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Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics Paperback – November 5, 2013
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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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About the Author
- Publisher : Bold Type Books; 1st edition (November 5, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1568587384
- ISBN-13 : 978-1568587387
- Item Weight : 1.05 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.25 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #163,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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I had only two complaints. The first is that Wilson repeatedly will switch from talking about one club, manager, or strategy to another without clear transitions or set-up for the new topic. This gets very confusing at times. The second is that this book is a challenge for non-British readers. Wilson assumes that the reader has a fairly detailed historical knowledge of British soccer. He'll refer casually to managers, players, and incidents of 100 or 150 years ago on the assumption that everyone knows who or what they are. That can make it difficult to understand some parts of the narrative.
And now a special note of derision for the U.S. version of the book. The publisher appears to have recognized that Americans are getting more interested in soccer, and responded by producing an edition that, as far as I can tell, did nothing but search and replace "football" with "soccer," including in the subtitle. It comes off quite oddly in some places, particularly in references to "Total Soccer" instead of "Total Football." To be clear, any American who has taken the effort to read this book is accustomed to hearing the sport we know of as "soccer" called "football." If they wanted to produce a book for the U.S. market, their efforts would have been better spent by producing a glossary or adding some footnotes explaining the things that every Briton knows.
The book began right from where it all started: the meeting organised by H.C. Malden of Godalming, Surrey, in his Cambridge rooms in 1848, which summons university representatives of Harrow, Eaton, Shrewsbury, Winchester, Rugby, and 2 non-public schoolboys, to create the first unified Laws of the Game, the "Cambridge Rules." The rules then spread around the world in the next few decades via British men of various occupations, blended in with the local culture and create distinctively local style of play, until it became a truly global phenomenon in the 20th century.
The title of the book brilliantly captures this phenomenon, through the evolution of its formation from the pyramid-like shape 2-3-5 in the early days, to 3-2-5, 4-2-4, 4-4-2 to the inverted pyramid shape 4-5-1 and even 4-6-0 that several teams use today, complete with all the advantages-disadvantages, blank spots, and all the major incidents that colour the many transformations.
Within this long tactical evolution the author, Jonathan Wilson, demonstrates a very thorough research down to the smallest incidents on any match played, such as a big match in 1890 or 1953 when there weren't even a television coverage. And he can describe the socio-cultural influences of every team thoughout history. For instance, the style of play of a football team is apparently largely influenced by the contemporary political system and economic condition, like in Italy and Spain in 1930s and Argentina in 1960s when they were under military dictatorship they played a tough, muscular, and pragmatic football.
The book also delightfully gives small trivial facts every now and then, such as the first man to be caught offside after the 1866 law change was Charles W. Alcock. Or how the father of modern football, Viktor Maslov, was the first to use 4-4-2 formation. Or that time Louis Van Gaal dropped his troussers in Bayern Munich's dressing room, to literally show that he "has the balls" to drop star names.
As football evolves, so do the chapters in the book. And we'll move forward from the likes of the day rugby separated itself from football to the most exciting part for me, the tactics that differentiates modern football from the old: pressing.
And this is where it really gets down to business. The book gives the technical explanations of a lot of matches and team set-up, a lot of which gives a whole new angle on the matches we thought we knew when we watch them. Such as how Greece can (deservedly) won Euro 2004, by controling matches without even controling the ball. Why Sergio Busquet was the most vital player in Guardiola's Barcelona. And why Arrigo Sacchi had to instruct Carlo Anchelotti to train an hour early with the youth team to make sure his playmaker understands his specific tactics.
Jonathan Wilson declared right in the beginning that he loves Bielsa-esque style of play, with high speed passings and high pressure. And it shows. The discussion of modern football evolve mainly on the style of Bielsa, Sacchi and Cruyff and their descendants like Guardiola and Van Gaal, and not so much on the style applied, for example, by Alex Ferguson, Marcello Lippi, or Jose Mourinho, although their styles (and many more modern managers' styles) are still analysed albeit not as thorough.
Just like when watching these fast-paced footballing style, reading the analysis of the tactics, in almost scientific approach, is just downright exhilarating. It gives a bright shining light on how the modern game is really constructed, and makes Marcelo Bielsa in particular - and his protégés - looks nothing short of a genius. A very enjoyable reading!
A lot of "this country played this formation and had this player playing for them and this coach from that country went to this other country and coached them this style witch was know in the other country." Admittingly geography is not my strong suit, which I'm sure made it harder to follow.
Top reviews from other countries
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.
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.