until they've read, and can pass a written test on this book. There's more sense in a few pages than I've ever heard from Alan Hansen. Anyone who ever again says "You just need to pick the best 11 players... ". There should be an official injunction against Kevin Keegan ever becoming manager at another club.

The best part is, it looks like a dry technical textbook.. but it's actually madly passionate about the game, the characters, the colour, the place of football in wider-culture and the national identity.

His analysis of Croatia v England during the qualifiers for Euro08 is deeply cathartic; explaining specifically and simply how we were so effectively carved up. I was also amazed by the evidence showing that England's football character hasn't changed in 100-odd years - from the start the game here was about passion and workrate over technique and skill (this is only just starting to change). And by his explanation of how the game spread around the world via trade routes. And by his observation that Real Madrid are habitually the whipping boys of whichever club is the new force in Europe (Benfica, Ajax, AC Milan..) - so hello Liverpool. I was surprised by the heat and violence of the Argentine game, and the bewildering decay of Uruguay and Hungary. And Roy Hodgson, what a bloke!

The one thing I thought is missing from the book is an in-depth analysis of Wenger at Arsenal and the shake-up he's given the UK game, though now I've reached the end I suspect he would say that, as beautiful as they can be to watch, there's nothing new tactically (they're basically a traditional 4-4-2..)

Oh and some technical insight into the great Lampard-Gerrard paradox.
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on 13 January 2010
This book is well worth your money if you're a fan of football. The information presented there is very detailed, with lots of interesting facts. The overall style of writing is engaging and intelligent. The text is supplemented with easy-to-understand diagrams (formations, tactics) and there are also photos (in color) in the middle of the book. But the most valuable feature of this book is, of course, the subject matter itself. Never before have I seen such a detailed work on the evolution of football tactics. It has to be said, even though this book is focused on the tactical aspect of the game, it is obviously not only about 4-4-2's and the like, there is actually plenty of history in there as well (and 'plenty' is an understatement). Overall I can definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in football. You will not be disappointed. And last but not least: 'Inverting The Pyramid' is actually just pretty fun to read, you know, like a book, as if there was a plot. A sporting page-turner, if I may say so.
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on 9 September 2012
This is an extraordinary piece of work; very extensively researched and insightful.

I was fascinated by the tactical perspective on the history of football and then intrigued by Wilson's analysis of the the game during the last 50 years or so - much of which I have witnessed first hand. I'd unreservedly recommend the book to all "thinking" football fans.

I have two observations. First, having recently read the "Italian Job" by Guanluca Vialli, I was struck time and again by the complete lack of tactical analysis in our media. A stark contrast with Italy according to Vialli. At times I was embarrassed that I'd failed to appreciate the tactical nuances in many of the games I've watched over the years. The 86 World Cup game against Argentina is a classic example. I rationalised my ignorance by constant reference to the facile nature of our football reporting and punditry.

My second observation is .....hmmmmmm..... Whilst I don't doubt Wilson's analysis, there are two potential failings. The first is an apparent lack of recognition of the importance of players. Were the pathbreaking teams Wilson talks about the product of tactical innovation or the result of a coming together of a group of wonderful players? The reality, of course, is almost certainly a little of each. The second, and most important weakness, is that there is less analysis of what works, why and in what circumstances than there might have been. Perhaps it's asking too much, but whilst I feel much better informed I'm not sure I'm any wiser about how England should set up, for example.

Wilson's coup de grace is that in the epilogue he predicts that the next tactical evolution might well be to 4-6-0 - exactly as deployed by Spain during Euro 2012. Very impressive!! The question, once again, is whether the system makes sense or whether it was simply the best way to accommodate Spain's remarkably talented players. Nevertheless, Wilson is obviously a real expert and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that had a generation of English managers thought anything like as much about the game as he has then our international record would be much less disappointing.
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'Inverting The Pyramid' is a truly excellent book on the history of football tactics. Soccer experts will see immediately that Jonathan Wilson has a broad and deep knowledge of the game: but unlike some writers on football, he is an expert who has the ability to convey his understanding in a readable way to interested parties who are not themselves experts. If you've ever found yourself wondering in passing why modern football teams seem to play with so few dedicated forwards, compared with the teams of your youth, this is the book to read. But be warned: this isn't a quick read.

Beginning with the origins of the game, Wilson offers an historical and international perspective on the development of formations. From the crudity of kick-and-rush to the 'classic pyramid', from the subtle difference between 'long ball' and 'long pass', the origin of the 'libero' and the varieties of 'catenaccio', it's all here - as are the larger-than-life personalities who drove the game's evolution.

The theme that holds the book together is the tension between art and science, between entertaining and winning, between beauty and efficiency. Along the way, Wilson unearths obscure facts, explores the connections between tactics and national character, puts paid to some persistent myths and exposes the distinction between science, pseudoscience and illegal science in football theory and practice. The book concludes with optimistic thoughts (as of 2008) about the future for a mature sport that some feel has now reached a peak of sophistication beyond which no real advance is possible without significant changes in the rules.

A substantial 350 pages of text with index, extensive bibliography and helpful diagrams plus two sections of photographs of the significant coaches, managers and players. Highly recommended.
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on 12 November 2010
This is one the best books ever written about football- you do have to be something of a footie geek to plough through it but for the most part I found it absolutely fascinating stuff from the Guardian's ginat brain floating in a fish tank.It works because it's not a dry academic tome but Wilson kind of does for Football tactic what the likes of Simon Schama do for history, this is a story, a journey and a fascinating illustration of how we got from playing one at the back and 5 up front to (more or less) 5 at the back and one up front- hence the inverted pyramid. This works because Wilson i such a fluent and readable writer- in other hands this book could have been very hard going.
It's not perfect (what is?)there are small sections when Wilson does get a bit carried away with himself and I don't think everyone will share his obsession with the Dynamo Kiev sides of Valeri Lobanovsky which he tends to shoehorn references in to the book at every opportunity, also (not Wilson's fault) but there is a ceratin type of tedious middle class football fan appearing on internet chat rooms - that appear to have read this book, played Championship Manager and now think they are some kind of tactical mastermind.
One last thing, this kind of popularist, tactical analysis of the great game is long overdue and welcome but we would do well to realise that the reason why football is the most popular sport in the world is that essentially it is a very simple game!
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on 9 September 2013
Inverting the Pyramid will open your eyes about football & how it's actually played. It will spark an even greater interest in the game and help you appreciate it more. Immerse yourself into the history of the great sides, players and manager's who helped change/influence the game. You feel greatful to Mr. Wilson for going to the effort of researching all this and writing it in such a splendid way. Someone with a true love for the game.

One of the great holds football has on me is the history, the fact that every game adds to what went before, the knowledge that the next great manager/team is just around the corner, the next tactical trend, whether it's like Sacchi's Milan or Guardiola's Barca. Someone new always comes along and changes tactics & the way the game is played. It's been like this since the beginning & it continues today. This book takes you all the way through that fascinating journey.

The book is also full of great stories & "myths". A personal favourite was the story of how one manager claimed to have thought up Catenaccio after seeing a fisherman working down the docks.

Fantastic! 5 out of 5.
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on 27 December 2014
An interesting book that takes a long time to get into. This is a topic I'm fairly interested in, so thought I'd delve into the history of it all - and boy is it in here! The author clearly has done his research, almost too much so! I found myself having to think twice about a couple of things, and use my imagination with some of the descriptions. It's also a test of memory when it comes to linking players names with teams, and teams with coaches, and coaches with tactics and formations, and then back with players again!

I'm pretty good with football history, so it held my attention, but for others it may be worth cherry picking the earlier stuff to see how it relates to the later stuff, which will be more familiar to most of us. It is certainly interesting to see how the early stuff lead to the later stuff, but it's not imperative for all.

Overall, a good read, but very indepth, and you might get tired at times! You WILL learn stuff though!
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VINE VOICEon 25 August 2009
Remember that old Harry Enfield sketch where old footballers ran in a line just chasing the ball? Well that's not too far off how the game was once and then somebody got the idea that wouldn't it be better if we started using more of the pitch , didn't just kick and rush and started passing the ball to each other. Thus the game evolved and then kept on evolving . And one of these days somebody will inform Everton .
Silly jibes aside Inverting The Pyramid is a truly fascinating meticulously researched book on the history of football tactics . What it ultimately concludes with regard to English football is that we value ,perceived effort, graft and toil above tactical nous and technical ability ,something already capably covered in the book Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football. Until this is remedied and we learn to play to systems using the correct balance of players ,rather than shoehorning in badly matched combinations of the "best" players ( Gerrard & Lampard is the most glaring example ) then we will struggle against the best international teams.
This book though isn't xenophobic in it's viewpoint , covering tactical innovations throughout the game from Brazil , Russia , Austria , Italy , Hungary and Argentina and indeed concentrating mainly on the way coaches from abroad have moved the game on. From Herbert Chapman , manager of Arsenal who invented the W-M system to Hugo Meisl who had Austria playing a 2-3-5 to the great Hungarian side of the 1950,s a "hairs-breadth" from 4-2-4 to the Brazil side coached by Vincete Feola who actually were a 4-2-4 to the all conquering AC Milan managed by Arrigo Sacchi who played 4-4-2 this book covers all the permutations .
There are diagrams laying out the formations with arrows pointing out where players were expected to shift and cover .These can be a tad confusing but do help but it's not just the formations its, the overall tactics that play a part. The sterile catenaccio pioneered by Helenio Herrera and Nereo Rocco is diametrically opposed to the total football envisaged by Rinus Michels .Then there is the pressing game brought to England by none other than the much maligned Graham Taylor and the pressing employed by Sacchi which was more about the "manipulation of space " than closing down the opponent.
Two Englishman are covered extensively in this book .Jimmy Hogan , originally from Burnley , considered to be one of the most influential and brilliant coaches the game has ever seen and the father of central European football and FA technical director Charles Hughes , from...well does it matter ? This is the man who may well have condemned English football to years of blundering inarticulacy from a football perspective .or as Brian Glanville puts it he is the man "who poisoned the wells of English football ". Wilson forensically tears apart his assertion for the long ball game .In fact Wilson pretty much tears apart the way England have approached the game for the last forty years. .
Inverting The Pyramid may be too dry and analytical for some tastes but for anyone remotely interested in football beyond the glamour, showbiz and personalities this is fascinating stuff and the points it makes deeply thought provoking . None more so than his scrutiny of why no top sides came in for Michael Owen when he left Real Madrid ( of course he has now joined Man Utd but the point is still relevant ) and why England were given the run around by Croatia in the qualifiers for Euro 2008. Give the guy a pundits job .
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