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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Outstanding. The book traces the evolution of soccer tactics throughout the world, with recurring chapters on England, continental Europe, Russia, Brazil, and Argentina. The journey begins in England and Scotland in the 19th century, then expands outward.

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).
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Serious US fans interested in international soccer/football: buy this book.

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.
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45 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book is admirable for its erudition and its focus on the evolution of tactics from the playing fields of nineteenth century public schools to the present. One really must admire a British specialist who digs into the entire global picture of football and comes up with a relatively comprehensible narrative out of what must have been reams of club histories and match reports that probably contain very little of the information the author seeks. It is readable, informative and occasionally funny. Here comes the "but". Quality really declines toward the end, as if the author was rushing to meet a publishing deadline or simply outsourced the job to a football fan with a bizarre form of Tourrette's that forces him to spout senseless combinations of numbers such as "3-3-3-1, 4-5-1, 3-4-1-2". The next-to-last chapter is completely unreadable. Whereas other chapters developed the story of a single innovator or the situation in a single country, this one just rushed through a myriad of modern formations and discusses sweeping issues such as the disappearance of the playmaker. Another late chapter devotes incomprehensible amounts of space to an obscure polemic between a football statistician and a future England coach. The central narrative is lost completely, which is tied to another central weakness: the lack of occasional paragraphs to sum up the evolution of tactics as the long procession of teams, coaches and players parade through the foreground of the book and just as quickly disappear from view. The title "Inverting the Pyramid" is a brilliant example of this: it sums up an immense amount of information into a neat little compact literary phrase, but that kind of brilliance is somewhat absent from the rest of the book. In short, I enjoyed the book, I learned a lot from it and I will probably return to it frequently after matches, but it really could have used a little more tidying up from an editor (hopefully in a future edition).
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is definitely a book for the committed fan but if you are a committed fan, you'll definitely enjoy this book. The quality of writing is very good, well above the level of the great majority of sports journalism, and Wilson appears to be a very thorough researcher. The bibliography is impressive and Wilson deserves credit for grinding through and analyzing a large volume of material, some recondite in the extreme (club histories) and a great deal that must have been rather boring to read (memoirs by famous managers). The result is an interesting, comprehensive history of soccer tactics since the initial development of the game. There are a couple of recurrent themes. Wilson, as befits a Brit, is rather concerned with the state of British football, and the perpetual conservatism of British coaches and managers runs throughout the book. The corollary, the birth of innovation outside Britain outside Britain, even when fathered by expat British coaches, is another theme. Wilson also illustrates well how tactical changes often occurred somewhat in parallel in different countries, an interesting example of convergent evolution. Some changes occur because of rule changes, Herbert Chapman's development of the WM formation with stopper center half being an example. Others arise as logical tactical adaptations, for example, the development of the flat back four or the withdrawn center forward. Some tactical changes are set in train by others. With teams playing a flat back four, traditional wing play became obsolete. Some tactics, like the Swiss precursor to the sweeper, arose because of unique circumstances, in this case, a semi-professional league, and then spread.

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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This is simply an extraordinary tome. It provides a thorough, dispassionate, yet thoroughly engaging, history of the tactics of football. From the chaos of the fields of nineteenth century England to the modern day Premiership and Serie A, Mr. Wilson traces the development of the beautiful game in each different region with an understanding of how the regional culture created the style of play.
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most compelling non-fiction books I've read recently. I know nothing about soccer and rarely venture even to watch the game. However, Wilson brings the sport alive across time and geography in a brilliant way that may make me a fan. Moreover, it made me wish there were books like this on every sport.

A key takeaway for me after reading this: form is key to function, function is subject to individuality, individuality without form or function is meaningless. Time and again, Wilson shows that national teams began with a form that determined how the side functioned, which then led to individuals who changed how the game is played. He also shows how national teams develop their own characters that have endured throughout the sport's history. This is a unique way to look at a game, and the world.

Finally, his final argument: namely, that the evolution of the sport going forward will be determined by how teams train and how viewers wish to experience the game is one that I'm still mulling over weeks after finishing the work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
I applaud this unbiased and perceptive analysis of tactical evolution of football. That the East European football has established its own legitimate tradition is unequivocally accepted by experts all over the world. I was extremely lucky to have had first-hand experience in learning coaching techniques from Maslov and Lobanovsky. However, Boris Arkadiev's Football Tactics written in the early fiftes is truly and veritably the bible for any aspiring coach. This book was voted one of the ten best ever written on the subject by the 4-4-2 Magazine a few years ago. It's amazing to read about the mixed (man-to-man and zonal defending), overlapping fullbacks, defending in depth, transition and counter transition group and individual tactics. Unfortunately, neither this book nor Lobanovsky's seminal Modeling of Games and Practices has been translated into English(I have my own English versions of both for my personal use exclusively). The unmitigated passion that Lobanovsky had for "total football" has however generated a lot of controversy; relentless full pitch pressure required radically different training protocols based on periodization and cyclical algorithms. Wilson in his praise for Lobanovsky's methods however, doesn't spend much time elaborating on such crucial issues as player career longevity, susceptibility to injuries, energy systems depletion with diminishing chances of full recovery, and a host of other problems in the wake of "total football" revolution. Lobanovsky's dictum - everything in football can and must be quantified has limited his choice of players resulting in denied opportunities for those gifted individuals who refused to conform to Cartesian rigidity. Oddly, Dynamo Kiev FC switched to zonal defending a la Sacchi only a few years ago, preferring the time-tested libero, and ocassionally experimenting with two sweepers. Lobanovsky's system worked perfectly at club level with the "colonel" exercising complete control over players in a barrack-style environment. For the late sage choosing between the system to fit the available talent or imposing a system on the players at his disposal was no-brainer. It was uncanny to watch the implementation of training algorithms churned out by the late Dr.Zelentzov in conjuction with Skinnerian motivational techniques. And yet, on rare ocassions Lobanovsky's seeming arrogance and imperviousness gave way to manifestations of refined humor and subtle fatalism. Like his favorite toast - Let's drink to the success of our doomed enterprise. The coach whose team had demolished Barcelona with an aggregate score of 7:0 must be quietly chuckling from the bench on a cloud.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I desperately wanted to love this book. I wanted to be smarter about football tactics after reading it. But instead I was just tired. This book is like football tactics through a fire hose. An enormous amount of detail on the employment histories of managers, match reports, and numbering schemes for player positions. Perhaps if the reader is familiar with the bulk of the history they could extract more meaning from the noise. This fan, but tactics novice, was simply overwhelmed. I would have much preferred the author providing more intermediate-level summaries that would have put the details in context. This is what I took away: Start with 2-3-5. catennaccio, ponta de lanca, libero. 4-4-2. The end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is not only the best soccer book i ever read (and i have read lots), it is one of the best books i have ever read. It is clearly aimed at the serious football fan or coach who actually cares about the subtleties of the game and also has an interest in the history that has underlain the evolution of the game. It is actually as much of a history of the ideas as it is about the ideas and tactics themselves. I just pulled it off my bookshelf now and i want to go read it again (that would be the fourth time i think). The global nature of the game and its influences are lovingly described from Rio to Moscow via Ipswich. A great book, a must-read for any serious-minded soccer fan. Jonathan Wilson has taken sports writing and soccer writing to a different level.....congratulations Professor Wilson!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
It's one of the best books related to football but it is exactly what a non fiction book mustn't be, it's not a 'story'. There is no enthuse to carry on reading and the anecdotes just aren't insightful enough. A disappointment considering I'm an avid football and tactic fan.
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