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Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics Paperback – 5 Nov 2013
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An outstanding work the [soccer] book of the decade. Sunday Business Post "Inverting the Pyramid" is a pioneering soccer book that chronicles the evolution of soccer tactics and the lives of the itinerant coaching geniuses who have spread their distinctive styles across the globe. Through Jonathan Wilson s brilliant historical detective work we learn how the South Americans shrugged off the British colonial order to add their own finesse to the game; how the Europeans harnessed individual technique and built it into a team structure; how the game once featured five forwards up front, while now a lone striker is not uncommon. "Inverting the Pyramid" provides a definitive understanding of the tactical genius of modern-day Barcelona, for the first time showing how their style of play developed from Dutch Total Football, which itself was an evolution of the Scottish passing game invented by Queens Park in the 1870s and taken on by Tottenham Hotspur in the 1930s. Inverting the Pyramid has been called the Big Daddy (Zonal Marking) of soccer tactics books; it is essential for any coach, fan, player, or fantasy manager of the beautiful game"
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This book opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about tactics and helped me understand what has influenced different teams' style of play. The early history was a bit dull but there are some riveting stories in there, like the way the WW1 PoW team played and why, the background to the modern pressing game, the dysfunctional history of English tactical approaches and, of course, the story of total football and its modern incarnation in Barcelona. It is hard when you aren't old enough to know or remember some of the personalities and teams but I know where to look now.
Buy it, stick with it through the first few chapters, and I doubt you'll regret it.
This book is very much a part of a new generation of writing about football with the analysis and insight being extremely fascinating. There was a time when books about football were notoriously badly written. "Inverting the pyramid" offers an assessment of the evolution of football formations from the Victorian era through to the 2000's. There is a logical progression in how the way the game has played with new formations coming into fruition to combat the challenges produced my earlier styles of play. The author is extremely knowledgeable in tracing the salient developments in football with the most significant developments being shown to have taken place outside the football mainstream. (British football seemed to lag behind from a vey early stage to the way the game was considered elsewhere.) So whilst there is reference to Britain, Brazil, Italy and Holland, other locations such as Austria and USSR are shown to have been equally important.
Although I am a season ticket holder with Southampton, I am passionate about the history of football and "Inverting the pyramid" satisfied my curiousity in explaining how football tactics started and what prompted the change from the "forward charge" approach of 140 years ago. I'm not too interested in the period after the world war one and before I started to follow the sport in the 1970's yet Wilson's research makes this riveting. Some chapters are more interesting than others and there are times when the complexity of the diagrams and the narrative become a bit baffling. The only problem with the book was that I sometimes find myself out of my depth trying to understand the logic of formations - this is the kind of book that you really want to discuss with a professional footballer to get an angle on some of the points raised. Nice to see statistics used to destroy the logic behind the "long ball" style of football of the 1990's - speaking as someone who watched Ian Branfoot's truly woeful Southamtpon team play in this fashion in the first half of this decade!
In conclusion, this is an intelligent and well-considered book which crackles with personal stories and is full of history. Sometimes it can be a bit too complex and there were moments when I wondered if another "expert" might choose an altogether different set of countries / teams as representatives of the changes in the way football is played. Upon reflection and as a layman, I did find myself sometimes questioning some of the reasoning put forward for developing formations and whether the changes were genuinely effective over the course of a season for a team . The coaches are allowed to speak through their own words and players are also quoted in explaining the logic behind the formations which does assist in making things a bit clearer. However, this book raises football to a science and it is unlikely is there has ever been a non-coaching book aimed at a popular audience on this topic. This is by no means a dry and academic book and whilst sometimes being complex, I felt really opened a window on how football is played to make the sport seem like a science. A "must read" yet be prepared to have to re-read some of the more complex arguments that are presented. All in all, this is one of the most intelligent and fascinating books I have read about football.
Having said that, the book is compelling and covers lot of topics. I had already learnt a lot about history of football through other books but this gave me lot of informations i didn't know. It wasn't just the tactics, althought tactics are at the heart of the book; there's also the context, the people and the society ...a blend that obviously and consequently shaped the football.
He should have had a diagram of Triestina of the 1940s and how Nereo Rocco had set the team up. Fiorentina in the 1950s could have done with a diagram too. The Viola team of that era was labelled as defensive but they were not overly defensive as made out to be. Fulvio Bernardini added structure but he was usually known for his attacking teams. Bernardini's Bologna sides of the 1960s were an attack-minded team with a 7-1 win over Modena being labelled as "football from heaven".
The book could have mentioned more on "Il Grande Torino" and their take on the WM formation, Alberto Zaccheroni's Udinese isn't given enough credit for its attacking play and gives the implication that Wilson doesn't classify "Zac's" formation as a true 3-4-3. Wilson also labels Capello as defensive-minded based on the low-scoring 1993-94 side which had lots of injuries. In his first two seasons, Capello's Milan scored goals for fun. They were a scoring machine.
Pasquale Marino's Catania is mentioned as well as Luciano Spaletti's Roma but Zdenek Zeman's Foggia from the 1990s deserved a mention. Although they didn't win trophies or had an exotic formation but it was an ultra-attacking 4-3-3 which bucked the norm in the early 1990s and he knew how to develop players.
Finally, Wilson seems to push an agenda regarding Italy 3-2 Brazil in 1982. The Azzurri punished Brazil's naivety but he doesn't praise Italy enough for coming out of their defensive shell. Bearzot encouraged his Italy teams to be more confident in possession and the Azzurri did that at Argentina 1978. In 1982 Italy peaked at the right time and although Brazil dominated that game, Italy didn't win by pragmatism alone. Bearzot's Italy could play football and could have scored more than three goals at the Estadio Sarria.
Other than that, most of the book is pretty well researched and is detailed. He talks about the evolution of the game's formations and some of the football philosophies of certain coaches. There also seems to be a storyline to the book as opposed to being a typical historical document. Wilson gives the readers the impression that certain formations and tactics were created and that forced other systems and philosophies to fade away.
My disappointment with the Italian section has made me dock the book one star though. Although some of the Italian sections were decently researched, there were the defects which needed fixing up such as the stuff I pointed out.
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