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Inverting the Pyramid: The History of…

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics (2008)

by Jonathan Wilson

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More History and less Tactics than I was expecting. ( )
  eccol | Aug 14, 2018 |
Also a history of soccer itself, as it is played. ( )
  nog | Oct 1, 2017 |
Surprisingly interesting and entertaining, even for someone who enjoys football but is not exactly a fanatic. You can tell that the author is passionate about the game - that shows in every page, making the book informative but far from dry. ( )
1 vote espadana | Jun 24, 2015 |
Wilson provides a sweeping review of football's evolution around the globe, at times the result of international cross-pollination, at other times belatedly influenced by a hothouse mutation. Above this, a universal story of the pyramid:
• initially the 2-3-5, after a period of rushing forward without any real formation (pyramid built in England!)
• moving through various permutations of W-M or 3-2-2-3
• then increased speed of game + deliberate pressing shaped the 4-4-2
• advent of center diamond led to 4-2-4
• or shifting diagonal of 3-3-4 in possession and 4-3-3 when defending
• the Christmas Tree 4-3-2-1 or even 4-2-3-1
• and finally to 3-5-2 & 3-5-1-1 (the pyramid inverted)

Not to imply a linear or inevitable path, merely the path taken. (Likely I'm confused after just one reading. But see this review.)

The challenge now facing any side is selecting from the entirety of tactical options available, and adapting them to circumstances: the manager's and player's historical understanding, field awareness, available skills, tradition of football (preferred style). Perhaps ultimately, deploying different options against different opponents? And always presuming new formations and tactics still to emerge. The point is to amplify player's effectiveness through coordinated play [359], and to manage the space available to own side while denying / constraining space available to opponent [xvii].


Wilson wrote after Kuper, and in part attempts to better explain why different nations play better or differently. He notes the answer is closely tied but not identical to shifts in formation; rather, both style and formation are subject to evolution within cultures, in some cases an evolution in almost isolated populations (Argentina, USSR).

External influences on tactics: rule changes, especially the offside rule or 2005 rules on interfering play (allowing a defender to "walk" the ball over the touch line for goal kick); professional fitness allowing greater pressing; lack of grass pitch or open space rewarded individual ball skills / keeping ball low versus long-range passes / lofting ball overhead.

Internal innovations: Queen's Park passing game; the third (full)back; man-marking versus zonal marking; relative rather than fixed positions (characterised by players overlapping or even switching fluidly as part of attacking & defending strategies).

Arrigo Sacchi's 4 reference points for players on the field: the ball / the space / opponents / teammates.

Jersey numbers assigned to positions employed in 2-3-5 formation, and endured even through shifts in formation, leading to seeming contradictions in jersey number and player roles. Holland later assigned numbers alphabetically in acknowledgment of Total Football, which practice adopted by Argentina as well. Nowadays, who knows.


Recommended by Michael Cox / Zonal Marking, Inverting the Pyramid lives up to its billing, and begs for a re-read after I've absorbed wider exposure to football history and tactics; and more to the point, had more practise recognising on the pitch what Wilson describes here analytically. ( )
  elenchus | Sep 30, 2014 |
Some parts of the book were extremely interesting. Other times I felt the author became a bit too bogged down in the details of an individual match. I appreciate that this is probably necessary as it's a book about tactics, but those sections seemed to me to be far less enjoyable than the rest of the book. Made me think quite a lot about the evolution of football tactics and ideals, the gradual trend to more defensive football as the game became more professional and winning became more important. I now watch football with more of an eye on the tactical side of the game. ( )
  fothpaul | Sep 18, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0752889958, Hardcover)

Whether it's Terry Venables keeping his wife up late at night with diagrams on scraps of paper spread over the eiderdown, or the classic TV sitcom of moving the salt & pepper around the table top in the transport cafe, football tactics are now part of the fabric of everyday life. Steve McLaren's recent switch to an untried 3-5-2 against Croatia will probably go down as the moment he lost his slim credibility gained from dropping David Beckham; Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, is often brought to task for trying to smuggle the long ball game back into English football (his defence being his need to 'break the lines' of banks of defenders and midfielders). Jonathan Wilson is an erudite and detailed writer, but never loses a sense of the grand narrative sweep, and here he pulls apart the modern game, traces the world history of tactics back from modern pioneers such as Rinus Michels and Valeriy Lobanovskyi, the Swiss origins of Catenaccio and Herbert Chapman, right back to beginning where chaos reigned. Along the way he looks at the lives of great players and thinkers who shaped the game, and probes why the English, in particular, have 'proved themselves unwilling to grapple with the abstract'. This is a modern classic of football writing to rank with David Winner's 'Brilliant Orange' and Simon Kuper's 'Football Against the Enemy'.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:57 -0400)

PLAYAWAY: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities. As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen ?s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It ?s survival of the fittest, and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love.… (more)

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