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Leaves you longing for some direct play
on 15 June 2009
In many respects this is the football fan's perfect book: what could be better than an obsessively detailed analysis of tactics and formations? Well, the answer is: one that manages to blend detail with an overarching narrative; one that has a bit more purpose about its play.
Wilson's research and grasp of his subject is truly staggering. He works methodically, chronologically and geographically through a world history of football, meticulously charting the evolution of every tactical formation. In so doing he uncovers national characteristics of the game that are startlingly enduring. The English, it transpires, have distrusted possession football and the deployment of skill over endeavour since their first opponents were unmanly enough to start passing the ball rather than merely charging blindly down the pitch. The Brazilians were happy enough if the game was beautiful: scoring came second. The Argentinians always knew how to play the man first and the ball second. The Russians treated football like an expression of scientific socialism.
And along the way Wilson explains and tracks all the famous ingredients of the football formation: catenaccio, the libero, the sweeper, the playmaker, the wingback.
Initially his thoroughness and knowledge feel like a refreshing release from the empty cliches of everyday football punditry. But after a while it feels as if he is playing the possession game - showing us he holds all the facts, and that he's going to use them to grind out a result. What the book lacks is a thesis. One longs for a rhetorical flourish; for a position; for the book to seem to have a goal. Instead we get every last thing Wilson researched including every anecdote, relevant or not, and every character, colouful and otherwise.
If you are actively engaged with coaching, the book is a must-read. You will have the motivation to pick carefully through the detail - though you may still be disappointed by some of the formation diagrams, which don't always relate neatly to the text.
If you are just reading for pleasure, however,you are likely to find it increasingly hard going, and monotonous in its approach.
Sadly it becomes a little like watching George Graham's Arsenal, when what you long for is a little Wenger. But then there was much to admire even in boring Arsenal, and so it is with Inverting the Pyramid. Expect to learn a lot, but not to be entertained.